The first thing that Delyana Uzanova will look for, after seeing her mother, when she gets home to Bulgaria next month will be some “good Bulgarian bread.”
After spending the summer working as a Hannaford cashier, she said, “All the bread here is like a big sugar bowl.”
Uzanova, 22, from Haskovo, Bulgaria, is one of a small army of foreign students who worked at Camden stores, hotels and motels this summer. She will return in November to her junior year as a political science major at St Cyril and Methodius University.
It is hard for Americans to understand, but these students pay $2,000 to arrange for transportation and a job, and still make far more money than they could ever make at home.
One of the highlights of Uzanova’s summer was the trip to Wal-Mart in Rockland when she could shop to her heart’s content for several hours. She emerged from the store, beaming, with as many bags as she could carry. “I could never find these clothes at home. If I did, it would take me several months’ pay. Here I buy all of these with one week’s pay.”
Her clothes were important since she has done some modeling and film work in the Camden area.
The student could make up to $300 a week at the grocery chain. At home, $200 a month is considered a decent wage.
“I came here to make money, to see a different country, different people. It was good for my political science major and very good for my English,” which improved markedly over the summer.
The biggest surprise, she said, was the attitude of the American people. “The people here are very nice. I expected them to be cold, unfriendly.” The hardest part of the job, even with the automated scanning device at the checkout, was to learn the names and prices of all the fruits and vegetables she had never seen before.
“Brussels sprouts? What is this? I had to search in the computer. Mangos, too. Here you have 100 different kinds of apples. It was surprising to me.”
America has many more private homes than Bulgaria, where public housing developments are more common. It is almost impossible for a young person to buy a home in Bulgaria, where the prices are $200,000 and above but the economy is far worse than here. Almost no one buys a home on credit because the prices are so high, she said.
When Bulgaria joins the Common Market next year, Uzanova prays that the economy perks up. But she fears that prices will rise far faster than the standard of living, leaving the average Bulgarian way behind.
Her mother has two education degrees, but works at a laundry.
Americans are much more ambitious and hardworking, she said. Bulgarians, with such a poor economy, do not have the work ethic of the U.S., she said. “They are not so sure what they can achieve, even if they work hard. The smartest people leave Bulgaria for the United States and Europe.”
Luckily, education is very cheap in Bulgaria, about $200 a year. “Everyone who wants to, goes to college.”
The social life is far superior in Bulgaria, where lively restaurants and cafes offer a chance to meet new people. “Not here. Here it is work, work, work. Everyone has the privacy of their homes. They don’t talk with each other so much.”
Foreign students are astounded that Camden homes and cars often are left unlocked. “At home, in 15 minutes everything would be gone,” she said.
A common complaint about summers in Camden is the well-meant but demeaning questions about foreign countries. One woman asked if they had air conditioning in Bulgaria. Uzanova thought, but did not respond, “No, we all live in caves in Bulgaria with no electricity.”
There is no lingering resentment from the Cold War among the average Bulgarians for the average Americans. “But they hate George Bush for invasion of Iraq and his politics,” she said.
While she is envious of the clothes, cars and homes in this country, she is anxious to return to Bulgaria, especially for some good bread.
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at email@example.com.