Have you ever felt like a fish out of water? It is always challenging to go to a completely unfamiliar place, meet different people, and clash with a variety of cultures and social norms. So, how does Blagoevgrad contribute to the easier and faster adaptation of its new society members?
When moving to another city or even a country, it takes a lot of effort to find the proper place to belong to. Nonetheless, Blagoevgrad tries to provide a friendly atmosphere for prospective AUBG students. In contrast to the capital city of Sofia, Blago (as students and locals refer to Blagoevgrad for short) is a far more peaceful place. “Many people assumed I wouldn’t like it and get bored quickly because I come from Varna, which is a much bigger city. However, I really love it here,” said Trayana Karamihaleva, a student at AUBG. Blagoevgrad possesses the features of both a big city with numerous opportunities and of a cozy village with a picturesque nature. Aneta Gerginova, a sophomore at AUBG, describes it as “bustling, but also quiet.”
It is indeed the nature and the atmosphere that make the greatest impression on newcomers. In a survey, conducted by AUBG Daily among 10 freshmen, the majority of them pointed to nature and the atmosphere as the most appealing features of the city. The first thing they associate Blagoevgrad with is either AUBG or Park Bachinovo.
Nevertheless, is this enough to help students to find their place? It turns out that the surrounding area plays a significant role when it comes to moving to Blago. “It almost felt like the mountain was embracing this small town, creating a cozy atmosphere and much milder climate,” Trayana said.
Some AUBG students shared the opinion that the university’s strategic location is what makes them feel the spirit of the city and helps them to turn it into their second home. AUBG is near the city center, which makes restaurants, shops, and entertainment facilities easily accessible. In addition, the university is surrounded by the beauty of the Pirin mountain nature and stands along the river Bistritza. It is also isolated to some extent from the hustle and bustle of city life as it appears to be located on a separate island.
Blagoevgrad’s local citizens are not to be undermined. They are an integral part of the city which has an influence on the students’ adaptation. Many AUBG students share the vision that the people from Blago are extremely friendly and always willing to help. They are polite and reliable which enhances the chance that new students will adapt easily because of the pleasant and comfortable atmosphere.
Unfortunately, many students cannot see themselves living and developing in Blagoevgrad. According to AUBG Daily’s research, 60% of the freshmen appear to be relatively satisfied with the opportunities the city offers. Students point out the fact that there are not enough perspectives for career development or even a part-time job while studying as a main drawback of the city. Social events are scarce. On the other hand, the night clubs were at their peak before COVID-19 stormed in the country. The insufficiency of cultural, intellectual, and social events prevents AUBG students from broadening their horizons and enriching their knowledge. “I haven’t noticed any special opportunities given by Blagoevgrad, but only by AUBG,” Aneta said.
The city itself is spacious, attractive, and welcoming, but not culturally and intellectually divergent. What a paradox actually! To say that one of the few places in Bulgaria, which gathers such a wide diversity of people, cultures, and ideas, is indeed empty of them. If it was not for AUBG, the city would be less attractive and lively since it does not offer many things to do.
Although most young people between the ages of 18-25 define nightlife as one of the crucial aspects of a student’s life, it seems that AUBG students look for far more different events. What is interesting is that most of them visit a local restaurant when arriving in Blagoevgrad for the first time. This applies, especially, to international students who want to try traditional Bulgarian cuisine and experience the culture. Furthermore, for Bulgarian students, a restaurant with home-made dishes will be beneficial for their adaptation as it will remind them of the delicious food prepared by their mothers and grandparents.
It is important to point out that COVID-19 has caused damage to numerous realms of the normal everyday life. Despite this, Blagoevgrad should ensure more opportunities for the students and thus facilitate their transition. The young generations are the future. That is why they should be supported and provided with a range of choices in order to develop not only academically, but also professionally, culturally, and intellectually.
Some of the most frequent suggestions in the survey reveal a desire for organizing social and cultural events outside, as well as events which help strengthen the community. As both Trayana and Aneta said, there should be more trips to different parts of the city and the region around. This way, students will explore on their own and even find some hidden beauties. Another proposal is to promote Blagoevgrad’s interesting destinations, places to eat and have fun, and historical and cultural sites. This can be done by giving out brochures, releasing short videos and advertisements on social media so that students get to know the different opportunities for recreation.
Last but not least, the more career opportunities, the easier the adaptation. Working is a good way to feel the spirit of a place, come to know the people and their lifestyle. If one becomes part of a working environment, they will easily catch up with the pace, make new relationships, and develop and ultimately find their place. Jobs offer not only the opportunity to acquire new skills but also a practical application to already existing knowledge.
When one considers the broad picture, Blagoevgrad still seems a vivid place. It is a big but cozy city that tries to engage its newcoming and young society members with different events and opportunities so that they satisfy the student life expectations. Although the city may not be as diverse as expected, it can still become students’ second home.
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