City Slickers – a project delivering “first aid in the city” to foreigners in Bulgaria

Photo: courtesy of Epifan Pefev and Veronica Ninova

Imagine you have to spend time in a foreign country, but you don’t speak the language or even understand it or local mores, and to top it all, there are so many things you have to take care of. Two friends in their 30s developed an online platform for delivering “first aid in the city” – a website to help foreigners who are spending longer periods in the country or who have settled here permanently tackle problems like finding a place to live, coping with red tape, living in the city and anything else that may come up… Here is more from Epifan Pefev, an economist by training:

“The project was developed by Veronica Ninova and myself. We have many friends, foreigners living here, in Bulgaria. And they often asked our advice, for example how to find a place to live because the last time they tried to do so they were not treated fairly or to help them obtain some kind of document. Many of these services are still out of reach of foreigners. So, we reached the conclusion such services were a niche that was yet to be developed. It took us about six months to streamline the concept. We started out by studying customer needs. We compiled a questionnaire for foreigners to answer so as to find out what kind of things trouble them most. We spent some time mulling over price formation and we decided to let each individual pay as much as he or she deems fitting,” says Epifan.

The young people picked out different experts like lawyers, real estate agents, interpreters, finishing work handymen, all of them people they would themselves put their trust in. The website is just the place foreigners can get in touch with them by filling out a form and describing their troubles or their wishes, the rest is done by email, telephone or any other modern means of communication… A friend who is a computer programmer helped them put together the online platform, another friend who is a graphic designer helped out with the logo. As to the user profile, the foreigners who avail themselves of these services are mostly people employed by international companies working at Bulgarian offices, future investors conducting market research or just people who have opted to live in Bulgaria. There is another group – students of medicine, most of them from Greece and Turkey. There are quite a few people coming from Portugal and Brazil, probably because there are a number of companies outsourcing their operations, says Epifan Pefev. As to the difficulties foreigners have to face most often, problem number one is the language barrier, the signs in Cyrillic they are confronted with as soon as their plane touches down in Sofia, or when trying to get a taxi, for example, and their integration into Bulgarian society. The young enthusiasts have embraced the ambitious mission of helping foreigners find a way out of their own diaspora and socializing within the Bulgarian community. Here is Epifan again on what motivated the two friends to push ahead with this endeavor:

“What motivated us was the idea that young people should be more active. We are constantly being told that if you don’t have capital to invest, then your hands are tied but we think that if you have an idea and are motivated enough, then anything is possible. We want to make our mark in the community. We want to be of service and we believe that this is the way to help Bulgaria be the multicultural European country that we see it as being. By helping more people from abroad come to this country, by helping them feel good here, we are helping advance our own society,” says Epifan Pefev.

English version: Milena Daynova


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