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“I’m really excited,” my sister Maddie exclaimed. Maddie was very enthusiastic this morning, especially since we are going to go away to Bulgaria to visit a few of our relatives for a week.
This was going to be our first time out of the country, away from the U.S.
“We need to get packing,” I told her.
I was anxious. I loved my grandparents and I was excited to see my baby cousin for the first time but I was afraid of being in a different country where everything was difficult. It was a weird, mixed feeling that I could not explain.
“Why are you so worried anyways? We are going to be there for a week and with family,” Maddie told me.
“Maddie, we are going to a foreign country. This is outside of my comfort zone entirely. How can you treat this as if we are going to another state?” I replied.
I was visibly shaken. The thought of all the scary differences we could face on our trip to a foreign nation. Just thinking about the hassle of passport checks. What if the authorities don’t grant me permission into the country? What if I can’t get back home either? Reading signs is going to be difficult as well. Everything is in Bulgarian. Even though I understand and can speak a little Bulgarian, it was always difficult for me to remember the letters and how to read certain store signs.
“Just relax. It’s a vacation. Life begins outside of your comfort zone,” Maddie calmly told me. Her advice seemed virtually impossible at the time, but I kept it in mind.
A few days later, my family and I left for Bulgaria. Since there was no direct flight to Bulgaria, we had to fly to England and take a connecting a flight to Bulgaria. The flight was long and tiring, but it was quiet and I got to eat and rest on the plane. The seats were pretty uncomfortable, but this wasn’t the first time I had traveled long distances. Maddie was watching movies for the duration of the flight. She couldn’t sleep. I was really happy to arrive to England after such a long flight. Heathrow airport was very beautiful. It was an exclusive mall, filled with incredibly expensive tiny store versions of big brands. I saw stores like Rolex, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton. I never saw these in any of the airports in the U.S.
The flight to Bulgaria was 3 hours from London. I was getting more nervous by the second because I was both anxious and excited about seeing Bulgaria. My sister opened the window to our three seater and I was astounded by the breathtaking view of the mountains and greenery. The mountains were covered in snow and forest green while the cleared land itself was half-filled with grey buildings and taking up half the countryside with orange tiled roots. It was beautiful.
When we landed I stood close to my parents. Maddie, on the other hand, loved to explore and decided to walk around the entire airport by herself. My parents didn’t stop her.
“Maddie you shouldn’t wonder so far away from us,” I warned.
“Live a little, Stellar,” she replied.
Stellar is my name, my full name at least. I liked to be called Stella but my sister likes to call me Stellar because it reminds her of the stars.
From the airport, my family and I took a cab to my grandparent’s apartment in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. During the car ride, Maddie and I were enjoying surroundings. Sofia was a mixture of both suburban and city life. There were dozens of people walking on the streets and lines waiting at traffic lights to get on their way in cars. Sofia was lush and green and the mix of buildings to area in the center of the city was even. My grandparents lived in the suburbs. It reminded me of some of the apartments I saw in New York City next to Central Park. It was a nice neighborhood with really beautiful trees. There was so much greenery and all the children were playing in the tennis court next to the apartments. Some stray dogs and cats roamed the area but they appeared to be non threatening. It was different, but a good kind of different. It was different then what I was used to in Franklin Lakes, but I felt at home and my anxiety was gone.
My mom planned the activities and sights we were going to see. One time, she took us to walk around the old stadium she used to run in when she lived in Sofia. It was a ruin, but people ran in the area. The summer day warm and there was a cool breeze blowing.
“Not so bad of a day?” Maddie asked me.
She was beaming. Even though Maddie was optimistic virtually all the time, I still think that I never saw her happier.
“It’s beautiful,” I tell her.
Bulgaria already held a special place in my heart before because of my heritage. Being able to witness everything in the country, I was amazed and even more proud to say that my relatives were from here.
“This is going to be really fun Stellar, you just wait,” Maddie announced.
I believed her. That night, Maddie and I layed on opposite sides of the bed wondering about the next day while taking in the room. It was a big apartment but it was not something my sister and I were used to.
“This is different,” I tell her.
Maddie was starting to fall asleep. I still was not used to the time zone differences so I stayed up surfing the internet on my phone. The connection was good in the apartment but it was the same old sites. I was tired and bored of these sites.
“Are there stars here Maddie or is it cloudy like in NJ?” I ask her.
“I don’t know,” she mumbled while turning in her sleep. She opened her big, blue eyes. Her eyes were the color of a clear lake in spring. “Wanna see?”
“From the window,” I told her.
She opened the window and a huge array of stars dotted the midnight blue sky. We sat together, looking at all the different constellations, trying to guess their names. The night was serene. There was an abundance of bright white stars all over the midnight sky. It was like a dark blue quilt with holes in it. My sister and I saw constellations that we’ve never seen in America. It was strange how clear the sky was here.
It was the second-to-last day of being in Bulgaria. My family and I walked through the town square and met with some of my Mom’s friends, sister, and family. I got to see my my older cousin Daisy and her baby Mila. I was so comfortable in this new land in just a matter of a week. The town square was a mix of modern and antiquated with beautiful fountains and sparkling sidewalks. The restaurants were packed with friendly people who were enthusiastically boisterous, awaiting their meals. The food was delicious and savory and it kept you wanting more. Needing more. I did not want to leave.
The next day, my family packed up to leave Bulgaria for the long ride home. My mom was crying and later on, privately, my sister was crying too.
I came into the room my sister and I shared for the duration of the trip.
“Hey, are you ok?” I asked her, leaning on the doorframe.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replied.
She wiped away tears the size of raindrops.
“We’ll come back next year.”
“How do you know that for sure Stellar?” She asked, tears streaming down her cheeks.
I shrugged with a lump in my throat, “I just know.”
I walked out of the room to leave her to her thoughts. Mom couldn’t see Maddie like this or she would cry even more.
When we were in the car, I could tell that Maddie was trying to stay strong. I took her hand and she looked at me with those piercing blue eyes and without saying a word, she took comfort knowing that I am her big sister.
When we finally arrived to JFK airport and were driving home to NJ, my parents asked my sister and me our opinions on the trip to Bulgaria. My sister and I enthusiastically told them everything, from the spectacular mountain ranges to the wondrous city buildings.
“Are we going to go back?” Maddie asked. She still wasn’t over missing the place.
“Maybe,” my Dad responded. Maddie lit up and I looked at her wordlessly saying, “I told you.”
I was excited for our next trip to Bulgaria. I thought about all the other activities and adventures my sister and I could have the next time we visited. My sister seemed to be doing the same because when we looked at each other, we automatically knew what our next trip beheld.