Why Study Abroad – A Trip to Bulgaria

Lawrence Brown | 8 MIN READ

study abroad

I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” Mary Anne Rademacher

The world is not always what it seems to be and traveling is a way to validate such a statement.

The Elmhurst University School of Business and MBA Program traveled to Bulgaria for the 2024 Study Abroad J-Term session, where the academic excursion focused on providing students with a global business and culture perspective.

Four undergraduate and two MBA graduate students spent twenty-two days traversing the European Union-designated Balkan Country, curated by School of Business faculty Vania Adams, myself and Dr. Mick Savage.

This trip to Bulgaria is an excellent example of why students should study abroad and what students and professors can learn from it.

Getting Settled

Adams, a Bulgarian, led the journey as her meticulous itinerary provided countless ways for students to build their global mindset and enhance international business acumen. The group flew into Sofia, Bulgaria’s airport, traveled to our centrally located hotel, dropped our bags in our rooms and headed out to experience our first night in the country. Our group took a twenty-minute walk to a restaurant where we had our first experience with Bulgarian cuisine and a vibrant atmosphere. Our immersive journey included:

  • Visiting Fulbright Bulgaria
  • Getting an introduction to Bulgarian culture
  • Learning the Cyrillic alphabet, which Executive Director Angela Rodel conducted

Learning About Bulgarian Culture

The Bulgarian crash course was informative and fun and we tested our newly acquired vocabulary. Rodel is also an accomplished linguist who has an evident love of the country and has translated a book and other articles from Bulgarian to English.

We learned about Bulgarian culture, folklore and music, and Rodel also showed our group some instruments, to which we were pleasantly surprised that Rodel played a stringed instrument like a banjo called a tambura. She delighted us with her tambura skills and we watched several videos to understand Bulgaria better.

Next was a four-hour walking tour of Sofia, led by our tour guide Dina. According to Dina, Orthodox Christianity and Islam are the two primary religious faiths. Dina noted that faith has played a prominent role in developing the country’s cultural aspects. As a part of the immersive experience, our team decided to attend a service at one of Bulgaria’s places of worship: The Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Alexander Nevsky.

As a former professional photographer, I take many pictures when traveling; the images bring back memories of the places I traveled to. I also enjoy architecture, which is one of my favorite subjects to capture. Images of the mint green and gold-domed church provided memorable photographic works of art. These images alone could be a great reason to study abroad.

Several civilizations impacted the growth and development of this European Union country. Greece, Turkey (500 Ottoman rule), Romans, Persia and Russia are some countries that left an indelible impact on Bulgaria.

Dina explained how communism and Russia, more prominently in recent history, influenced Bulgaria. One of the highlights of the Sofia walking tour was learning about communism from the perspective of Eastern Europeans versus a more Westernized vantage point. It was interesting to understand that communism was the way of life for many Bulgarians. According to Dina, many older people who grew up in communism viewed the old regime with nostalgia.

The Red Flat is an apartment that has been left intact since 1984, and walking through the exhibit was like teleporting back in time. The guided tour is an electronic device you can listen to as you enter each room in the apartment. It chronicles the life of the last family in the apartment.

Bulgarian Landmarks

Our group visited several universities which included Sofia University, South-West University “Neofit Riski,” American University Bulgaria, University of Economics-Varna, International Business School and the University of National and World Economy. Each university had a distinctive style and the faculty and students graciously welcomed us.

Various activities included:

  • Listening to lectures
  • Visiting the unique aspects of each campus
  • Learning more about the specialization of each school

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), there are 1,199 World Heritage sites worldwide, which are locations designated as having historical value. Bulgaria has nine culturally relevant sites, and our study abroad group was fortunate enough to have visited three of them.

The first was Boyana Church, which was built in the 10th century. The tour guide shared with us that the paintings inside the church are original and that the curators do not retouch any of the work to maintain authenticity.

The Rila Monastery, also erected in the 10th century, is still a functional place of worship and is heavily visited by worshipers and tourists alike. The interior has an intense intricacy with vaulted ceilings adorned with gold chandeliers. While we could photograph the inside of other places of worship, doing so in Rila was strictly prohibited.

Our third World Heritage location was called the Ancient City of Nessebar and dates back to the sixth century, according to the sign located at the site. The city shut down as a tourist attraction during winter, but we can still enjoy walking through this city of ruins, primarily influenced by Greek culture.

Ivo Chiflicki allowed us to tour Bulgaria’s National Place of Culture. The more than 100,00 square meters houses beautiful Bulgarian artwork and is now one of the largest convention centers in Europe, according to Chiflicki. Additionally, we learned about advancing the needs of Bulgarian children and expanding their love for science, technology and math by visiting the three-story Muzeiko Children’s Museum. The building was designed with the basement level floor being the past, the first floor depicting the present and the third floor exhibiting the future technology.

Incorporating Business

From a commerce perspective, our students had the opportunity to meet two chief executive officers, Svetozar Georgiev of Campus X. This technology incubator is home to numerous successful start-ups. While visiting American University-Bulgaria, we visited a student business pitch competition where students received real-time feedback from Taxi-Me’s head of company, Hristo Chernev. Taxi-Me is similar to Uber in the United States. Students were afforded access to these, who were willing to answer their business-related questions, again making the answer of why to study abroad easy for our students.

Lasting Thoughts

Several friends thought it was funny that I was traveling to the Balkan region in January. But the irony of humor was that every day in Bulgaria was warmer than in Chicago. In 22 days, we were able to visit 5,000 miles above sea level to the ski town of Bankso and, several days later, walk the beaches of the Black Sea in 65-degree weather in Varna.

We did have fun going to Nu Boyana Film Studios, where movies such as 300: Rise of an Empire, London Has Fallen and The Expendables were filmed. I could not begin my acting debut, but it was still a unique experience.

There were other fun facts about the country, such as the size of Tennessee. Bulgaria produces approximately 75% of the world’s rose oil and about 40% of Japan’s yogurt production.

Why to Study Abroad  

The School of Business Study Abroad program, in conjunction with Elmhurst’s Global Engagement Team, provided students with lifelong memories while building their global mindset to be more holistic global citizens and leaders. While it was the first time graduate-level students traveled abroad, it will not be the last as we plan our January 2025 Study Abroad trip to Malaysia and Singapore.

Aside from the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful places in the world, international travel presents building an impressive collegiate portfolio. The B-School study abroad model and learning outcomes include career development. While engaging with companies in other countries, students learn about the similarities and differences between potentially working and living abroad. The Bulgaria trip was a great example when students learned how the country is enticing Bulgarians to stay in the country instead of leaving for what some believe are more lucrative opportunities abroad.

One solution has been to build a robust technological infrastructure that leverages their competitive advantage in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Yes, students could read about such initiatives, but it is far more enriching for students and leaders of tomorrow to experience real-time case studies from actual chief executive officers. Global awareness and building a global mindset can open potential career considerations by opening access to an international workplace.

If you want to learn more about the Study Abroad experience, please get in touch with the Office of Global Engagement, the School of Business or the MBA Program. To receive information about our programs, please fill out the form below.

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About the Author

Business Administration Master's Degree

Lawrence Brown is the Director of the MBA Program and an Assistant Professor at Elmhurst University. Lawrence leads a student-centric program that prepares graduates to be effective communicators and emotionally intelligent decision-makers in various industries. Lawrence also oversees the program’s operations, curriculum, faculty, strategic analysis and external relationships, while pursuing his PhD in Global Leadership.


Posted March 19, 2024

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