“It’s a good movie, but that is as far as it goes.” That is the general opinion of the 2002 Bulgarian blockbuster Emigrants expressed by the young members of “Here and There” [Tuk-Tam in Bulgarian]. The film recounts the story of three friends who will stop at nothing to leave their native country — a goal that is not in tune with the dreams and aspirations of the association for young Bulgarians who have completed their studies, or are currently in the process of acquiring qualifications, at foreign institutions.

Why not a career in Bulgaria?

Today every announcement that the country has been obliged to import specialists needed by particular sectors of the national economy is grist to the mill for the members of “Here and There”, many of whom remain undecided as to whether they should leave, return home, or definitively abandon their native country. On 3 March, which is National Liberation Day in Bulgaria, the association will celebrate its third anniversary. “It sounds very patriotic, but in fact it is a total coincidence,” explains Vania Ivanova, age 27, who describes how the group began with a series of informal meetings.

“When you come home after a long stay abroad, it is not unusual to find that all your friends have disappeared, especially if you left the country just after completing secondary school. When I came back from London in 2008, I found myself in a social desert: Friday nights would come and go, and there would be no one to go for a drink with,” remarks Vania. That is when she decided to join forces with two of her former classmates from the American Univeristy in Bulgaria [located in Blagoevgrad, in the west ot the country], Mariela and Deni, who were in a similar situation. Today, close to a hundred people turn out for their meetings, and the group has 1,500 fans on Facebook.

While the media continues to report on Bulgaria’s brain drain, these highly qualified and ambitious young people have decided to stay in the country and their numbers are steadily growing. “We have the energy, the knowledge and most importantly the desire to succeed and to make a contribution in Bulgaria,” remarks Vania. The group has launched a number educational and professional initiatives: “All together”, “Why come home?”, “Studying abroad”…

Culture shock occurred before they returned home

To date, one of their biggest successes has been a forum organised in December under the title “Why not a career in Bulgaria?” The group has received a visit from the American ambassador James Warlick and from the EU’s Commissioner for International Cooperation, Bulgarian Kristalina Gueorguieva. Diana who is another member of “Here and There” and a former student of Trinity College, has taken charge of the group’s charity drives, which are simple but often valuable initiatives like the collection of unwanted clothing.

“Last summer, we had a programme to clear litter from parks between residential buildings. I will always remember the astonished looks we got from local people, who were amazed we would want to clean up areas where we didn’t even live,” she remarks. “Some of them thanked us, and one old lady even pitched in to help. That is the point of these initiatives, which is to try to change the way people think.”

The members of “Here and There” often organise events on the theme of the “culture shock of coming home,” whose content could easily provide inspiration for a interesting film on emigration. Most of them have grown attached to the manners and customs of the countries where they completed their studies. Diana, who is an enthusiastic proponent of an American-style politeness that others might dismiss as a facade, is a case in point. “It’s something that I really miss in Bulgaria,” she says. “No one says hello or goodbye, and they hardly ever smile. I make a deliberate effort to greet everyone, including bus drivers who must think I’m completely crazy.”

The world is increasingly a global environment

But for some, the culture shock occurred before they returned home. Jény who studied in Belgium remembers one particular day when her car, which was parked on the street where she lived, was attacked by vandals. “I heard a lot of noise, so I went out to see what was happening. But they had already left,” she says. “My neighbour, who had also witnessed the incident was absolutely furious. He told me, ‘I saw them, they were definitely Romanians or Bulgarians!'.”

Most of the members of “Here and There” believe that more and more young Bulgarians who are studying abroad will decide to return: not because they are homesick, but just because life is more interesting in Bulgaria. There is a vibrant business culture, and and they are curious about professional opportunities and the possibility of helping to change the mentality in the country.

“The world is increasingly a global environment, borders are disappearing and we are all a lot more mobile. Even what it means to come back has completely changed. You can be in Bulgaria today, and tomorrow you can decide that you want to work abroad again. The era of ‘no turning back’ when you had to make dramatic decisions about your future is now over,” point out the youthful members of “Here and There”.