Interview with Hristina Dushepeeva, a Bulgarian Student in Seoul who Participated in the Organisation of the Olympics
Recently I found out that a dear friend from high school is participating as an organiser in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. I messaged her and soon came up with the idea of making a whole interview not just about this recent adventure of hers but the story of how she went to study in South Korea and her life there.
She is Hristina Dushepeeva and is 23 years old, born in the beautiful coastal city of Burgas, which is located in Bulgaria. Hris has been living in South Korea for two years now and is currently a sophomore at the School of Business in Yonsei University, Seoul.
Novinite: Hello, Hris, I am curious what is the thing that attracted you to South Korea in the first place?
Hristina: I have always been interested in foreign languages and culture. However, the first thing that attracted me to Korea specifically was a movie I watched when I was in high school. It was about the Korean war and I found it both very saddening and interesting how one country that shares the same values, traditions and language can be divided into two – North Korea and South Korea. Then, after reading more about the culture, I decided that learning an Asian language might be an advantage in Bulgaria, since not many people speak such languages. So, when I was in the 11th grade I decided I would apply for the Korean studies department in Sofia University.
Novinite: So you studied in Bulgaria for a while? Can you tell me more about that?
Hristina: Studying Korean studies is challenging not only because of the specifics of the language, which is very different than Bulgarian (or English for that matter). The culture also has many elements that are not shared with any of Western countries. However, being a part of the Korean studies department can also be very beneficial because, figuratively put, it gives you a ticket to a small community which shares the same interests. Many of the lovely Korean friends I have made so far, I met in Sofia. The majority of them are Korean students who are studying Bulgarian studies at the Hankuk University of foreign studies (HUFS) in Seoul, so them being interested in Bulgarian language and culture and us, the Bulgarian students wanting to know more about Korea brought us very close very quickly.
Another aspect is that I got to work closely with Korean people and as a marketing assistant, help Korean companies enter the Bulgarian market. I did several internships at the Korean Trade-Investment Agency (KOTRA) in Sofia, which deals with the trade relations between Bulgaria and Korea. It was a very interesting experience through which I learned a lot and which, eventually, let me to the decision to drop out of Sofia University and enter the Business school in Yonsei University, Seoul.
Novinite: So you got this opportunity to study in Korea. Can you tell me about that?
Hristina: I applied for a full scholarship program for a bachelor’s degree, awarded and managed by the Korean government. The scholarship is currently given to 1 Bulgarian citizen every year (as opposed to 2, when I was applying in 2015-2016) and includes the full funding of a 1-year Korean language course and 4-year undergraduate degree of the applicant’s choice.
I was lucky to have learned a lot about Korea before arriving here. That helped me get used to the culture and the food quickly, since I had already been exposed to Korean popular and traditional culture not only through my studies but also by simply communicating with my Korean friends. I am also very happy to say that many of my classmates and good friends from the Korean studies department in Sofia are also enrolled in university programs in Korea. While the Bulgarian community in Korea is not big, the fact that I am surrounded by old friends is always comforting, since it helps me not to feel lonely in a foreign country.
Novinite: What is your opinion on the bilateral relations between South Korea and Bulgaria? Do you think there is progress and the two countries would become closer business partners in the foreseeable future?
Hristina: The relations between Bulgaria and South Korea are good and continue to be improving. Many people in Korea have heard of Bulgaria and our rose products are popular here. It is interesting to mention that one of the most popular yogurt brands here in Korea is called “Bulgaris”.
The existence of a Bulgarian studies department in Seoul and a Korean studies one in Sofia is also proof that more and more people grow to be interested in our cultures.
Also, it is important to point out that the ex-General-Director of UNESCO Mrs. Irina Bokova was recently selected as the head of the Arts and Humanties department in Kyunghee University, a prestigious university in Seoul. She was also awarded an honorary doctor’s degree. This kind of news are broadcasted not only in Bulgaria, but in Korea as well. That definitely helps for the improvement of our country’s image and popularizes it across Asia.
Novinite: You told me you were working at the Olympics in PyeongChang. Your employer posed some restrictions on what can be discussed but can you share about the overall experience?
Hristina: Working at the Pyonchang Olympics was once in a lifetime experience, honestly. I was working for one of the top Olympic partners which tremendously help for the organization of the games by building the venues and making sure all facilities are ready and safe for the athletes and the spectators. I was recruited as VIP clients’ hospitality staff, which means that I was responsible for the comfort of the guests who had come from both Korea and from abroad to see the games.
It was an amazing journey which helped me learn so much about the organizing a huge international event such as the Olympics and working in a team with people from all over the world. I also consider myself extremely lucky for being able to enter the venues and see the games. I am very grateful for the amazing friends I made and the happy memories.
When it comes to North Korea, I know that international media is very interested in the matter, frequently discussing and making broadcasts on the situation. However, the atmosphere is different in South Korea, since people here have grown up with the threats coming from the North. The public is generally skeptical and hardly affected by the news on North Korea. So, I assume that is why I was not stressing over the situation myself.
Novinite: Now that the Olympics are over what does the future hold for you?
Hristina: I have three years left until graduation, so until now I will be definitely be residing in Korea. In addition to my major in business and finance, I also decided on doing a minor in English and English literature because I have always love writing and artistic expression and am willing to work to improve my skills in the area. I do not have specific plans for after graduation, but I would like to work in the marketing or the event management field. I am fascinated by the relationship between marketing strategy and human psychology. Simply put – what makes a marketing strategy successful and what makes us, as consumers, want to purchase a product right when we see it shown on TV. However, for now, I will be focusing on my studies, trying to learn as much as I can from my time spent in university and in South Korea.
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