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Heading West

Sofia, Mannheim, Maastricht and now Brussels. Kalina Kirilova, 25, has moved so often during the last years that her friends could not keep up with her when changing their address books. Now: Brussels. It was to Brussels that she followed her job – and her boyfriend. After several moves within Europe she has decided from her experiences: it's best to live in a place that is open and international. In such an international community she is able to feel at home – even as a foreigner.

I work for the website sciencebusiness.net, a start-up company in Brussels. We are something like a special interest magazine for European inventions. We report on what is currently being researched and invented in European universities. Universities like the University of Cambridge, the ETH Zürich, and the Paris Tech belong to our network. We show which new products get on the market and with what success. We know which new technologies and regulations the EU institutions are paving the way for. For instance, if the EU ministers decide to introduce a new regulation for the Europe-wide electronic exchange of patients' data, then we report extensively on this. We - that's 40 people here in Brussels, 40 staff in London, and a further 60 correspondents around the world.

I work for the company as a Consultant and Policy Researcher. My daily work in the last weeks was to organise a conference on "personalised medicine" in London. "Personalised medicine" is the treatment with drugs according to the results of individual genetic tests. Therefore, the treatment is much more specific. For example: when you can prove a particular growth factor of, for instance, breast cancer, through new medical tests, then you can be much more confident whether a patient will be helped with a Herceptin therapy. You do not have to test several different treatments first.

Actually, I did not deal with such technology-related issues during my studies. I come from Sofia, Bulgaria. After my high school graduation at the German School in Bulgaria, I studied communication science in Mannheim, Germany. I was in Sofia for one year afterwards and worked for Hewlett Packard. Finally, I went to Maastricht in order to do a masters in European studies. When I finished, we were already in the economic crisis.

Brussels_City
Photo Source: Kalina Kirilova
Brussels in winter

I sent numerous applications. In most cases, I replied to job offers on eurobrussels.com. This is a website which collects employment ads for jobs in Brussels. Whether EU institutions, NGO or law offices – when you are looking for a job in Brussels it is always worth having a look at this website. I categorically wanted to go to Brussels since my boyfriend is there. I did not look for a job in Bulgaria. A Bachelor in communication science is not particularly in demand there. I can develop a professional career better abroad. Sciencebusiness.net made me a good offer and after only two months of internship instead of six, I had a fixed job offer.

Now, when I'm at the office in the morning, I get the feeling that I'm part of a Tarantino film. Everything is just bizarre and very American. There are a lot of different nationalities united in one office but most of my colleagues are actually Americans. Also the climate and working culture seems North American to me: in contrast to the job in Bulgaria at HP, here we all work fast, efficiently and are very goal oriented. Some projects, for example the approval of new international guidelines, just take for ever!

It was not a big step for me, personally, to move to Brussels. Of course, every day I encounter new challenges. At the moment I'm working on improving my French, as, in contrast with Maastricht, not everybody speaks English here. And naturally I have to learn to deal with the many national peculiarities. This morning, for example, I went to the municipality to register officially in Brussels and after having filled out all the forms, a police officer actually accompanied me home to check that all the information I'd given was correct. Despite details like that one, all in all it does not feel like such a big step to come here. I think that as long as you move to a big city, where you'll find an international community, you can feel at home, no matter where you are from.

I would say that my first move, from Sofia to Germany, was the most difficult one. I missed home so badly when I was in Mannheim, a city which I probably wouldn't have chosen if I had had the chance to get to know it before. I just didn't understand the people there, not only the language they were speaking, but also their manners. They way people dressed, communicated and how they thought; that was all completely new to me. But as soon as I got used to Western Europe more, it didn't matter much if I moved to England, Holland or Belgium. Europe has grown completely together anyway…

Teaser photo: Kalina Kirilova

Die Deutsche Ulrike Storost, 32, hatte ihre Umzugskisten gerade in Berlin ausgepackt – da sah sie die Ausschreibung für einen Job bei der UNESCO in Paris. Für sie ein Traumjob. Und so gab sie ihr Leben in Deutschland auf und folgte der Arbeit ins europäische Ausland. In E&M erzählt sie, von den Schwierigkeiten eines Neuanfangs im Ausland, von der Arbeit in einer internationalen Organisation, von ihren Erwartungen und Ängsten und warum der Schritt sie dennoch so viel ruhiger macht. Ein Erfahrungsbericht.

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