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Melany Mayers
Maria Vuldjeva

Ten years ago Maria Vuldjeva left her home in Bulgaria for a short summer exchange program in the United States. She’s still here. Her patients through difficult times and dedication to education have allowed her to make a career out of encouraging people to do what she did, study abroad.
With a flight from her home country, Bulgaria, to New York and 40 hours of driving on five different buses from New York to Minnesota, Maria had made her way to Tofte, Minnesota.
“It was the worst trip in my life,? said Vuldjeva. “Unless you’re four feet tall and the bus is almost empty, there is no way to be comfortable.?
The initial trip had Maria second-guessing her decision to come to America.
“I looked out the bus window and just thought, ‘that’s not what the brochure looked like’,? said Vuldjeva.
In the 4 months following her arrival Maria’s life didn’t get any easier. She lived and worked as a waitress and housekeeper at a hotel in Tofte with other foreign exchange students. The student’s hourly wage was set at $2 an hour. The apartment that she was living in was in the basement of the hotel and was shared by all of the exchange students working there.
“We were foreigners,? said Vuldjeva. “We didn’t know any better.?
After those long months, Maria transferred to UMD from her university in Bulgaria, and continued with her education. While attending UMD Maria worked at the Glensheen Mansion as a tour guide and she got married. It was two years before Maria was able to make it back home to Bulgaria with her husband and visit her family.
“I had some culture shock, since I had been away for so long,? she said. “I was very happy to rediscover the beauty of my country.?
Maria graduated from UMD four years after she enrolled with a communications major and even though she didn’t have the smoothest transition into American society, she says she doesn’t regret it one bit. However, there are some things that she misses from Bulgaria
“Food. That’s number one,? she said. “Well, no, family. My family is definitely number one, then it’s the food.?
Currently, Maria works in UMD’s International Education Office as a program coordinator, where she speaks to students about the importance of studying abroad. She’s the head coordinator of the Study in England Program and is beginning a new short summer study abroad program in her home country this summer.
“I’ve come a long way from being an underpaid housekeeper, I mean, look at my office,? she said, spreading her arms out and slowly spinning around in her chair, admiring her surroundings. It’s a roomy office with large windows, and the walls are adorned with world maps and flags.
Maria’s job doesn’t leave her with much free time during the day. She’s continuously meeting with prospective study abroad students, or giving informational presentations to selected classes about the Study in England Program. She’s also in charge or organizing the preparatory meetings that help students who are studying abroad to know what to expect when they go over seas. She’s who the students contact when they have a question regarding the program. Even though Maria is consistently busy, she’s very happy here.
“I strongly agree with my profession,? she said. “Study abroad.?