Bulgarian visitors to U.S. warm to American lifestyle

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- "What I would tell the next Bulgarian family coming to the United States is that everything here is perfect," said the wife of an international officer from the Republic of Bulgaria attending Air Command and Staff College.

Maj. Todor Golakov, and his wife Gergana, said they are enjoying their visit to Air University, the Montgomery area and the United States very much even though Gergana was reluctant to come to the states.

"In the beginning, I didn't want to come here," she said. "I don't like travel, but it is great here. The conditions are better than in my country."

Mrs. Golakov said because of their communist background, members of the older generation in her country think it is "awful in the United States." The younger generation, however, is eager to come to the U.S., and often "jump and yell with delight" when they get their green cards.

The couple agrees American military bases are more open to family members than Bulgarian bases. Mrs. Golakov said during Cold War days, Bulgarian bases were "very secretive," and family members couldn't "enter the military world."

She said she really enjoys Alabama's weather, as she doesn't like winter and the cold.

"In Bulgaria, we have four seasons, and winter is very cold and has lots of snow," she said. "I much prefer the warmer weather."

Mrs. Golakov said the kindness of Americans and the shopping opportunities are two things that really impress her about the U.S., and the degree of safety she has experienced here has made a positive impression. She said one of her neighbors had to call the police who arrived within a few minutes, were very helpful and did their job with a smile.

"I like most that there is a rule of law in the United States for everybody, and there is no immunity to that," she said. "Here, if you do something wrong you get punished."

Major Golakov said he and Gergana are "happy" being here, and it is different from what they were expecting.

"I think what impresses me the most (are) the courses I'm taking at ACSC, and what I'm learning here will stay with me for the rest of my life. The balance of the classes is great and will be very useful in the future," he said. "The transparency, accountability and system of checks and balances is something you can really feel."

The couple said the more relaxed atmosphere in the United States is a welcome change from the tense atmosphere they experience in Bulgaria.

"I'm not used to having time off because in my country it is work, work, work," the major said. "In Bulgaria, you are so busy with the work routine that you don't have time to enjoy things."

Mrs. Golakov said she also likes the fact that it is cheaper to live in the U.S. than Bulgaria.

"I think American people don't know how lucky they are," she said. "In other countries it is more expensive to live and people can't always get work. We don't have the big discount stores in Bulgaria, and also housing is not so easy to get."

Mrs. Golakov said she really enjoys the International Officer School's English language classes and they are steadily improving her English. Sometimes, though, she still has trouble speaking to some of the local people.

During their stay in Montgomery, the Golakovs are living in a local apartment complex and have an IOS Goodwill Ambassador to assist them.

"We have a lot of interaction with our ambassador," Mrs. Govakov said. "But because of our four-year-old son, we mostly meet with another American family at the apartment who also has children."

Major Golakov entered the Bulgarian Air Force Academy in 1990, and was commissioned in 1995. Upon returning to Bulgaria, he will work at the Bulgarian Air Force Headquarters in the country's capital city of Sofia. Mrs. Golakov will return to her job in a printing factory. She said she works with about 200 people who will "all have questions about America."

"Americans should be proud they live here and are Americans," she said.