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### Explore the Benefits of Studying Abroad in Bulgaria


“ _Having witnessed the moon shine on the other side of the world, I am forever changed.”_ Mary Anne Rademacher

The perception of the world can be deceiving, and embarking on journeys serves as a means to validate this notion.

In 2024, the Elmhurst University School of Business and MBA Program embarked on a transformative Study Abroad J-Term session in Bulgaria. This academic endeavor was meticulously crafted to offer students a comprehensive insight into global business practices and cultural immersion.

Guided by School of Business faculty members Vania Adams, Dr. Mick Savage, and myself, four undergraduate students and two MBA graduates embarked on a twenty-two-day exploration of Bulgaria, a country nestled within the European Union’s Balkan region.

This excursion to Bulgaria exemplifies the invaluable lessons that can be gleaned from studying abroad, both for students and educators alike.

Initial Impressions

Leading the group with precision and care, Adams, a native Bulgarian, orchestrated an itinerary that not only broadened the students’ global perspective but also honed their understanding of international business dynamics. Upon landing at Sofia, Bulgaria’s airport, we checked into a centrally located hotel, stowed our belongings, and ventured out to savor our inaugural evening in the country. Our first night included a delightful walk to a local restaurant, where we were introduced to the flavors of Bulgarian cuisine amidst a lively ambiance. Our immersive experience encompassed:

  • A visit to Fulbright Bulgaria
  • An introduction to Bulgarian cultural nuances
  • A lesson on the Cyrillic alphabet by Executive Director Angela Rodel

Exploring Bulgarian Heritage

The crash course on Bulgarian culture, facilitated by Rodel, was both enlightening and engaging, prompting us to test our newfound linguistic skills. Rodel, a proficient linguist with a deep affection for her country, shared insights into Bulgarian culture, folklore, and music. To our surprise, Rodel showcased traditional instruments, notably a stringed instrument akin to a banjo called a tambura, and regaled us with her musical talents. Through videos and interactive sessions, we delved deeper into Bulgaria’s rich tapestry of traditions.

Subsequently, we embarked on a comprehensive four-hour walking tour of Sofia led by our guide, Dina. Dina shed light on the coexistence of Orthodox Christianity and Islam as the predominant faiths in Bulgaria, emphasizing the profound influence of religion on the country’s cultural evolution. As part of our immersive experience, we attended a service at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky, a significant place of worship in Bulgaria.

As an avid photographer, I seized the opportunity to capture moments that would forever etch themselves in my memory. The architectural marvels, particularly the mint green and gold-domed church, served as exquisite subjects for my lens. These visual mementos alone underscored the profound impact of international travel and cultural exploration.

Bulgaria’s historical trajectory has been shaped by diverse civilizations, including Greece, Turkey, Rome, Persia, and Russia. Dina elaborated on the enduring legacy of communism and Russia’s influence on Bulgaria, offering contrasting perspectives on communism from Eastern European and Western viewpoints. Our tour culminated in a visit to the Red Flat, an impeccably preserved apartment frozen in time since 1984, providing a poignant glimpse into Bulgaria’s recent history.

Exploration of Bulgarian Treasures

Our educational sojourn extended to several universities, such as Sofia University, South-West University “Neofit Riski,” American University Bulgaria, University of Economics-Varna, International Business School, and the University of National and World Economy. Each institution showcased a unique academic ethos, and we were warmly received by both faculty and students.

Our activities encompassed:

  • Attending lectures
  • Exploring distinctive features of each campus
  • Gaining insights into the specialized fields of study at each university

Bulgaria boasts nine UNESCO-designated World Heritage sites, each bearing profound historical significance. During our study abroad program, we had the privilege of visiting three of these sites.

The first stop was Boyana Church, a 10th-century marvel renowned for its original frescoes meticulously preserved over the centuries. Our guide highlighted the historical importance of these artworks, emphasizing the preservation of their authenticity.

Next, we visited the Rila Monastery, another architectural gem dating back to the 10th century. This functioning monastery, adorned with ornate chandeliers and intricate designs, captivated us with its spiritual aura. While photography was permitted in most places of worship, capturing images inside the Rila Monastery was strictly prohibited, underscoring the reverence attached to this sacred site.

Our final World Heritage site was the Ancient City of Nessebar, a relic from the sixth century steeped in Greek cultural influences. Despite its closure during the winter months, we reveled in exploring the ancient ruins that bore testimony to Bulgaria’s rich heritage.

A tour of Bulgaria’s National Palace of Culture, guided by Ivo Chiflicki, offered us a glimpse into Bulgaria’s artistic legacy. Spanning over 100,000 square meters, this cultural hub houses a treasure trove of Bulgarian artworks and stands as one of Europe’s largest convention centers. Additionally, our visit to the Muzeiko Children’s Museum, a three-story architectural marvel symbolizing the past, present, and future of technology, underscored Bulgaria’s commitment to nurturing young minds in STEM fields.

Integration of Business Insights

From a business perspective, our students had the privilege of interacting with prominent figures such as Svetozar Georgiev, CEO of Campus X, a renowned technology incubator fostering innovative startups. At American University Bulgaria, we witnessed a student business pitch competition where aspiring entrepreneurs received invaluable feedback from Hristo Chernev, the brains behind Taxi-Me, a local equivalent of Uber. These interactions not only enriched our understanding of business dynamics but also underscored the practical relevance of global exposure for aspiring professionals.

Reflections and Revelations

Despite jests from friends about my January sojourn to the Balkans, each day in Bulgaria proved to be a revelation. Contrary to expectations, the Bulgarian climate was milder than the chilly winds of Chicago. Over the course of 22 days, we traversed 5,000 miles to the picturesque ski town of Bankso and basked in the balmy shores of the Black Sea in Varna, where temperatures soared to a pleasant 65 degrees. Our visit to the Nu Boyana Film Studios, renowned for filming blockbuster hits like “300: Rise of an Empire” and “The Expendables,” added a touch of cinematic glamour to our itinerary, offering a glimpse into the thriving Bulgarian film industry.

Bulgaria, often likened in size to Tennessee, boasts unique distinctions such as being a major producer of rose oil and a significant contributor to Japan’s yogurt industry.

The Value of Studying Abroad

The School of Business Study Abroad initiative, in collaboration with Elmhurst’s Global Engagement Team, not only etched indelible memories in the minds of students but also fostered a more nuanced global perspective essential for future leaders. While this marked the first international trip for our graduate-level students, it certainly won’t be the last, with plans underway for a January 2025 Study Abroad expedition to Malaysia and Singapore.

Beyond the scenic splendors and cultural odysseys, studying abroad offers a gateway to enriching one’s collegiate portfolio. The program’s learning outcomes extend to career development, exposing students to diverse business landscapes and equipping them with the acumen to navigate global markets. The Bulgaria trip exemplified how initiatives aimed at retaining local talent and fostering technological innovation are instrumental in shaping Bulgaria’s economic landscape. By engaging with industry stalwarts and immersing themselves in real-world case studies, students gain invaluable insights that transcend theoretical knowledge, paving the way for a more globally attuned professional trajectory.

For further insights into the Study Abroad experience, we encourage you to reach out to the Office of Global Engagement, the School of Business, or the MBA Program. To stay updated on our upcoming programs, kindly complete the form provided below.