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I studied for one semester in Sofia, Bulgaria

Augustin Clé­ment, third year stu­dent at UTC, chose to go to Sofia in Bul­gar­ia for his Eras­mus exchange semes­ter. Between appre­hen­sions about the pos­si­ble can­cel­la­tion of his stay, trav­el and cours­es in very small groups, he tells Inter­ac­tions about his experience. 

Where did you go to study this semester?

I went to Sofia, Bul­gar­ia to study at the UCTM, the Bul­gar­i­an Uni­ver­si­ty of Chem­i­cal Tech­nol­o­gy and Metallurgy. 

Why did you choose this destination?

I am a stu­dent in my final semes­ter of the com­mon core (Edi­tor’s note: the first two years of study at the UTC) and I did­n’t have many cours­es to do here. So I told myself that the best thing to do was to val­i­date these last cours­es abroad, in a con­text that I did­n’t know. I was very keen to dis­cov­er East­ern Europe, but the sit­u­a­tion in Poland wor­ried me and only Bul­gar­ia offered biol­o­gy cours­es adapt­ed to the branch I want­ed to fol­low. So my choice was quite easy and natural. 

Were you afraid that your semester would be cancelled?

It’s true that with the health sit­u­a­tion, the clos­er I got to the depar­ture date, the more I stressed. I had nev­er­the­less had pre­pared a plan B if I stayed in C o m p i è g n e with cer­tain cours­es I had cho­sen. But all the same, I was hop­ing to be able to leave. In the end every­thing went well, my flight was not can­celled and I was able to fly to Bul­gar­ia last September. 

How was your arrival there?

The first thing that struck me was the fact that the Covid-19 is not very present among the pop­u­la­tion. Social dis­tanc­ing was clear­ly not a pri­or­i­ty and, unlike France, restau­rants, night­clubs and bars remained open. It must be said that to pass the COVID tests here you have to spend more than 60€. It’s a high price for peo­ple and that sure­ly explains the low num­ber of cas­es record­ed. But since Decem­ber 8, 2020, the coun­try has tak­en mea­sures to close some establishments. 

And what about your integration in the university, how did it go?

On site, there is an asso­ci­a­tion that takes care of wel­com­ing all Eras­mus stu­dents. There were a lot of activ­i­ties and meet­ings at the begin­ning of the semes­ter and there is a real fol­low-up through­out the year. It’s real­ly ide­al. But meet­ing Bul­gar­i­ans proved a bit more complicated. 

Why so?

Well, because I didn’t have a lot of class­es with them. I’m in a French-speak­ing biol­o­gy course, and there are only three or four of us in my class­es. In oth­er words, it’s not the best way to meet new people… 

And what does the pedagogy in your Bulgarian school look like?

I must admit that the men­tal­i­ty there is quite dif­fer­ent from the French one. I have the feel­ing that peo­ple are less stressed and this can be felt in the organ­i­sa­tion of the cours­es. The start of the school year was post­poned for a few weeks but that did­n’t wor­ry any­one at school. I have both face-to-face and some dis­tance learn­ing cours­es. But unlike the dis­tance learn­ing cours­es I fol­lowed at UTC, where there was a lot of video­con­fer­enc­ing, here the dis­tance learn­ing is more like a few PDF files sent by email and reminders from the teach­ers to find out where we are in our course primer read­ing. It’s a shade qui­eter. And then we can be absent from cer­tain class­es and arrange per­son­al­ly for our exams. Our teach­ers have under­stood that as Eras­mus stu­dents we are above all there to gain in inter­cul­tur­al­i­ty and local discovery. 

So, you were able to make some trips?

Yes, of course! I vis­it­ed Bul­gar­ia a lot. It was a coun­try I did­n’t know at all and I fell in love with it. Between the moun­tains, the hot springs, the small vil­lages. There is some­thing very wild in the places I vis­it­ed. I also went to Istan­bul and Mace­do­nia. I also want­ed to ven­ture into Ruma­nia but I was turned back at the bor­der because of the COVID measures. 

And how do you envisage the end of your stay?

I will try to stay as long as pos­si­ble in the coun­try. Why go back to France for the hol­i­days, for exam­ple, when there is a lock­down and I am not sure I will be able to return here? I have so many oth­er things to explore in Bul­gar­ia that I won’t be bored! 

Are you fluent in Bulgarian?

Far from it! I learnt the Cyril­lic alpha­bet so that I could get by a lit­tle but I have a lot of progress to make yet. 

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