Ruby Moore is from Coleraine and has lived in Glasgow, Prague, Paris, and Istanbul. She has been living in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia for more than five years
I ended up in Sofia kind of by accident. I was living in Istanbul and not having the best of times. I had moved there from Glasgow in August 2013 to teach English. It was supposed to be a new start, but ended up being a complete disaster. My classroom experience there was like a cross between Lord of the Flies and Gremlins.
Feeling overwhelmed with no idea what to do or where to go, I decided to take a weekend break to get some headspace. I looked for the cheapest flights out and up popped Sofia, Bulgaria.
The weekend break happened to be over the new year holiday and from the moment I arrived, I just felt so relaxed, I felt I had room to breathe, to be by myself, and to be myself. Sofia is considerably smaller than Istanbul, it is much calmer and less intense, but still has a buzz about it.
As the weekend came to an end, I started thinking that maybe I could just move here. So I did. I returned to Istanbul, waited for payday, picked up my money and headed straight for the bus.
That evening I moved to Bulgaria. I had no home and no job to go to. Luckily, it all worked out. Within two weeks of being here, I had two part-time teaching jobs, an apartment and had started to form a close circle of friends.
I don’t know if it is because I feel happier and therefore more confident here, but Sofia just seems to be a place where things can happen. Things that would have seemed impossible at home, are somehow possible here.
People often ask if I plan on settling in Sofia. I tell them that I never really planned to be here in the first place
For starters, I am selling my own paintings, hold solo exhibitions while curating others and have co-founded a community art studio. I also run an international creative community called Creatives-Sofia, for which I organised a group exhibition that was attended by the Irish Ambassador at the time, Michael Forbes.
I also run another online community called Women of Sofia. The group's main intention is to connect foreign women with women who are either from or living in Sofia in order to share information and support each other in whatever way necessary.
Being a foreigner in a new city in another country can be daunting for anyone, but as a woman there can be more concerns, even obstacles and it can sometimes feel intimidating. The group is definitely one of the things I am most proud of.
Beyond the painting and the social communities, I now work as a freelance writer. I have my own copywriting business and write a regular column, Bulgaria: Outside In, for a Bulgarian magazine. It is basically just me reflecting on the experiences and the weird situations I get myself in living here. One of my articles was about learning to snowboard after overcoming my unlucky complex. The article after that was about breaking my wrist while snowboarding. But broken wrist aside, the truth is that I do feel lucky to live in Sofia.
This is something the majority of my Bulgarian friends don't understand. When I meet new people from here one of the first questions they ask is "why did you move here? Of course, Sofia has its problems. Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in the EU and it does still have a communist hangover.
Also as well as all the good stuff that has happened to me here there is always a flipside. I have been bitten by a stray dog, knocked over by a car on a pedestrian crossing (on International Pedestrian Day no less) and been scammed by dodgy taxi drivers. These things can happen anywhere and at the end of the day, they are all fuel for my column. But there is so much to love about Bulgaria. Like the weather for starters. There is this thing called sunshine and summers that last more than three days. There are four seasons and amazing landscapes that you can enjoy with outdoor activities because it is not lashing down.
I guess it's one of those things, we often don't appreciate what's on our own doorstep. I know I've been guilty of that too. I left Coleraine 20 years ago, but studying and living in Scotland, I never missed it. I could visit regularly and my family could easily visit me. Even when I first moved to Sofia, home never felt that far away. But of course that changed with the pandemic. It is the first time I have ever really felt homesick. Before, I always knew I could get back there. It wasn't until that option was taken away that I really longed for Ireland, for my family and for the wild Irish sea.
That said, there is a great Irish community here in Sofia. So, if I ever get too homesick, I just pop into Tom’s Place for some craic. It is like walking onto the set of Cheers.
People often ask if I plan on settling in Sofia. I tell them that I never really planned to be here in the first place. No one knows what the future may bring but for now, I am very happy to be here.
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