August 1, 2016 by American College of Sofia
Interview by Rumyana Mihaylova ’05
Could you trace the events that lead to your decision to move to Tokyo and do a PhD in Japanese?
I have always had an affinity for studying languages and wanted to pursue a career in linguistics. I was especially interested in languages outside the Indo-European language family. They presented more of a challenge because they were not so similar to the three European languages I had already studied in school. After graduating from the College, I entered the Japanese Linguistics Department of Sofia University, so going to Japan seemed like the next logical step. Furthermore, in order to teach at university level, a PhD is a must. What could be a better place to pursue a PhD in Japanese linguistics than a Japanese university?
What did you expect to find in Japan upon moving there? What did you actually discover?
I expected people to live in tall, skyscraper-like buildings and eat a lot of fish and seafood. The second expectation turned out to be realistic, but the first did not. Houses and apartment buildings in Japan are pretty much the same height as in Bulgaria, only smaller.
Can you think of a story you have witnessed in Japan that has stricken you as fascinatingly different from the stories you were used to before going there?
I met a woman who told me the story of her life which was quite fascinating. She started a small cosmetic company in Kyushu, the small southern island of Japan. Her company eventually grew to be one of the top three cosmetic companies in Japan, with over 4000 employees and 200 shops all over the country. When she retired, she took all her savings, properties, and assets belonging to the company and divided them equally among her employees. She said that, thanks to their hard work and effort, she had acquired the money and it really belonged to them. Her family supported her decision fully. I was really impressed how she decided to share her wealth with the people who were directly responsible for it, instead of just keeping it all for herself (what unfortunately happens to most of the fortunes all over the world).
Do you think life in Japan has changed you? If yes, in what way?
I became more confident in myself and my abilities. Living on my own, being completely financially responsible for my life and coping with everyday life challenges on my own was the experience which changed me the most. Although this quote is not about Tokyo originally, I think it fully applies: “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
Take us through a typical day of your life.
My schedule is very different from day to day. Sometimes, I wake up at 6 am and leave my apartment at 6:30. At 8, I arrive at the university where I teach, have breakfast and prepare for my classes. I teach two or three classes, prepare lesson plans or class materials, check assignments, or discuss classes with other teachers. I leave at 6 P.M. and get back home around 7:30. On other days, I teach private lessons and have only one or two classes a day. I used to go to a coffee shop or library and work on my PhD thesis or publications on those days, but now that I have graduated I am free to meet friends or go to new places around Tokyo.
What is the most interesting place you have visited?
I must admit that the most interesting place I have visited is not in Japan. It is Venice. It is extremely beautiful – every building and street is magical. And there are no cars.
The most beautiful places in Japan are the parks in March when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Walking, surrounded by hundreds of white trees, watching the petals fall like snow and make a white carpet on the floor is the most beautiful scene I have seen here.
Is there something you miss about ACS?
I miss my classmates and the teachers. I am very grateful to have Facebook, so I can stay in touch with them. Also, I miss having all the free time to go out with friends that I had when I was at ACS. At that time I thought I was busy, but it was nothing compared to my schedule right now.
Could you share with us a vivid memory from your ACS years?
I was part of the drama club and worked in the productions of Grease, Hair, and other musicals. I remember the excitement before the show, putting on the costumes and make-up, the exhilaration of performing on stage. It was quite fun to be somebody else, even if it was just for a few hours a day. I guess this experience in the drama club helps me a lot now, especially when I have to teach a class or give a presentation at a conference in front of a few hundred people.
What are your plans for the future?
I am planning to work at a university in Japan for some time and then in a few years, go back and teach in Bulgaria.
Tell us your biggest dream.
My biggest dream was to get a PhD and teach at a university. I graduated in April 2015 and have been teaching for a few years already. Now that this dream has come true, I still have not decided what my next dream will be.
This interview was first published as part of the ACS Alumni Magazine in June 2015.