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Three years ago when I started this blog as a sophomore at Boston University, I couldn’t even imagine how soon I would be writing this:

I graduated from college!

As I reflect back on my experience as a Bulgarian coming to the States for university, I feel that I have accomplished some very significant achievements. I immersed myself in the American culture, conquered a few personal goals, and even managed to learn a thing or two about Marketing and Management.

This is my list of the greatest things I did while studying in America:

Soak In the American Culture

1. Attended two 4th of July fireworks, 3 Boston Marathons, 4 Thanksgiving celebrations (a very German one, one at Disneyworld, a very American one, and a very Arab one)

2. Went to two Red Sox games, a Celtics game, a Giants game, and a BU vs BC hockey game

3. Watched the Superbowl twice

4. Went whale watching near Cape Cod

5. Saw the Blue Angels in Florida

6. Went to several Broadway musicals in New York, The Blue Man Group and the Boston Pops Orchestra in Boston, drag queen shows in Provincetown

7. Played the slot machines in Las Vegas, Foxwoods, CT and Mohegan Sun, CT

8. Witnessed Obama’s election, learned a lot about American politics, and was there when the global financial system crashed (this is not necessarily my achievement)

9. Interacted with the US military and learned a lot about the philosophy of the enlisted, ROTC, and those who support them

10. Learned about ADHD and how common the misuse of Adderall is at universities

11. Did a pull up at Muscle Beach, LA

12. Partied all night long in Miami

13. Ate like an American: tried Twinkies, s’mores, New England clam chowder, Main lobster, Cajun cuisine and jambalayas, Tex-Mex fajitas, lots of bagels with cream cheese, San Francisco crab bisque in a sourdough bowl, (ate and shucked) oysters, hotdog at the ballpark, salt water taffy, Reese’s peanut butter cups, cranberries (even visited a cranberry bog), a ton of salad dressings, avocado on everything

14. NEVER TRIED A PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH (I just realized that! Must fix that!)

15. Went to some of America’s most beloved chain restaurants: Hooters, Jamba Juice, In-N-Out, Bubba Gump, Hard Rock Café, Krispy Kreme, The Cheesecake Factory

16. Bought something from Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, American Apparel, and Urban Outfitters

Enhance My College Career

17. Met interesting people from all over the world

18. Tailored my education to the area of business and the industry I’m interested in and landed my dream job

19. Had an internship every semester and summer

20. Picked up a third foreign language, Russian

21. Became good friends with some of my professors

22. Visited some of the world’s top universities: Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Brown, Berkeley, and Columbia U

23. Joined several student groups

24. Went to frat parties and witnessed a lot of MIT frat hazing

25. Attended a house party that got busted by the police

26. Played beer pong, cups, and gunshotting during 21st birthday celebrations

27. Used a fake international ID to get into clubs before I was 21 (very offended because I had been clubbing in Bulgaria since 16)

28. Spent spring break in Cancun with the entire US college population

29. Got my university to pay me for tutoring Writing 100 and Writing 150 students

30. Was in the top 7% of the class.. who would have thought?

Travel As Much As Possible

31. Travelled all over the East and West Coast: Niagara Falls, Walden Pond, Salem, Boston, Plymouth, Cape Cod, Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Providence, New Haven, Pittsburgh, State College, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, New Orleans, Jackson MI, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Cancun, The Bahamas, Sierra Nevada, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Monterey, Berkeley, San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Ramon, Lodi, Napa and Sonoma Valley, Point Reyes.

32. Had a road trip on Route 66 as well as on Highway 1 (in both directions)

33. Soaked my feet both in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean

34. Took advantage of Boston University’s study abroad programs for a semester in London and in Madrid, where I even lived with a Spanish family.

35. Brought four American friends to Bulgaria, was their tour guide, and left them with wonderful impressions of the Bulgarian people, culture, and nature

Get In Some Thrill:

36. Overcame my fear of the deep, learned how to swim (freestyle, breaststroke, back and butterfly), and won recognitions for second and third place at a swimming competition.

37. Learned to sail a flying junior and had an amazing time sailing on the Charles every spring and fall

38. Constantly challenged myself with something new: Tried fencing, kickboxing, African dancing, belly dancing, pole dancing, snowboarding (I’m yet to perfect that!), jet ski, catamaran, windsurf, sea kayak, coasteering (jumping off rocks into the freezing sea with a wetsuit), flying a Navy flight simulator and a Cessna

39. Completed an AFF skydiving course and am currently on my 11th jump

Become Americanized:

40. Got a Massachusetts ID

41. Received a social security number

42. Filed my taxes (only twice though, should have been four times, oops)

43. Got called for Jury Duty

44. Visited the Sam Adams Brewery

45. Went to a Wal-Mart

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Boston’s Marathon Monday was a blast as always! Last marathon Monday, I was impressed by the motivation, perseverance, and all-embracing sports spirit of the event both in the face of the  professional athletes and the jogging enthusiasts (read my previous article). This year, I had an even more active role in the Marathon celebrations as part of a group of wild Boston University fans.

Marathoners running up Beacon towards Kenmore Square under the scorching sun and a storm of cheers from the crowd

Let’s face the truth: the Boston Marathon would not be the same if it weren’t for the crowds of fans cheering, shouting, applauding, whistling, singing, ringing bells, drumming drums, high-five-ing, and blowing kisses at the runners.

The task of a Boston Marathon true fan is, therefore, a major responsibility. It begins a few days before the big day with drawing posters with silly slogans such as, and I only quote things that I’ve seen with my own eyes “You’re Almost There! That’s What She Said”, “The Guy In Front of You Farted, Run Faster!” and “You Got Stamina. Call Me: 7138596113.” On the weekend before Marathon Monday, the devoted fan has to also stock up on alcohol and snacks and find a place to party (be sure to make these arrangements in advance because someone told me that Blanchards, the big alcohol store near BU, was completely depleted and had to close early on Sunday).

On Marathon Monday, the true marathon junkie wakes up very early, around 7 or 8am, puts on brightly-colored running gear, and goes to a “kegs and eggs,” which, as I learned today, means to have breakfast while getting drunk or vice versa. Our breakfast of champions consisted of casserole, muffins, potato chips, sangria, bloody marry, Corona, Sam Adams, whiskey sour, and ouzo (a nice Eastern European touch on my side,  I thought).

The best locations for Marathon parties are of course along the race’s route – Beacon Street, Kenmore, Commonwealth Ave. It’s OK if you don’t have an apartment with a balcony overlooking the street like we did (hehe) because many people just bring their barbeque and boombox outside and party on the sidewalk all day. 

Some of the common sights throughout the day are: college kids dressed as Teletubbies, frat boys waving pirate flags, BU Resident Assistants chasing students off the roofs of campus housing, the BU police sniffing the content of every “water bottle” being carried around.  The best part of watching the race is chanting  “You can do it, 6472!” or “USA! USA!”  as the runners start arriving.

Let me just mention that this year’s marathoners had to deal with record high temperatures (about 30C), so the event was especially emotional – total exhaustion plus dehydration for some, and drunkenness plus sunstroke for others.  Around 2 o’clock, just at the peak heat, the most faithful marathon groupies could not resist and jumped the enclosures to join the runners for their final two miles. One of my friends even crossed the finish line in her flip flops with a red solo cup in hand. Thinking that she was a real runner, a very committed medical volunteer hurled her into a wheelchair and tried to treat her. Later, my friend told me that in the jam of wheelchairs around the medical tent near Copley, all she could see was a sea of sunburned and flushed, but very, very happy faces!

Fans dressed like for a jog - but only to show support, absolutely no intention to run for real!

Stairs and balconies offer the best vantage points, plus they are conveniently located next to the grill and the cooling bag.

This important artifact during the Boston Marathon celebrations, the Red Solo Cup, is also a staple in the American college culture.


The highlight of my college career! I swear, it was by chance that they gave me ribbons in the colors of the Bulgarian flag! It's fate!

I just went through the highlight of my college career! Nothing can surpass the excitement and feeling of pride with myself after finishing my first swimming competition – not even the first day of classes, possibly not even graduation!

This swimming competition was probably one of the few competition sporting events I have ever participated in. But this is not the best part! The best part is that two semesters ago, I couldn’t swim!

Allow me to start from the beginning! During my sophomore year, I wanted to sign up for a sailing course here at Boston University. They told me that I needed to pass a swimming test. OK, I said to myself, thinking that I knew how to swim.

As it turned out, I knew how to move in the water from shallow point A to shallow point B using a stroke that resembles breaststroke only with my head above the water like a submarine’s periscope. No one at Sunny Beach had ever told me that this is not the right way to swim!

So needless to say, I got flunked. Not only that, but I also discovered that I am utterly terrified of the deep water (BU has an Olympic size pool) and can hardly hold my breath for more than 5 seconds (so much for hookah pipe). In other words, I almost got a heart attack and a panic attack simultaneously in that pool. I was that close to accepting that I will simply never learn how to properly swim (big deal, right..)

As a Bulgarian would say “Yes, but no!”  That night, I had a nightmare about drowning and woke up drenched in sweat and determined to learn how to swim!

Since then, I completed a beginning swim class, passed the swim test, completed beginning sailing and intermediate sailing, completed intermediate swimming, tried jet skiing, catamaran, wind surfing, and kayaking, went coasteering (jumping off 10 meter rocks in freezing 3-degree C water wearing full wetsuit, boots, and a helmet, off the coast of Wales) and now, successfully completed a swimming competition!

I don’t know if you can imagine how scared I was as I was about to do each of these things, and then how proud I felt with myself for not giving up and persevering. If there is one thing I learned in college, it is that I can do anything!

I participated in five events today – three individual and two relays in a team of four. I earned  ribbons for my individual events! And isn’t it just precious that the three of them – Second Place 100m backstroke, Third Place 50m breaststroke, and Fifth Place 100m freestyle, are in “White, Green, and Red”. Karma: I’m Swim Team Bulgaria! 

Me, windsurfing in calm waters near Sozopol, Bulgaria

Totally uncoordinated, but very very happy! Near Sozopol, Bulgaria

Kayaking in full gear near Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK

Coasteering with Preseli Venture

Coasteering - climbing up rocks and then jumping off! Wales, UK

And sailing on the Charles in Boston!

Read more about the Bulgarian beach here:

Armin Van Buuren at Cacao Beach

Nesebar and Sand Sculpture Fest in Burgas

And about rowing on the Charles here:

 Joking with the Turkish Rowers, Head of the Charles 2010

The best picture of the Head of the Charles 2011 ever!


Dry cranberry harvest at Flax Pond Farm, Carver, MA

I did the quintessential autumn activity in Massachusetts  – I went apple picking and cranberry collecting! Our day trip was organized by Boston University’s  Sustainability@BU.

The cranberry is an evergreen shrub that gives small red fruit similar to tart blackberries. It is delicious dried like raisins or made into juice and is an integral part of the Thanksgiving dinner in the form of the sweet cranberry sauce that goes with your turkey. There are five major cranberries producing states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as some provinces in Canada.

Sorting dry-picked cranberries

The grower-owned and operated cranberry bog we went to is called Flax Pond in Carver, Massachusetts. The farmer, Jack Angley gave us a compelling overview of the lifecycle of this most typical Massachusetts fruit.

There are two ways to harvest cranberries – wet and dry – and we were lucky enough to see both!

The dry way is far more laborious because it involves a lot of handpicking in addition to using comb-like machines that “comb out” the berries from the thick shrub. Dry harvest produces higher quality cranberries that can be sold fresh and eaten straight away (although they taste way too bitter to me in this way).

The wet harvest, however, looks much more impressive and is what most people associate with cranberry production. The plants are grown on the bottom of a dry bed and once they ripen, the bed is flooded and becomes a bog! Because the berries are hollow inside, they rise up to the surface of what now looks like the Red Sea! Then all you need to do is collect the cranberries with a pump! Because of the water and the bacteria that live in it, the cranberries should be immediately frozen of processed.

Wet cranberry harvest

Up to the knees in cranberries, that's life!

Next, we went  apple picking at Highland Farm in Holliston, MA. Apple picking is also a New England favorite because of the many orchards in the region. We tried Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Mutsu, Golden Delicious, and many more whose scrumptious taste was much more memorable than the name.

Apple picking with Anna!


Question: When do you know that something is important to American students?

Answer: When it becomes a Halloween costume.

I will just note the most popular costumes I noticed around Boston University this Halloween and will leave to you to comment on the trends and their significance:

1) The 1% – groups of students dressed in (sexy) business attire with “1%” and “Occupy Wall Street” signs in their hands

2) Gaddafi – costumes of the former Libyan leader, with or without blood stains (not sexy)

3) Steve Jobs – a balding old man with an Apple logo on his chest holding a laptop made out of cardboard (not particularly sexy)

4) Black Swan and White Swan – usually two girls dressed like the main character/s from the blockbuster ballet thriller (very sexy)

5) Angry Birds – people dressed in big round costumes like the cartoon characters from the popular game (anti-sexy)

And what were you for Halloween?


It’s the 47th race weekend for the annual Head of the Charles Regatta, the world’s largest regatta!

This year I found probably the best viewing site – the 18th floor of Boston University’s Student Village residential complex. Eh, it’s probably not as exciting as being on one of the Charles River bridges where you can actually hear the coxswains’ commands and see the tension in the crew’s faces, but it certainly offers a breathtaking view of the entire river and the city of Boston.


I didn’t expect that I would be so, so happy to be back in Massachusetts! After nine months in Europe, now I am rediscovering Boston – the elegance of the harbor and financial district downtown, the cultural hotspot of Cambridge where I joined a South American carnival procession a few days ago, the raunchy but extremely fun bars in Allston – the college students’ part of town, the restaurants with ethnic food where they celebrate customers’ birthdays with a disco ball and flashing lights (Brown Sugar Thai Restaurant), and the overwhelming choice of brands in the gigantic grocery stores  where I can finally get the instant oatmeal, guacamole, hummus and papaya that I so much missed back home.

And of course the river! I’m so happy to be back near the beautiful Charles! I love walking along it, reading by it, sailing on it, and since this semester, waking up every single day to the most beautiful college-dormitory window view in the world:

My view from Boston University's Student Village


Watching Love.net, the newly released Bulgarian movie about love and sex on the Internet, provoked me to write about online dating from (my friends’) experience.

I just came back from studying for a semester in London (I normally study in Boston, MA). The Bosotn University study abroad program I attended was very well organized in terms of academics, internship, accommodation, and travel opportunities, but it significantly lacked in the social aspect: the classroom program was entirely of American students and we (the Americans and I) were in no way integrated with British students. Thus, our main way of meeting British students was through pubs, clubs, and… online dating.

Model and actress Dilyana Popova in a scene from Love.net

My girl friends came up with the idea. The four of them were disappointed that they couldn’t really make friendships at a club (you know, loud music and drinks do not presuppose deep conversations), so they created profiles in http://www.OkCupid.com, the UK’s largest free dating website. They put up some pictures and info and a status “looking for friendship” (at least that’s what they said) and started talking to boys online. According to them, this was the easiest way to learn about English culture.

My friends even went on several dates! One of them even took notes after her dates and called them “social/cultural experiments”. She actually turned up with pretty good cultural observations after these dates, which completely undermined my conservative position that online dating is sketchy (dodgy, if we use the British term). She learned about the London underground and alternative life from a tattoo artist and about the peer pressure that married couples exert on their male friends from a “chap” in his 30ies looking for his future Mrs.  Of course, online dating enabled my American friends to have their “Euro fling” too.

So the moral of my story is that: 1) To my surprise, online dating can actually provide real cultural immersion and a chance to meet interesting people that you might never think of approaching otherwise. 2) But still, Boston University should provide its students with safer means of meeting Brits that do not include the web and blind dates.

I’d love to hear your stories about online dating as a cross-cultural experience.


I’m back in Boston with mixed feelings.

I’m looking forward to the challenges of my junior year as a business student at Boston University, yet it would be a lie to say that I won’t miss the lazy summer days in Bulgaria.

I finally have the anecdote that perfectly illustrates a cultural shock that every foreigner lives through when it comes to bureaucracy in the States.

Public service in the States is usually at a good level: waiters smile all the time, desk attendants answer all your questions, etc. But behind this seeming politeness lies an iron policy of no compromise.

On Thursday I went to the Office of Housing at 16:20 to rent a vacuum machine to clean my new dorm apartment. I had asked a friend to come help me carry the vacuum to my room.  We were going to clean and go buy new furniture with my roommate. In short, it was a busy move-in day.

And then, the student-employee at the office tells me that I cant rent a vacuum right now. Why not?! They rent out the vacuums only for one hour. They close the office at 17:00 for a break, so they rent them out at 16:15 the latest. I have to come back at 19:00 when they will reopen the office and rent a vacuum them.

I could not believe it. So many rules for just one of the 20 vacuum machines they had there?!

First I told the girl I live next-door and will return the vacuum in only 20 minutes, before 17:00. She said no. Then I told her I will rent it now and give it back at 19:00 when they reopen; they would keep my ID as a guarantee anyways, so I’d surely not steal the vacuum. She said no. I asked her if she could make any compromise for me because I had made so many arrangements and really needed to vacuum. Again, nothing. The girl was a student like me and knew that mine and her tuition had paid for all the vacuum machines on campus, but because she was behind the desk, she thought she had some super-bureaucratic-powers.

The love for rules and restrictions is very typical for the American culture. Not surprisingly, non-Americans call the US a “police state”. The interaction between service staff and clients is polite but very reserved, distant, and even hypocritical.

In contrast, service in the cultures of Southern and Eastern Europe always has a human touch. Most of the time, you can achieve compromise. Rules are more like guidelines that can be tweaked and evaded.

For example, the international restriction for luggage weight is 23 kg, but the ladies at the desks at Sofia airport always allow passengers to check in bags that are 1-2kg more. Americans might be shocked, but we believe that such minor adjustments don’t harm anyone. On the contrary! Why should someone have to throw out their clothes or pay a huge fee for just a few kilograms more?

Of course, my culture’s tendency to use human judgment over rules may result in more serious situations such as paying a cop 20leva instead of paying a 50-leva speeding ticket to the government. I realize that corruption and evading the law are dangerous crimes. Still, on a small scale, when it comes to making a compromise or a gesture for a client, I prefer the Bulgarian little accommodations to the American hypocritical policy of no compromise.

***

For the sake of objectivity, read about my surprisingly pleasant experience at the Social Security Office (compared to the horrors of the Bulgarian Traffic Control Office).

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