From the east coast of the US, we are going on a loooong journey. A journey to an unknown land. And no, I am not talking about Narnia or The Pride Lands of Africa where Simba is the king or Jurassic Park. I am talking about a place where only one person can truly live. By himself. The soul.
Boyana Atanasova is a freshman from Ruse, second semester at AUBG. We have known each other for a year now and I have always seen her as a girl that can surprise you. And she did not prove me wrong. When we both came back from Work and Travel at the end of August, we got together at Prego to share some funny stories, to have nice time. As she started talking about her experience in Skagway, Alaska, she got so….it is indescribable. Her eyes were glimmering, sparkling with excitement, her voice got higher as she was talking, she was gesticulating like a nervous politician at the national tribune. She was changed and I could see that. Everybody who knew her could see that. She was more genuine in her emotions, more free, more everything. That’s why I wanted her to talk to me and share her path to change because I know many of us would gladly hear about it.
Boyana’s main reason to dedicate 4 months of her life to working is money. Her first destination, as mentioned already, was Skagway,Alaska. “I have talked to my friends and they told me it was a good place to make money, to save money because…Basically there is nothing to do there, there is nothing to spend your money on. Only bears and moose and work.” That was what she was expecting and that was what she got. In the rare moments when she was not overwhelmed by work, she would go hiking with her friends, which she finds more fascinating than going in big cities like New York and getting stuck in traffic, while trying to reach the Statue of Liberty. Bobi, as her friends call her, is satisfied with her decision; she made enough money to support herself and pay for her tuition. She achieved her goal.
As this was her first time in America, so far away from her parents, the feeling of nostalgia was her constant companion. Eventually, though, she got used to it and found joy and positivism within herself. Bobi even acquired some American manners, a thing typical for everybody coming back from the US: “I was feeling like…it was nothing like Bulgarian, I was feeling like a foreigner…But since I have come back, I have noticed that I am acting kind of like an American, I am using some of their expressions, phrases, I am being more polite with people and..the small talk of course. Bulgarians do not do that and they are looking at me like I am some kind of a weirdo.”
Bobi’s first job was as a housekeeper- a position many potential participators express fear of. However, what she says about it is actually kind of encouraging and gives a new perspective:“I was not feeling as unsatisfied as I was expecting. Actually, what I noticed was that Americans had a better attitude towards me than Europeans. And they were more willing to leave tips just so that they can make you feel better for yourself. Like presents. That was stimulating, made me more willing to give more to those people, to make their stay good because that might be their only vacation for this year and they want to have good experience.”
Her second job was as a pop-corn maker and it was a lot of fun. She was making pop corn…and eating pop corn…Bobi even says that : “that was what kept me alive during the summer. Sometimes you do not have time to eat between the jobs, you are in a hurry so I would just fill half of the pack and eat the rest of it myself. “
Besides some details on her work and hikes that she provided, Bobi decided that she is ready to share her story with people. And so, the trip began.
During her first year at the university, Boyana was, as she called herself, a “party animal”. She would go to clubs every night, stay there until dawn, get drunk, and dance like crazy on the bars, without care. She acted like that because she wanted people to like her. Bobi pretended to be someone she actually was not so that she can fit in the community that was surrounding her. And if something had ever gone wrong, she would put the blame on herself, thinking there is something wrong with her. That girl does no longer exist. And people around her have noticed that: “Where is Boyana and what have you, what has Alaska done with her?” Bobi, however, thinks that her change is for the best even though people’s response to it was that she just got boring. She feels more confident with herself, more confident in her relationships with people, she learned how to prioritize what is important and what is not: “I feel like I am putting more effort in the things that matter to me because going to the club…is no so important. Putting a picture on facebook and tagging yourself from 5 different clubs you’ve gone that night…it is nothing that is actually going to bring something good in your life. “
Boyana described this one time when someone called her at 6 a.m., completely drunk and wanted to hang out with her. The old Boyana would say : “Yeah, let’s do it” , but the new her told him “Are you f*****g kidding me. You should have called in the afternoon and I might have considered coming.” The most disappointing part for her was that when she tried to contact the people she was partying the previous night, they were, all of a sudden, not interested in hanging out and were just ignoring her, greeting her with a fake hello whenever they were passing by her.
Now Boyana is a different person. She knows what she wants from her future; she has a “plan” what she wants to be and how to actually achieve it. “And it feels good.” When talking about the friends she made in Alaska, Bobi’s face lightens up. “People helped me change. Communicating with those people showed me that I can be myself and people can actually like me for who I am.” She shared a story of what happened once while she was working at her second job. She had two colleagues from Bulgaria that were extremely rude to her that day, they were making stupid jokes about how women’s place is in the kitchen, they were trying to bring her down. And since her day, as a whole, was a bad one, she felt annoyed and sad pretty easily. One of her American friends saw that, noticed that she was feeling bad and on the next day, when she was coming back from work, she found chocolate, energy drinks ”like Rockstar” and a “really sweet letter from him” saying : “Boyana, you are really awesome and we are happy to have you. Do not get disappointed, it is just a bad week, things are going to get better. You are a survivor, I am sure you can make it.” Her friends helped her change and showed her that her beauty is in who she is, but not who she is pretending to be.
Boyana’s tips for the people that have not yet gone on a work and travel program is:
“It is worth it. You for sure have to experience this. It is gonna change you, especially if you do not feel good with yourself here in Bulgaria or wherever. “