Alya has been in Bulgaria for 20 years now, she first lived in the small town of Yambol and then she moved to Sofia, studied Arabic and became an IOM staff member and the leader of the youth Russian diaspora organization in Bulgaria.
“My mom and I first went on a vacation to Bulgaria and she said ‘Oh, Bulgaria is a great country. You walk on the streets and you can see all kinds of fruits growing’. I was ten years old and came here for the fruits. My mom had a friend from Russia who lived here as well. She really loved and praised the country, for her it was an amazing place to live. The people are warm, welcoming and emotionally involved, that is really why we fell in love with Bulgaria.
What I miss the most from Russia is the house I grew up in. It was close to the woods with the famous Russian birches. When looking up the ginormous trees the wind would always be shaking the long birches. The sounds of these birches is what I really miss, it is something out of this world. In order to overcome the homesickness you have to find a way to integrate that part of your life in your current life in the new country.
I wanted to preserve my Russian origins and that is why I joined the youth organization of the Russian diaspora. To overcome several barriers, for example language, I joined a theatre group. Because of the many activities not only did my accent disappear, but I was also able to develop my personal characteristics. The funniest thing was that if you pronounced a word with an accent, no matter if it was foreign or the local Yambol dialect, in this group you were obligated to pay a 50 cents ‘fine’. This obviously led to us practicing our pronunciations, it was a very effective tool!
The theatre performances I participated in made me well known in the region and a local TV network invited me to present the weather report. I was doing this job for three years. At one point people started stopping me at the street because they recognized me. It was hilarious. That is how the little migrant became famous, in the countryside at least.”