This is the first male presence in #POEE Interview and it’s with a very special Bulgarian. After many years abroad, Plamen Ivanov came back to Eastern Europe because he believes in our culture and would like to contribute to its popularization around the world. That’s why he founded Insaiders– a space where locals and tourists can come together for a memorable, valuable experience.

I am very grateful that Plamen agreed to talk to me about his upcoming bike tour of Bulgaria, what it’s like to be a person from Eastern Europe abroad, and lots more. Scroll down, to check it out 🙂

– Who are you?

My name is Plamen, I am a passionate adventurer, purpose-driven entrepreneur, moderate optimist, just a guy who wants to leave a positive footprint in the community and people’s lives.

Eastern Europe #POEE Plamen Ivanov interview

– What do you think of, when you think of Eastern Europe?

A beautiful land, inhabited by authentic people, with a rich history, culture, and traditions.

– You spent many years abroad. Were you ever treated differently due to being from Eastern Europe? And if it did happen – where was it most obvious? 

Yes, I lived abroad for 15 years and in several different countries. When meeting new people, it very much depends on whether or not they already have friends from Eastern Europe. Those that haven’t really been around Eastern Europeans are usually a bit taken aback at the beginning. However, if they already know people from our region, people tend to be very welcoming and you feel immediately accepted, no room for stereotypes there.

– Could you tell us about the most memorable example you have of what it’s like to be an Eastern European in the world?

We are all probably well aware of some of the more negative preconceptions that Westerners have about this part of Europe, due to our recent past. However, this has been changing lately, as globalization contributes to better understanding and acceptance. At the same time, it’s no reason to neglect our values, customs, and traditions, as they are what makes us culturally unique. I believe in preserving our authenticity. It is something we should take great pride in.

Eastern Europe #POEE Plamen Ivanov interview

– You came back to Bulgaria because you wanted to contribute to popularizing our culture. Tell us about your project Insaiders.

What brought me back to Bulgaria was my eagerness to contribute to the improvement of our culture’s image around the world. For years, I studied and worked in tourism, and right after I was able to travel around the world. Many of the people I met on the road knew nothing about Bulgaria. This experience inspired me to set a new goal for myself – help more people get to know our country.  This is how the project “Insaiders” was born. Insaiders is a local, Bulgarian platform, where professionals from different fields, such as tour and mountain guides, folklore dancers and musicians, artists and craftsmen, chefs, etc., offer foreign visitors personalized local experiences. The idea is to create true cultural exchange, where our guests discover the country in a unique way.

– You and a friend of yours are about to set off on a bicycle trip around the country and meet some of the people who are passionate about preserving Bulgarian culture. How did you come up with the idea and what do you hope to achieve? 

Emo and I met shortly after I returned to Bulgaria. Coincidently, he had also come back after years abroad and, just like me, wanted to help develop Bulgarian tourism. After visiting a few local events, we happened to meet adventurous travelers who went around the world in pursuit of bringing cultures together. We decided that we too are capable of something similar, be it at a smaller scale. And what’s better than touring our own country, showing everyone all the beautiful places tourists will love and Bulgarians should be proud of.

Another primary goal of this trip is to contribute to the development of sustainable tourism in Bulgaria, an objective each of us is already working on through his personal projects. That’s why we are organizing a series of events around the country. Hopefully, we’ll gather together a community based on cooperation, entrepreneurship, and the development of creative ideas in the sector.

Eastern Europe #POEE Plamen Ivanov interview

– Are there things which distinguish People of Eastern Europe from the rest of the world?

Given its strategic position, a crossroads between Europe and Asia, Eastern Europe and especially the Balkan Peninsula, has been inhabited by tribes of various origins, throughout the centuries. Each of these cultures has left a lasting footprint in our traditions, customs, cuisine, folklore, our way of life and relationships. I believe that we stand out because of our distinguished hospitality, family values, and strong adherence to century-old traditions.

– What can we do to feel prouder of our Eastern European origins? 

It seems to me that we Eastern Europeans are proud of our history and origins. However, at the same time, they often fall prey to political propaganda. It would be much wiser to accept the past as it is. No one can change history, but it is important to learn from past mistakes and not repeat them.

Eastern Europe #POEE Plamen Ivanov interview

– An important component of your idea is to introduce foreigners to Bulgarian culture. Have you noticed what gets them by surprise when they first visit Eastern Europe? 

How well our cultural heritage has been preserved and our unspoiled wilderness. In the West, many touristy places are suffering commercial exploitation, and so they’ve lost their authenticity. It’s been happening here as well, despite the smaller scale. Our foreign guests are also usually impressed with our rich cuisine full of variety, our unique folklore, the preserved crafts, and our distinguished hospitality.

– How can we raise awareness about our culture, around the world? 

Lately, we have seen a spike in foreign curiosity when it comes to festivals that exhibit Eastern European customs and traditions. For instance, the Nestinarstvo festivities, festivals dedicated to traditional products such as the Bulgarian rose and yogurt, folk festivals and celebrations, just to name a few. But should we limit ourselves to events held within the country or region?

Everywhere around the world there are communities of Bulgarians and other Eastern Europeans. Each of us is an ambassador of his/her own culture anywhere that he/she happens to live. In the places where I’ve lived, there have been plenty of festivities in celebration of foreign communities and their traditions, especially during their national holidays. Apart from the preservation of regional culture, these events spike interest in others and help bring people together through cultural exchange. There are simpler ways to do it as well, such as inviting friends over for an international dinner. Or why not invite foreign friends to Bulgaria whenever a traditional holiday is going on?

Eastern Europe #POEE Plamen Ivanov interview

– Let’s end the interview with something from the heart. 

I would like to share my motto, a simple thought I tend to repeat to myself:

“Be yourself and keep improving.”

We live in a fast-paced world where change is the only constant. In order to adapt, we must be flexible and tolerant. I also believe that variety holds the key to rich human nature.  That’s why it is so important to preserve our authenticity and share it proudly.

Have you had an experience similar to Plamen’s? Have you ever attended a cultural event that changed your perspective? Please share 🙂 Either leave a comment below or post in the Facebook group People of Eastern Europe (#POEE)