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Thursday, March 31, 2016

A German student experience in Bulgaria... Suzi Jaeckel

Last year, in the middle of August, Suzi landed in Sofia, Bulgaria, to begin her one-year exchange experience. She was 15 when she took that plane. And now, several months later, we asked her to look back and tell us a bit about her experience. This is what she has to share with us!:

"Exchange is changing. Changing in every way that is possible. From the outside, from the inside. Your way of thinking, the way you see people, your habits. You are changing your life and after that, it will never be like before again.

For me, this happens in Bulgaria. A small country in Europe, even in the European Union, but so different. 16 years of my life I spent in Germany, which is not so far from Bulgaria if you see it from a geographical point of view. As in for the culture, the people, the mentality and almost everything else, it's just so different. Sometimes, even the opposite.
So, to start from the beginning: It is the August 14th, 2015. In the middle of the night, my family and I are on the way to the airport, to say "Goodbye!", for almost one year. I decided to go, to change, to gain experiences – good ones and bad ones – to have fun, to learn a new culture and a new language.

The plane flies over Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and lands in Bulgaria. The whole time I couldn't realise what I was doing there. Why would I leave Germany for one year? My friends, my family, my whole life? Just to start a new one in another place. It seemed crazy, but also so unbelievable and interesting.
- Now I am at the point where I know why I did all that; what exchange really means. I know about its benefits, the sides that are difficult and, of course, I learnt about Bulgaria and now I would like to share these things. -
Ádám (our Hungarian exchange student) 
and Suzi during their Bulgarian course!
We are 7 exchange students this year in Bulgaria and our exchange started with a 1-month language course in Sofia before we started the school in different places all around Bulgaria. This first month gave us so many different impressions, we started learning a language, that is completely different from our own and we could share our impressions, feelings, experiences and so on directly with the others, because we saw each other almost every day in the course or after that in the city centre, where we enjoyed the summer evenings and afternoons.
But the real exchange started in the middle of September. A new family, for most of us a new city in Bulgaria, school, and that meant again a new environment. We already learnt, how the life in a host family is and how we should behave because we started to get to know the differences between the Bulgarian culture and the culture where we have been living our entire life before.

My year was supposed to take place in Blagoevgrad, a smaller city in south-western Bulgaria, but as everybody will tell you, sometimes there are unexpected things happening. Things that are not really cool, but you learn from them. And so it was for me. After one month I returned back to Sofia, leaving my new friends, my hobbies and my school because I just had bad luck with my host family views on some things in the world that made it impossible for me to live there. So I had to leave Blagoevgrad and I returned to Sofia. There were 1 or two days, where I was really sad, but my friends from Sofia helped me over this time.
The view from Suzi's house in Sofia!
However, there was a new host family waiting for me in Sofia. It was obviously the best thing that could ever have happened to me. I came into a family with two parents and two lovely sisters, that are now a real family for me! We are doing things together, eating dinner together and I just get along with them so well. We have even been in Austria on vacation, where we were snowboarding and skiing and it was really great!

And another one, during sunset

In the time I spent here I learnt to adapt to different situations, the Bulgarian culture and I learnt to speak the language of the country, that I can now call my home. But what's so different in Bulgaria and Germany? I am going to try to explain that, but it could be really hard since you have to experience all these things within a long time. To start with the mentality, I would say that the biggest difference is the fact that Bulgarians are so opened. You get to know a person and they start talking about anything from their life or just what they are thinking about, which makes it a lot easier to get to know many different people and to make friends. In Germany, I was used to getting to know other people a lot slower.

When you come to Bulgaria, you will always here the sentence "Има време!", which means "there is time!" Being some minutes late for meetings is no problem. Doing things only in the last moment is completely normal and no one will be mad at you for that. Also, if anything that you have done is not perfect, people are pleased with what you have done, which is a really great feeling. I once did the dishes and broke a glass. In Germany it would be a problem and most people would just see that you broke something, but not that you helped. Here my host dad just told me that it happens when you are doing something like that and that it is absolutely no problem. I really like that part of the mentality.
Suzi's martenitsas ♥
The school takes a big part of my life and all of the exchange students that come to Bulgaria. The school system is really different from the one in Germany. There are good parts and others that I don't like very much. Of course, every school system has its benefits and negative points. Here the students don't discuss with the teacher: she or he is always correct. Most of the lessons are writing exactly the things that the teacher says. Such thing as "creative thinking" is really none existing, but the younger teachers are starting to try it. My Ethics teacher, who is really young for example, asks for our opinion and we do a lot of presentations there. In the next years, there will also be a lot of changes in the system and it is going to be more modern than now. On the other side the school is a lot shorter than in Germany, here we start at 7:30 finish at 1:15 or even 12:30 two times a week and in Germany I often had school from 8:00 to around 4 o' clock. So after doing the homework, there is still a lot of free time left, which is actually really great.

Suzi and Eva (our Danish exchange student)
The food – It is so different. Bulgarians are so proud of their food (and also of their county. The Bulgarian flag is everywhere!). There are at least 15 things that you have to try if you come to Bulgaria. The most famous one is Banitsa, which is basically kind of phyllo dough with Sirene (its cheese, that you can only get here) and then it's baked in the oven. Eating Banitsa always makes me happy. With my host family I also learnt how to make the Banitsa, that was funny and it is not so hard. The yoghurt is also a thing that is really Bulgarian because the bacteria for it can only be found here in Bulgaria and it has a special taste. If you see a drink called "boza" on the street, try it. I don't want to say anything about the taste, but it is ... surprising. ;)
Exchange also gave me some other moments that will never ever be possible if I would have stayed in Germany. Or would you ever get an accent in your mother tongue without living abroad? Could you ever call two places far away from each other your "home" or two families YOUR families? How could it be possible to learn a language that you couldn't talk at all before within a year, without going to live somewhere else?
This year gave me the opportunity to get to know who I am. To question things that I always did the same way. To think about stereotypes, to tolerate all kind of people's characters, to adapt to a country that I had only known from my geography book in school. This year is like the ultimate opportunity in life!
Until my return to Germany, there is only a relatively small time left and I really want to enjoy being together with my family and friends here, because the time went by so fast and it will never come again!"

Suzi, thank you so much for sharing this with us. We know you'll have an amazing rest of the year!


  1. AMEISING Suzi. That's a pretty amazing article! :)

    Greetings from the cold Estonia :D


    1. I See your comment a bit late but thank you! *_* And greetings from Bulgaaria xD