Iva Popova header


Iva Popova

ICT specialist at imec, Leuven, Belgium

Iva Popova
“Living abroad lets you embrace new customs while staying true to your own roots. It is a journey of growth, finding harmony between adapting and staying authentic.”
Plodviv - Cobblestone streets (picture by Iva)

The undiscovered charms of Bulgaria

Iva Popova, a determined Bulgarian woman, took a bold step to pursue her dreams beyond her homeland. She completed high school in Bulgaria and then moved to Leuven to pursue bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering and master’s degree in International Business Economics and Management at KU Leuven. Upon finishing her studies, Iva got a job opportunity at imec in Leuven, prompting her to extend her stay in Belgium. As for the future, she chooses not to dwell on it too much, opting to embrace opportunities in life as they come.

Open mind to other cultures

Arriving in Belgium, Iva faced the initial challenges of living independently, away from the familiar comfort of home. She was determined to build a new social circle but realized it required an open mind and willingness to connect with people from various backgrounds. Fortunately, her choice of an international program at KU Leuven facilitated friendships with like-minded students eager to make connections.

As Iva settled into her new life, she couldn’t help but notice the stark differences between her native Bulgaria and Belgium. One aspect that stood out was the culinary scene. The absence of her beloved Bulgarian pastry, Banista, in Belgian bakeries left her reminiscing about home. She also observed that shops in Belgium closed much earlier, contrasting the late night shopping culture back in Bulgaria.

Amidst these differences, Iva appreciated the openness of the Belgian people. She found them more accepting of various cultures and backgrounds, fostering an environment where international people could freely share their customs and traditions. This cultural exchange enriched her experience, deepening her appreciation for the diversity around her.

Easter eggs
Easter eggs

Bulgarian traditions and celebrations

Bulgaria hosts fascinating traditions that showcase the nation’s rich cultural heritage. One intriguing Bulgarian tradition is the Day of Forgiveness. Historically significant, this day is a time for gathering with loved ones and friends to seek forgiveness if unintentionally hurting someone’s feelings or causing offense. This custom strengthens bonds and showcases mutual respect and support among people.

Similarly, during Christmas and Easter, unique customs come to life. Christmas is celebrated with a fascinating tradition of preparing only vegetarian dishes for Christmas Eve dinner, always in odd numbers to symbolize abundance and prosperity. At the same time, the art of coloring eggs during Easter signifies new beginnings and the renewal of life. These beautifully adorned eggs become cherished gifts exchanged among loved ones during the festive Easter celebrations.

When it’s time for celebrations, Iva shares a charming fun fact: in Bulgaria, people celebrate name days, which are different from birthdays. Iva has two name days: one dedicated to her name’s saint and another that symbolically represents the meaning of her name. Her second name day, Tsvetnica, has a special connection to the willow tree’s flexibility, symbolizing strength and bounce-back ability. This means that Iva is celebrated thrice yearly: on St. Ivan’s Day, on the day symbolizing flexibility and strength, and on her birthday.

Must see

Explore Roman ruins, and vibrant arts scene in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s ancient city with a modern twist.

Plovdiv - Roman theater
Plovdiv - Roman theater
Plovdiv - Old town windows
Plovdiv - Old town windows

A country with mountains, beaches, and cultural heritage

While traveling through Bulgaria, visitors will discover a delightful array of places to explore. Among the must-visit destinations is the Seven Rila Lakes, a favorite spot of Iva’s in the country’s southwest. These lakes offer breathtaking alpine-like scenery and beckon hikers to embark on a rewarding journey. A lift is available to reach the starting point, although it’s important to be aware that it can get quite crowded during peak seasons.

Another captivating location is Plovdiv, renowned for its rich history and Roman influence. Nestled around seven hills, this charming city showcases an amphitheater, museums, and traditional arts and crafts, providing a captivating glimpse into Bulgaria’s cultural heritage. For those drawn to coastal allure, Sozopol is an ideal choice. This small yet picturesque town seamlessly blends Greek influence with Bulgarian charm. Sandwiched between the sea on both sides, it offers the perfect setting for a leisurely exploration lasting a couple of hours.

Seven Rila Lakes
Plovdiv - Old town windows

Navigating Bulgaria is relatively straightforward between major cities. Using a car to access more remote or scenic destinations is common. It’s worth noting that not everyone may be fluent in English, so acquiring some basic Bulgarian phrases can significantly assist in communication with the locals.