Iván Alia, Data Science student in Bulgaria
"Living in another country is an extraordinary experience that can't be compared with going on holiday"
Iván Alia: "I've lived in the USA, France, Spain and, finally, now in Bulgaria"
By Marian Antón
“Every country generalizes about other countries. It's very important to move beyond this and get to know the people in the country where you live”
Did you start the master's degree before or after arriving in Bulgaria?
I began it once I was here.
And how is it going?
Although the UOC provides every resource and means for study, very often I find it an uphill struggle, combining it with work. If I wasn’t working, I could do the master's degree in a year, but the idea is to complete it in two and a half. My work is very demanding and it's hard dedicating enough time to my studies. I'm really doing this master's degree for pleasure and because I want to learn and be up-to-date, which makes things easier.
Was it work that took you to Bulgaria?
Yes, the decision was mostly because the project I was working on in Spain ended after six years and I was offered the chance to work in Bulgaria for the same company.
Were your family and friends surprised by this decision?
It wasn't at all extraordinary for them. It was my “fourth” move to another country: I've lived in the USA, France, Spain, and, finally, now in Bulgaria.
Was the preparation difficult?
In my case, it was quite simple as my firm always provides the services of a company specialized in moving. I only had to pack a bag. This time, I decided to go to a new country without any furniture, which made it much easier.
And what were your first impressions when you arrived?
I arrived Christmas 2008, with snow and a great deal of poverty on show. Until now, I had always been in Western European countries, and the change was a big shock. Few people spoke English in the street and the Cyrillic alphabet didn't help me understand things much.
What has surprised you most?
The people, who were quick to welcome me and always ready to help, even when communication wasn't easy.
And anything negative?
I was saddened by the country's apathy in caring for and maintaining the towns and villages, mainly due to poverty. The money from Europe doesn't always reach its final destination. But over the last few years there has been some improvement.
What do you miss about your life in Spain?
I really miss my family and friends, but it's something I'm used to after so many years outside of Spain.
What's your daily routine like now?
I normally start at 6 in the morning to go to the gym (or 5 to study). Then I run to the office to get in before 9. As I don't have a car, I travel by metro and tram. Work normally takes up most of my day, which is why I get up so early. I know when I get to work but I'm not sure when I’ll be leaving, so I try not to make many plans for the evening. In general, I spend most of my time in meetings or planning activities for the teams I lead. I usually eat between meetings in front of the computer, catching up on email. Once I manage to leave the office, I have dinner with my wife and, depending on how I feel, I study or watch some TV before going to bed.
What is the most important lesson from your time abroad?
I have learnt that regardless of the country, people in general want the same thing: a family or friends, and a steady job. But, above all, by getting to know many cultures, I’ve realized that in all countries people generalize a lot about others and it's very important to move beyond this and get to know the people in the country where you live.
Would you like to come back?
I don't intend to at the moment. Living in Europe today, you can always go back to Spain quickly when necessary, so I'll stay in Bulgaria.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about packing their bags and living abroad?
My first piece of advice would be to do it, see other countries and get to know them by living there. It's an extraordinary experience that cannot be compared with going on holiday. The next thing I always say is that living in another country without someone to help you get started requires planning. The best thing is to contact someone already living in the country who can help or advise you. Today there are lots of internet expat forums that are ready to help.