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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


My Christmas present this year was tickets to the Boston Celtics vs Toronto Raptors pre-season game at Boston’s TD Garden. This means that for my four years at BU, I’ve checked off two out of Boston’s four great teams. Yep, I have to speed up the process and see the other two before graduation!

Boston is said to be America’s top sports city. There’s the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins, and the New England Patriots (baseball, basketball, hockey, and American football). You can imagine my motivation to see all these teams play since we don’t even have three of these sports in Bulgaria (and we are not really that good at basketball either)! Even these teams’ home arenas are considered key  tourist destinations: Fenway Park, TD Garden (for both the Celtics and the Bruins), and the Gillette Stadium.

Of course I wanted to do the whole ritual right: I went to TD Garden by T as a true Bostonian, had some Sam Adams at an Irish pub before the game, bought a green t-shirt from a street vendor, got a green shamrock painted on my face, and cheered with the crowd throughout the game!  Naturally, we won!

So after I check off the Bruins and the Pats, I also need to go to a NASCAR race and to a rodeo! Any suggestions when and where to do this?

And while we are still talking about sports, did you know that Bulgaria has one of the best fencing teams in the world? I certainly did not! I didn’t even know there was fencing here, and as it turns out, the best fencers are from Easter Europe and the Former Soviet Union! Who knew?!

Lucky, the Celtics' mascot, is flying in the air

It kills me that Bulgarians do all these amazing things but we don’t know how to popularize our achievements even among our own people. I wish someone popularized this game and taught Bulgarians to be proud of our teams and their victories! Sports always bring people together, and if someone made sports more popular in Bulgaria*, our people would have more reasons to feel national pride.

*(The only really popular sport in Bulgaria is soccer – and we do have some great soccer players like Dimitar Berbatov and Hristo Stoichkov)


I had one of those experiences that make me feel more and more native to New England – I shucked oysters!

Oysters are those huge shells that you might have seen in movies served raw on crushed ice with lemon juice, cocktail sauce and horseradish and slurped out by rich old businessmen while smoking a cigar.  They are a sign of great luxury and an aphrodisiac.

Of course all Bostonians are cool enough to eat oysters (that is, as long as they have the guts to). My personal record I think is four raw oysters in the Union Oyster House. But after I did that I needed to lay still for a while.

Shucking oysters, however, is a whole new experience that helped me gain an even deeper appreciation for this slippery seduction meal.

We went for a free oyster shucking lesson at the North End Fish Market (on Saturdays, at 99 Salem Str).  We were given gloves, a chisel-like knife and a bunch of local oysters that looked like solid rocks.

The most difficult part, I found, was slipping the knife in the hinge (imagine thrusting a knife into solid rock) and cracking the top and bottom shell open.  Then you slide the knife all the way around the oyster until you actually separate the two shells – and by “slide” I mean strain your muscles and try to push the knife through until you almost break your wrist. Finally, the easy but embarrassing part is to gently slide the knife under the oyster and cut the flesh that connects it to the bottom shelf and then flip it upside-down to have “better presentation” or, if you are me, just drop it on the table and then awkwardly pick it up. At last, you can squeeze in some lemon and slurp it out with a grin on your face. Good job!

After shucking 4 oysters each and deciding that we’d better put an end on seafood for the day, we continued our tour of the North End, the Italian neighborhood in Boston.

 You might also like:

Picking Apples and Cranberries in New England

The Great American Cookout at Kimball Farm

The Boston Marathon 


I bought liutenitza and kyopolo at Trader Joe's in Boston

To all devotees of Bulgarian cuisine: Trader Joe’s sells the two gems of Bulgarian culinary genius: liutenitza and kyopolou!

Liutenitsa (liutenitza) is a heavenly spread made of, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, onion, eggplant and herbs that could be a little bit spicy or not. We spread it on bread or use it as a side to grilled meat… and actually anything else. My personal favorite is a slice of bread with liutenitza (the layer should be as thick as the bread) and Bulgarian white feta cheese! Yum-yum!

Kyopolou (kiopolo) is made of roasted eggplant, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and sometimes peppers or tomatoes. It is served cold as an appetizer or spread on bread. See recipe  for both spreads (we call them salads) from BG Taste.

Several countries on the Balkans have similar products. You might have previously tried Turkish kopoglu or Serbian ajvar.

So if you are craving an authentic taste of Bulgaria – run to Trader Joe’s! They call the two products “Red Pepper Spread” and “Eggplant Garlic Spread”, but the labels clearly indicate that this is a “Product of Bulgaria” and a “Traditional Bulgarian Recipe”. Enjoy!

Find the nearest Trader Joe’s here.

 

If you want to try out more Bulgarian recipes yourselves, you can take a look at the Bulgarian cookbook I received last year or read my blog post on preparing a Bulgarian Christmas Eve’s dinner.


Dear Dad,

Something terrible happened to your credit card. It kind of slipped away from my wallet into the cashier’s hands… multiple times. But you are happy when I’m happy, right? And I got mom something nice, so that hopefully, at least she doesn’t ask for more for a while.

Love,

Your only daughter

 

Black Friday

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and it marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season – with insane discounts! Hundreds of people camp outside the major shopping malls the night before and rush in the stores as soon as they open doors. This year, the Boston Cambridge Side Galleria opened at 1am!

My friends and I are not the extreme type, so we went shopping at 11am and still found the mall packed! “40% off until 1pm”, “Buy One Get One Free”, “2 for $30, 4 for $45”, “The More You Get, The Bigger the Discount” are only some of the attractive signs that lured us into one store after the other!

No wonder why this day is called Black! We finished shopping at 4pm, completely physically and financially exhausted! Long Live American Marketing!


It’s not easy to be an international student in the States on Thanksgiving. They kick you out of the dorm for 5 days, all of your friends scatter to their respective places of origin, and you have to be very creative in finding what to do.

Bulgarian-German Thanksgiving at the Grosses, 2008

My strategy has been to try to be as traditional American as possible in order to experience the culture. Funny how that turned out!

 

Thanksgiving 2008: Three-and-two-halves Bulgarians and one turkey

The Grosse family was so kind to invite me and two other Bulgarians to their home in New Jersey over the Thanksgiving break. The Grosses used to live in Bulgaria and their daughters, the two half-Bulgarians as I like to call them, went to my high school in Sofia. So in 2008, they got together me and two other girls from that school who currently go to college on the East Coast. For dinner, we had all the ingredients of an American Thanksgiving Feast, but prepared the German way – potato dumplings, sauerkraut (German red cabbage), turkey breast (without stuffing), mama Grosse’s secret saus, all sorts of delicious German pastry (with strudels instead of pies), and of course, Bulgarian Red Wine Tcherga.  My cultural experience was further enriched with Black Friday shopping in the Short Hills Mall.

 

Thanksgiving 2009: Disney World, Orlando

Another not-so -typical holiday, I guess. Timmy and I went to Orlando, FL, where we spent the day riding on roller coasters, trying to get out of haunted houses, and spinning on all sorts of carousels. We saw a mini-city made up entirely of Christmas Lights, but didn’t really experience anything particularly Thanksgiving-ly other than the roasted turkey leg on the bone that Timmy and I devoured.

 

Thanksgiving 2010: Plymouth, It Can’t Get More American Than That

Now this was the epitome of Thanksgiving! We were in Plymouth, MA, where the Mayflower dropped anchor. We saw the Plymouth rock, which marks the symbolical spot where the pilgrims landed and the “Plimoth Plantation”, which is a living history museum. At the Plantation, we visited a 17th century English village that recreates the way the pilgrims lived. There are costumed  actors who have adopted the roles of actual historical figures and pretend that it is still 1627. So when I told them that I am from Bulgaria, they asked me how things were in the Ottoman Empire! Their historical knowledge was impressive! The other part of the Plantation is the Wampanoag Homesite where you can meet real Native People and talk to them about their culture and history from a modern perspective. Finally, I had a very American, very lovely Thanksgiving lunch with Timmy’s family : with a house full of bubbly relatives, mountains of food, and football! Exactly as Thanksgivign should be!

Read more about my meeting with Timmy’s family here.

 

Thanksgiving at the Arabs, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011: The Middle Eastern Version

My roommates and I organized a pretty interesting semi-traditional feast for our friends. (Actually, Emma, who started preparing the turkey three days earlier and woke up at 7am to start cooking that day, should get all the credit. I simply decorated the living room with real fallen leaves, but then it ended up in vain because our oven exploded the night before and we eventually had to move the party to a different apartment, the so-called “Arabs’ place”.)   So, Emma ended up cooking for 30 people, most of whom were… Arabs! She invited all of us to hold hands and say what each of us is grateful for. Then we all sat down on the floor, Americans, Pakistani, Saudi, Bulgarian, German, and Chinese (in front of the American and Saudi Arabian flag?!), and had the most international Thanksgiving dinner so far!

So I am pretty sure that I now fully grasp the meaning of Thanksgiving! This holiday is about bringing people together and allowing them to share a beautiful experience like one big family! Cheers!

 


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.


My Strategy professor opened a restaurant this March. It is called Saus and serves Belgian street food – pommes frites (Belgian style French fries), poutine (fries topped with gravy and cheese), frikandel sandwiches, Belgian waffles made with very fine pearl sugar, and of course an armada of secret-recipe dipping sauces.  Saus is located downtown near Government Center, right next to the Union Oyster House. It has a big sign “Kick*ss Waffles $3.75” on the window, so you can’t miss it!

When my classmates and I visited Saus on Saturday evening, a man with in an apron covered in powdered sugar greeted us cheerfully from the kitchen. We barely recognized the professor we were used to seeing in a suit.  He was very happy to see us and spent almost half an hour chatting with us and answering all our questions about his venture.

I was very impressed to see that the owner, who is already an accomplished businessman and a highly-esteemed university professor, was getting his hands dirty with batter for waffles. It proved to me that in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to put your heart, soul, and hands into the work. Indeed, his energy and enthusiasm were filling up the entire place!

My professor told us that Saus is already very popular among Emerson College and Suffolk University students because of its proximity to the clubs and bars they visit. He said that he plans to turn Saus into a chain, to introduce imported Belgian beer on the menu, and to sell their many specialty sauces through retail outlets.  I wonder if my family’s Bulgarian wine will sell well with his Belgian waffles?

My classmates and I devoured the poutine, frites, and waffles with home-made Nutella and licked our fingers with delight! We thanked our professor, promising to spread the word about Saus among our Boston University friends, and left the restaurant utterly inspired by his work.


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


Whenever I hear Bulgarian speech in the street, I stop to meet the person.  This is how I met a Bulgarian hotel receptionist in the Bahamas, an illegal immigrant pizza deliveryman in Boston, and a manager at CityCo, whose accent I recognized on the phone, while calling about a product in his store.

Everyone has their own way of preserving their cultural identity in the foreign country.

My German friend Lena once asked me why I always introduce myself to Bulgarian strangers.  She heard German speech in Boston all the time, but she never stopped to say hello to her fellow countrymen.

I responded that Bulgarians in Boston are not strangers to me. My country is so small and I’m so far away, that I consider it good luck to meet another Bulgarian. I don’t want to walk past my luck, so I say hi. I feel that simply being in the same place, an ocean away from home, is already something in common and is a great reason to strike up a conversation.

That’s why I buy everything labeled “Made in Bulgaria”: yogurt with Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, Bulgarian red wine Tcherga (ordered online by Lena’s wonderful mother), Lalo Jewelry made by an Israeli artist living near Sofia. If I can’t find genuine Bulgarian products, I replace them with our neighbor’s equivalents like Greek feta cheese instead of our white cheese and Serbian Ajvar instead of our Lutenitza.

My culture is so small compared to the American and international surroundings that I feel the need to acknowledge my nationality whenever I encounter a piece of Bulgaria in Boston. I think this is my way of preserving my identity in the foreign environment.


Finally my wish came true! I was in the States for Independence Day, July 4th 2010, a holiday that movies, books, and popular culture have turned into a symbol of the American culture.

Yes, it is true that at least two weeks before the Fourth of July, Americans adorn their homes’ windows, porches, front doors, and gardens with flags. Shop windows are decorated with stripes and stars, and there is all sorts of merchandise for the occasion: everything from patriotic blue-red-and-white costumes for kids to different holiday promotions for adults.

In Plymouth, Massachusetts, the celebration starts on the night of July 3rd with huge bonfires on the white beaches. People drink and have cookouts since sundown and carry on through the night. Every house is full of joyous New-Englanders, and the local police are pretty respectful towards the obnoxiously loud music, the open containers, the hazardous fires, and the underage party-goers.

This photo is actually from Rockport MA, not Plymouth, but someone dropped their phone in the Charles and couldn't take pictures for my blog.

The parades on the morning of July 4th are a favorite ritual for the kids, but I decided I was well past that age. Instead, I joined an all-day get-together and barbeque at my host’s friends’ house. I was pleasantly surprised to see that July 4th is not so much a time to fight aliens like in Independence Day or to listen to speeches about social injustice like in Born on the Fourth of July, but rather a time to relax with one’s family.

The real celebration begins at night. I learned that the nation’s premier show for July 4th is not the Washington or New York one, but precisely the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.

This year was the 37th anniversary of the event. For those who are familiar with the city, Storrow Drive was closed for cars and literally packed with pedestrians. There were flags, balloons, and fluorescent light sabers; hot dog, ice-cream and clam chowder stands; people with painted faces, festive hats, and whistles. Some enthusiasts had put up tents on the Esplanade along the Charles River since sunrise, so that they could be close to the stage and have a perfect view of the fireworks.

Boston Pops (listen online), an orchestra that usually performs light classical and popular music in the summertime, played from the Hatch Shell for almost 800,000 people.

The fireworks that followed were truly breathtaking! The 20-minute masterpiece of pyrotechnics was firing from a platform in the middle of the Charles. The fireworks lit up the sky in the shapes of the American flag, planets, Irish shamrock, and hearts, and every other  color combination imaginable!

Next stop, seeing the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve!


And while some people are jogging, others are working hard towards their undergraduate journalism degree. These two Emerson College students, the girl behind the camera and the eccentric anchorman, are interviewing a silent living sculpture just a few steps away from the Marathon’s finish line.

This is undoubtedly the best city for college students!   


 Where do you see the most loud, passionate, dedicated crowd of cheering supporters in Boston?        

 It’s not in Fenway Park during a Red Sox game. It’s during the Boston Marathon!        

There come the elite women!

 

On the third Monday of April, Massachusetts celebrates two holidays: Patriots’ Day and the Boston Marathon. While I didn’t see any historical reenactments of the battles of the American Revolutionary War, I saw plenty of cheerful sports spirits.        

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. It is run on Patriot’s Day, which people know as simply Marathon Monday. Every year more than 20,000 people from a number of countries run the 26.2 mile race from the town of Hopkinton to Copley plaza in downtown Boston. There are several divisions that start the race in 30 minute intervals: wheelchairs’, elite men’s, and elite women’s. Four Olympic Champions have won the Marathon. But I will let the media cover the fancy side of the event, and I will tell you about the side I witnessed.        

Athletes with disabilities are truly inspirational, and receive the warmest support from spectators.

 

The spectators were as spectacular as the event itself! This Monday, a crowd of more than 500,000 watched the race. People were standing in the street along the route, some had climbed on stairs, poles, and fences, some were watching from their windows and balconies, and some were even atop their roofs! From Kenmore Square down Commonwealth and all the way to Boylston and Copley, the whole of Boston was out and about!  Everyone had cowbells and posters with the names of their favorite runners, who were most often their friends and family!        

A wall of support in Kenmore Square

 

Indeed, right behind the elite groups run all the sports amateurs and jogging aficionados, who often times look much less professional in their funny costumes and interesting hairstyles. These are the runners I enjoyed watching the most! Although the crowd recognized some of the famous runners, it really wanted to see the every-day people who were running just for pleasure… and glory!        

Behind the finish line, I saw young people and old people, fathers and mothers, lawyers and students, and all of them were equally breathless and equally happy that they had just run the Boston Marathon and had participated in this memorable event together!        

That’s what I call sports spirit!       

This lady athlete told my good friend Lena that the Boston Marathon is the best in the world and that everyone should run it at least once in their life. As Lena said, Go Boston!


Timmy, your people must be crazy for dyeing the Chicago River, a White House fountain, and everything else that’s in their way GREEN! But I guess, as Guinness said, “everyone is Irish on March 17”!

So Happy St. Patrick’s to you!

St. Patrick’s Day started out as a religious holiday celebrating the patron saint of Ireland, but today this day is considered a celebration of Irish culture all over the world! People wear green, paint shamrocks everywhere, and drink lots of good beer!

Boston is home to a big Irish diaspora, and the mass pub crawling in the Irish Southie quarter that started this weekend will reach its culminating point tonight!

At least I know which little leprechaun will steal my pot of gold 🙂  

***

And if you prefer wine to beer (or Bulgarian girls to Irish boys), read my previous post on St. Trifon Zarezan, the celebration of wine.

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