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  • Writer's picturePolicy and Citizens' Observatory

The faces of migrant youth: Emma

‘Migration is the reason I am the person I am today.’

‘A time that I’ve felt welcomed? Literally any time I say: здравей Аз съм Ема, аз съм от Ирландия. Bulgarian people really love Irish people!’

‘I think the New Normal in the corporate world has had an incredibly positive effect on young migrants.’

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

My name is Emma Walsh, Irish born and reared in the small coastal town of Dundalk. I completed a Bachelor (Hons) in Marketing which included an Erasmus year in Berlin. The international experience combined with the fast-paced career of Marketing later set me on a path which would lead me to my niche in the Sprits & Wine Industry on track to be a brand manager in Bulgaria.

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

I like to say that I didn’t choose Bulgaria, Bulgaria chose me. I applied for my role on the Jameson International Graduate Programme. I signed up knowing that I will be in a marketing career, in the Spirits industry representing the incredible Jameson Irish Whiskey brand on an international placement. However, I did not choose my placement. The graduate team at Irish Distillers are world class in recruitment so when they told me I was going to Bulgaria, I just trusted that it was the best fit for me. You know what? They were right.

What does your life look like in Bulgaria?

After 3 years of living in Bulgaria I am now Assistant Brand Manager for Jameson for the country, and I am the Ambassador for the Balkans region. What does that actually mean? It means my days are filled with project managing nationwide campaigns and my evenings occupied by fun events, whiskey tastings and opportunities to meet more people and make more friends.

What was the most difficult part of coming here?

I have been very fortunate and have had a very smooth transition into Bulgaria. Before arriving in Sofia, I had a job and an apartment waiting for me. I had supportive and helpful colleagues and rarely met someone who was unkind. Not many people can say the same. The most difficult part was the worry that I wouldn’t be understood. Not just on a language level but as a person. As cultural differences reared their heads, I began to worry that I would never truly find meaning here if there was always an invisible line between me and anyone else. Then something wonderful happened. Over time, the lines started to blur. My interactions started to make more sense as I gained more insight into the Bulgarian mindset and furthermore started adapting myself to that mindset – somewhat unknowingly. What was it like to live in Bulgaria during the pandemic?

I was so fortunate to be here in Sofia during the pandemic. I did not lose my job even though many of my colleagues in the Night Life industry did. I was living alone and had time and space to breathe and to process everything. I feel that if you got sick, or lost your job, then Bulgaria was not the most maternal place to be during the pandemic. However, personally, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on my values, what I want to achieve in life and then furthermore gave me the time and space to explore them.

What was the biggest challenge during the pandemic in Bulgaria?

Novelist Patricia Highsmith once said: “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”

I am a people person through and through, and I gain so much energy from the happiness of others, and even more by making people happy. However, this comes with a downside. I forget to check in with what makes me happy, with what I need.

The pandemic’s pause gave me a chance, probably for the first time in my life, to reflect upon myself. Having been distanced from the needs of others, I was brought closer to my own needs. Since this time, I have learned to readjust my mindset and reprioritise. I’m a different person now.

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

Be patient and understanding. The mindset could be very different to yours. Coming from Ireland which has a very high vaccination rate, it was unfathomable to me that the public sentiment in Bulgaria was much more apprehensive toward the vaccine. I didn’t understand it for some time, but I wasn’t listening. There is reason behind it. I still personally do not agree but that actually is not the point. The point is this: when in doubt, always assume the best of intentions. The Bulgarian people are kind and wonderful and should be understood as such. You’ll make friends for life, I promise.

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

I think the New Normal in the corporate world has had an incredibly positive effect on young migrants. Working from home is not just a different type of work schedule but a mindset shift. We are reassessing our communications, our targets, our expectations between one another. We are also given more opportunity to write our own rules, enjoy a flexible workday which makes sense for us, leaving more time for our own personal pursuits during our long-forgotten commuting times. Pre-Covid I was not sitting in a meeting with people from all over the world whilst wearing pyjama bottoms, that’s for sure. It’s the little things.

What do you like most in Bulgaria?

I love living in a country that you can literally see changing before your eyes. Bulgaria is a different place than even when I arrived. The tides are turning and it’s palpable. It’s such an exciting time to be a part of it all.

What have been your greatest sources of joy?

My work life has been the single greatest source of joy in my life. I have travelled all over Bulgaria, met incredible people, hosted events, shared many a Nazdrave, whilst also learning so much in terms of brand management and marketing. I’ve got the best of both worlds. I haven’t worked a day in my life.

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

One day I tried to get a ticket at the bus station going to Plovdiv. I left the station with no ticket, no clue of how to get to Plovdiv and crying my eyes out. The staff at the station were so incredibly unsupportive and rude even though I was trying to speak Bulgarian. I know it’s not personal, it’s not about me. It just sucked.

A time that I’ve felt welcomed? Literally any time I say: здравей Аз съм Ема, аз съм от Ирландия. Bulgarian people really love Irish people! A smile goes such a long way so I just always try to be friendly, and smiley and I am so welcomed in return, even if we can’t speak to each other.

How do you think that migration has changed you?

I can now say that I am an open-minded person. I thought I was open-minded before, but I was actually just young and liberal and left-wingy. However, I didn’t like anyone’s opinion with which I didn’t agree. This is not who I am anymore. I can listen, try to understand, and respect opinions and values which are different to mine. Migration is the reason I am the person I am today.

What are you hoping to accomplish in the future?

Hope is not a strategy. I have recently begun putting plans in place to achieve the goals I have set for myself. I want to use my talent for public speaking and connecting with others to make the world a better place. I believe we shouldn’t act only in the interest of ourselves. We must act as a community and for the goodness of others. Or else, what do we have? My accomplishments will be centred around the pursuit of a better world. So, watch this space. Big things are coming.

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

Yes. My favourite nights in Bulgaria have been whilst doing the хоро in the кручма. I would fall on the sword of луканка. I have enacted опа and хайде in to my daily language and I have now reversed my head shakes for yes and no. I am a total българка now and I am very proud of it.

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