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  • Writer's picturePolicy and Citizens' Observatory

The faces of migrant youth: Berkan

‘I see our generation as the one with the biggest responsibility. We are the

ones that must take the beauty out of every place we have been and integrate

that to place where we come from.’

‘Since I came here, Bulgaria has faced a lot of struggles but got over them

with a big win and a progressive change.’

Short biographical story: name, age, origin, education etc.

My name is Berkan. I am a 25-year-old medical student from Turkey. This is my last year of university before I become a medical doctor. I also work as a personal trainer and nutritionist, helping people reshape their lives, health, and overall wellbeing in order to increase their life quality and lifespan.

Why did you choose to come to this country instead of somewhere else?

I am from a town called Odrin in Turkey. It is a city at the border with Bulgaria and Greece. Therefore, I was a pretty familiar with Bulgaria, as I visited the country often when I was a child. My cousin is also married to a lovely Bulgarian woman, and they live here, so they helped me to make my final decision to settle here. Also, the rapid growth of life quality in Bulgaria was and is still very appealing to young people who are looking for opportunities.

What does your life look like in Bulgaria?

I absolutely love living in Sofia, it is very hard to catch up with how fast the city is growing. Every day a new bar or a restaurant opens, and it’s easy for us to try new experiences. This has slowed down because of the pandemic but still you can find a lot of different ways to have fun in the city.

What was the most difficult part of coming here?

Throughout my life, I have lived in different places like Turkey, Germany, the US and Bulgaria. Even though Bulgaria is the closest one to my hometown, I had always seen it as the furthest. I believe this is related to the way we were taught about our differences, but what I find beautiful is that after I came it didn’t take me long to realize that we are actually way more similar than we think. Culture, people, food, music… It was like an unfinished story between our people.

What have been your biggest challenges when you arrived?

My biggest challenge was the way bureaucracy works in Bulgaria, which is not so different than in Turkey, but I came here after living several years in Germany, it was definitely very chaotic and challenging to deal with paperwork and all that, but it didn’t take a lot of time for me to get used to it and go back to my roots. The blessing and the curse of the Balkans is finding the beauty in chaos.

What was it like to live in Bulgaria during the pandemic?

As a citizen, it was very nice to live in Bulgaria during the pandemic, especially in Sofia because of the beautiful parks and forests it has. I felt extremely lucky being here. We were going out for walks in a forest next to our house very early in the morning to avoid coming across with anyone. So quiet and peaceful. But as a young doctor, I cannot say the same. It was very frustrating for us, as doctors and medical staff, to deal with the misinformation and bigotry. I do not know the specific reason for this, but it was very hard to educate people on the benefits of the vaccine and the need for pandemic measures.

What was the biggest challenge during the pandemic in Bulgaria?

As I have mentioned before, the hardest part for me, and I believe for all the medical staff, was to educate people and provide them with the real science-based information about vaccines and measures to prevent further losses, and to increase the life quality of the people during such trying times.

As a young person who decided to migrate to Bulgaria what would be your advice to cope with the challenges created by the pandemic?

I believe if this pandemic brought something good among the thousands of bad things, it made us to rethink our values. Many of us understood the real value of relationships. Our family, our partners, our real friends... We have realized that you don’t need to surround yourself with hundreds of people to feel beloved and cared. You just need few real people that will be there for you.

Do you think that Covid pandemic created new opportunities for young migrants? What?

Every crisis puts and end to an era and starts another one. We have seen absolute change in many sectors. This pandemic made the shift to the digital era way faster. This is the time of “free information”. As young people, who are looking for new opportunities, we need to learn how to find that “right information” among all the “free information” in order to revolutionize the sectors we are in.

What do you like most in Bulgaria?

People. For example, I love to tell people that I am from Odrin. You cannot imagine the familiarity and warmth one feels after starting a conversation like that, finding the similarities between two cultures, and realizing the beauty of our region. The friendships that I have built here, cannot be compared to any other place.

What have been your greatest sources of joy?

My greatest source of joy has been helping people who are in need medically, especially seeing the results of the high rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases due to pandemic. I enjoy the way my patients change their life and start enjoying it. Seeing all the health problems disappearing slowly. Experiencing this first-hand and be the reason for it is priceless.

Can you think of times when you have felt unwelcome as an immigrant? What about when you have felt welcomed?

I can personally say that I have never faced unpleasant situations for being a foreigner. Everyone was very welcoming and friendly, especially after they learn where I come from, but I know many immigrants from our university that have been involved in those unwanted situations. The Balkans is one of the regions with a richer history in the world. We have a lot of stories all around it (even though many changed and were exaggerated by time), and when the situation is like this, we are all proud and sometimes overprotective about what is ours. I believe that this has faded away with the new generation already. Thanks to new “free information” era, now we don’t need to be stuck with what is taught to us but go and find the reality. This helped us realize the beauty of our region we are in and not to try to preserve it but even share with everyone.

How do you think that migration has changed you?

Oh, let me tell you this. Unfortunately, our education systems are misleading. For years we have been taught that “we” are the better and “they” are the worse. When you go out, explore, experience, meet and talk, you realize that this is far from the truth. All cultures, all countries, all people come with their beauties and baddies. I see our generation as the one with the biggest responsibility. We are the ones that must take the beauty out of every place we have been and integrate that to place where we come from. If or when I go back to Turkey, this is the first thing I will do. I will integrate all these beautiful things that I have been experiencing outside as an immigrant into Turkey. One step at a time, the world will become a better place.

What are you hoping to accomplish in the future?

I have a lot of goals, since this is my last year in university, I am trying to build my organization to help people fight obesity and age-related diseases to promote longevity and life quality. I live for science and as a scientist it is my goal to provide people with a clean source of knowledge to help them improve their lives. I have already helped to create positive changes in people’s lives, and this encourages me to stay in Bulgaria longer and make a difference.

Is there anything you would like to add that has not been asked?

I want to thank personally to everyone who is involved in this project. This encourages people to see the real beautiful face of Bulgaria and break down all the bigotry. Since I came here, Bulgaria has faced a lot of struggles but got over them with a big win and a progressive change. The reason of this is people, just like the supporters of this project, who are empowered by people and the change for good.

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