1/1/2014 6:43 PM
Happy New Year! I just came back from a Bulgaria and Turkey study trek where I had so much fun with my classmates. I still feel excited about everything I experienced in those two weeks! YOBO means you are in Bulgaria and in the moment, just like you only have one life to live, enjoy it like it's your last!
The study trek
is one of my favorite Johnson experiences. Every semester, Johnson will organize international study trips to help us gain a global perspective of the current business world. I chose Bulgaria and Turkey this year because I have always been fascinated about the the dynamic and sophisticated culture of these unique countries. Also, I love Professor Elena Iankova
, who is the trek leader and has done a lot of researches regarding Eastern Europe and emerging markets. Although neighbors, Turkey and Bulgaria are so different in terms of personality, architectural style and business environment. I feel that I have so much to share, so I will categorize my takeaways into two parts.
- Harmony with diversity
Turkey is a contiguous transcontinental country, located mostly in western Asia and southeastern Europe. Its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia make it a country of significant geostrategic importance. Specifically for Istanbul city, which we visited, it is a harmonious mix of Muslim and other religions, like Catholicism and Buddhism. This makes Turkey thrive with diversity in terms of social customs, food and architecture. I even saw a fantastic rainbow on the first day.
- High energy and positive attitude
It is really easy to tell if people are happy just by talking to random people on the street. I arrived in Turkey at 1 a.m. in the morning, so you can imagine how hungry I was. I came out to a street food stand and ordered a doner (Turkish sandwiches with barbecued lamb or beef). The hawker was curious about where I came from (maybe my face seemed exotic to him?), so I started to chat with him, asking him how many kids he had, what kind of person he wanted his son to be in the future, and how many doners he could sell on daily basis. He seemed very happy about his current life. Having three school-age boys, he had two jobs to make ends meet but was happy to be the bread winner of the family. He was positive about his small business.
I had the similar feeling when we visited Koc University,
which is one of the best universities in Turkey. Built by the Koc Holdings, the largest family business in Turkey, the institution is establishing relationships with more and more international universities all over the world. By doing this, Koc University is aiming to attract more competitive talent for Turkey, which can eventually help the entire country to grow and progress. This is a big dream and maybe it will take decades to achieve, however, you can feel the passion behind this bold vision.
- Political stability is needed
I have always been interested in learning the politics of a country, especially one that I am visiting. When we were visiting Turkey, there were big headlines of a scandal related to a vice prime minister and his son. The police confiscated $4.5 million in cash from his house, which stirred hot discussion among the Turkish people. Many people took to the streets, demanding the current prime minister resign. This was only a tiny glimpse of political unrest. I believe more will be discovered soon. Turkey has done a good job in separating religion with politics, however, I believe, it can improve in economic development. The political fights between two parties have influenced the country's stability, which, I believe, is the foundation for economic development. While Turkey now is trying to attract more foreign investment, this policy instability could make Turkey less attractive.
- Recovery from Soviet Union collapse
My memory about the Soviet Union collapse is very blurry. I remember hearing something from my parents when I was very young, but never dug deeper. This trip provided me a perfect opportunity to learn more about the countries that suffered from this historical event. Bulgaria was a member of the Soviet Union, and after the union's collapse, many Bulgarians struggled to feed their families and even starved. I know it is hard for us to imagine, especially with many of us who worry about our diets. I could still smell the history of Bulgaria when I visited the old government buildings and antique stores.
Although the Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore, Russia still plays an important role in Bulgaria. We saw some churches in Sofia which are of the typical Moscow style. Also, the language is very similar to Russian. There is a flea market in front of St. George church, the largest church in Sofia, where you can easily find many figurines and statues of Stalin and Lenin.
- A gateway to EU
I heard the term " Gateway to the EU" a lot before this trip, but I only had a surface understanding of what this meant in relation to Bulgaria. EU is one of the largest and the most influential economical associations in the world. Because of Bulgaria's membership, Bulgaria receives funds from the EU budget office, which provides financial support to developing members. From 2014, Bulgarians will be able to work in any EU member country freely, without any sponsorship. This is good news for the people, that is why a majority of Bulgarians support the country's membership. Also, because of the free trade agreement among EU member countries, Bulgaria is positioned to be an optimal place for factory building and foreign investments.
- Strong and aggressive government needed
The whole trip to Bulgaria gives me one impression: it is a beautiful country with many talented people, but it needs a strong government to fight for the country. With only a population of seven million, Bulgaria does not have a strong competitive advantage compared to its neighboring country Romania, which is also an EU member. Coupled with a low birth rate and high immigration rate, Bulgaria is facing an aging population problem, which is quite critical for the country's economic success in the future. From a human capital perspective, this will make Bulgaria less attractive for any domestic or foreign investment, which could be big growth hindrance for the country. I think Bulgaria needs a strong and aggressive government that can put economic growth as their first priority, solve energy shortage problems, and help fight for more benefits from the EU for Bulgaria. A visionary leader for the country will be highly appreciated and remembered by the country and in history.
1 comment(s) so far...
By Vlad V on
1/8/2014 6:13 PM
Re: YOBO - Bulgaria and Turkey
Bulgaria was never part of the Soviet Union. It was a Soviet ally but remained an independent country.