Yet, in the last year, our office at Sofia welcomed more foreign employees than we have ever had before, coming from places like Chiliе, Switzerland, Vietnam, Ukraine, Romania and Ivory Coast. We realized that this inevitably leads to changes. On one side, they bring different perspectives and approaches to work. On the other, there is the cultural enrichment – like sharing stories and exchanging local recipes in our lunch breaks.
And while we’re still getting used to switching to English when we speak to be inclusive, we value the presence of people with such diverse backgrounds. That’s why we decided to turn to them – the non-Bulgarian employees, and ask them about their point of view - both at Walltopia and in Bulgaria. We did it to see what could be improved, and to share their experience with the world.
We got some fun, honest, and sometimes unexpected answers. Here’s what they had to say:
Alexandra Kunzli, coming from Switzerland
How long have you been at Walltopia and what is your position?
I am starting my 6 months at Funtopia (a franchise business, part of the Walltopia group) as a Jr. Business Developer.
How did you get to know about Walltopia?
The Building! It is hard to miss it when you come from the Airport. Intrigued I asked what this was, and I got the most unexpected answer: a climbing gym. Later on, my boyfriend was proud to inform me that Walltopia was a Bulgarian company, and was, and still is, the world leader in producing climbing walls.
What was your drive to apply for a position at the company?
I attended a conference from a coach from Silicon Valley, where it was said that most of the people leave their job, due to poor management or misalignment with the company values. That was exactly the reasons why I left my previous work. Therefore, I was looking for a company that would share several of my values. The mission of Funtopia, being to provide a place which allows kids to be entertained in an active way and away from screens, spoke to me. I could stand behind this, meaning that when not fun work shows up, I can concentrate on the bigger picture, and I know why and in this case also for whom I do this for.
How does being a foreigner affect your work life?
People you haven’t met yet know you. Not only you are new, you are not from here. It gets you in funny situations. On the other hand, sometimes a whole meeting room needs to speak English because of me, it makes me uncomfortable and at the same time, at this stage, I don’t have a choice. I also miss a lot of the non-business part due to the language barrier with the team or other colleagues. Whether it is at lunch or on a break - it is harder to connect to people. Also, I have the feeling that some might get the wrong impression of me because I just smile and stay silent when everyone is joking around.
And how do you feel about living and working in Sofia?
Feel? Sometimes frustrated, uncomprehensive, laughing out loud because sometimes things here, make zero sense to me. It has been a journey, being out of your comfort zone, gives you an impulse to grow. Therefore, I would see my experience here is like an instance life school. After 1,5 year here (already!), the fun, the habit to enjoy it, is taking over. This is mainly due to improved language skills, having passed the usual shaky moment of any move to a foreign country, and being more connected with the local community. Now, it does happen that I go to an event and I know someone. When this happens, a. it makes me happy, so come over and say hi, and b. I consider myself fully home.
What accomplishment are you most proud of for your time at Walltopia?
Not being here for too long, it hard to say whether I even accomplished something. Yet, seeing an end to e-learning trainings I am putting together and having a green light to try to give some yoga/stretching session for the company makes me smile proudly.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
It is to understand the working culture here. It is very different. And I have already done a few mistakes and keep on learning. There are these untold rules that are hard for a foreigner to grasp. Yet, my boss is, I believe so very relaxed about it and does not take it personally and not as disrespect from my part.
How has your mindset changed since you came here?
It’s the first time I work for a corporation, and I thought they would be the ones with the processes, optimization and them being clear, yet A. it s not the case, if not worse, and B. no one exactly knows where and who has the information. Is just a bigger mess than in a smaller firm. Yet, vs. a small firm, if you want to change something it will take more effort, more time. And I am not sure it is the priority anyway so no one gives you real attention. Maybe it is just the way people work here, and it's my German side showing up here and wants to organize this, now! :D
And at the same times, there are some processes which are very precise, for instance, taking holidays or everything to do with admin. Yet, no one feels really in charge to show you how it’s done. So you learn on the go.
Is it essential to be a climber, in order to do your job well?
No. Yet, if you do climb you can have the most epic lunch breaks! Where you have a real break, you get out of your head and get fully aware of your body.
What do you look forward to on a Monday morning?
Very nice question, and I think it should be the duty of all to answer this. To me, it s to contribute to the bigger pictures, the mission of the company, to see my colleagues, and see what this week will bring. And go climb :)
What’s your favorite Bulgarian word?
Костернурка (Kostenurka). It’s one of these words that I learn thanks to a special event. Driving out of the city, I saw this Костернурка marching on the main road towards us, just to be on time for the market in 3 days. Of course, I stopped and put it in the grass. Honesty, how cool is it to say, that turtles are a normal wild animal here.