You Should Not Base Your Expectations on Your Past Experiences – What Else Our French Volunteer, Marie Gabrielle, Has to Say About Her EVS in Varna?

No, we do not sit in a nice restaurant drinking small coffee (where the hell is a big “normal” coffee hidden in this country?). Marie and I actually didn’t even have a regular conversation. But hey, let’s imagine we did. It shouldn’t be so difficult, because Marie-Gabrielle happens to be my flatmate. Anyway, let’s forget that both of us were staring at the computer screen instead. I know you didn’t have to know about that…but hey, maybe honesty is the new black (smiling face).

Before we start this interview, I think I should write at least one sentence about Marie-Gabrielle. Especially when she puts so much effort into writing answers that could be useful for you. Marie is a French girl, who arrived in Bulgaria on the 1st of November, on the day of her 25th birthday. She is an EVS volunteer in Alliance Française in Varna. Besides that, she is a really lovely and smart person who happens to be my flatmate.


I will ask you the same question I asked Jan, just to warm you up. I think it is going to be an easier task for you, as you have been here already for, how long? Almost 5 months, right? So, if you could use just one word how would you describe your experience here in Varna?

Different. (I could give you further explanations, but you asked for one word, so… :))

What made you come to Bulgaria?

The European Voluntary Service. Having already studied abroad, I wanted to have something closer to a professional experience in a foreign country, more specifically in the field of French culture and linguistics. I then found this volunteering opportunity – which met all the above-mentioned criteria – in an Alliance Française located in Varna, Bulgaria.

Why did you choose the EVS program? We know there are so many opportunities nowadays to go abroad, what was so special about this one?

I think the EVS while allowing you to live abroad for a good amount of time (up to one year) also gives some tools and resources to help you through the whole process of settling in a foreign country, and also a chance to gain both formal and non-formal experience. These were three elements that were important to me because I didn’t want to arrive in a new country without any “safety net”.

You have done your internship in Alliance Française before doing your EVS there. Is there any difference in your tasks now?

The only difference is that now I will have to focus more specifically on some activities related to the linguistics field. But otherwise it’s the same tasks, which are very diverse, so it suits me fine.


What is or was your biggest challenge during EVS?

I guess for me it’s not about one big challenge to overcome, but more an addition of small challenges: being able to communicate efficiently (ordering something in the restaurant can take some time if I can rely only on my Bulgarian knowledge…), trying to keep your spirits up even when things don’t go your way, dealing with an invasion of ants in your apartment or surviving the Bulgarian winter without appropriate shoes and clothes… I could mention more, but you get the idea. So all in all, I’m still standing, therefore with patience and positivity, I guess all of those are manageable 🙂

Let me interrupt a little bit, but only because Marie mentioned ants invasion. If anybody looks for gaining some handyman experience: you’re welcome in our apartment 😀 But let’s go back to Marie…

Did you have some doubts about something before coming here? I know you have read a lot about bad experiences during other people EVS. Did it appear to be so bad as they described it?

I did indeed document myself as much as I could on other people’s experiences before applying, and then joining the program. And it’s true, I read and heard some worrisome stories about volunteers who had to live in really poorly equipped apartments, who didn’t receive any guidance or money from their hosting organization or were required to work 24/7 just like they were regular employees.

So I wouldn’t say I had any particular doubts, apart from the usual questions you necessarily ask yourself when you’re relocating to a new country, but I considered myself warned. And of course, there were also plenty of positive EVS stories, which helps to put things back into perspective.

What did you know about Bulgaria before coming here?

Close to nothing, quite honestly, apart from the basic geographical knowledge.

What was your first impression of Varna?

The first thing I noticed was the contrasts Varna shows, especially in its architecture: most streets are a mix of brand new apartment complexes, abandoned buildings falling into pieces and humble brick houses, all sitting right next to each other.

The second thing that surprised me was how quiet the city was, even downtown on a Saturday night. Even though I knew I was arriving when the touristic season was over, I was still expecting something a little bit more lively.


As you previously mentioned, this is not your first living abroad experience. You have been studying in South Korea. Do you compare your stay in Bulgaria to your previous trip? What other things might you gain from this experience?

That’s right, I was an Erasmus student in the capital city of South Korea, Seoul, in 2013-2014. I did make a lot of comparisons in the beginning, because you inevitably rely on your first experience when you are finding yourself in a somewhat similar situation. I am now realizing that it’s kind of pointless to compare because apart from being in a foreign country, these two experiences have almost nothing in common.

In Seoul, I was a linguistics student, on the other side of the world, living in huge university dormitory accommodating hundreds of people, and culture shock was something I experienced on a daily basis. By that, I mean that the food, the supermarkets, the way things worked in general, the social interactions between people also… everything was really foreign to me, all the time.

Here in Bulgaria, I’m closer to home, geographically and also culture-wise. So this second adventure is not as unsettling as the previous one. So, some knowledge I gained for sure is that you should not base your expectations on your past experiences!

What do you like and what do you dislike about Bulgaria?

To begin with, I don’t know if what I’m going to say applies to the entire country. I’ve only been staying in Varna so far.

On one side, daily life is somehow more simple and convenient to what I am used to backing home. For everything you might need, there is a small shop on the corner of your street that sells it. And most of them are open until late at night and during the weekend.

On the other side, and even though it might sound paradoxical, it sometimes takes a hell of a long time to get things done here.

What is your favourite word/expression in Bulgarian?

Just off the top of my head, I can think of “приятно ми е”, which means “Nice to meet you”. A lot of Bulgarian words and sentences sound really nice to me.

What was the weirdest experience you had in Varna so far?

One of the strangest encounters I had so far happened to me when I was walking around my neighbourhood for the first time. Out of nowhere, a man casually crossed the street with three sheep following him. I’ve told this story to a couple of Bulgarian locals and it seems that it’s rather uncommon, so I guess I was lucky to witness it (even though that was a little bit of a oh… ‘what the hell’ moment).

I definitely like the story!

And now (I am sure it is your favourite part) some random quotation. John E. Southard supposedly said:

The only persons with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.