Yolina Elenkova traveled 5,000 miles and found a city that’s a lot like home.

Elenkova is a native of Ruse, Bulgaria. She came to South Carolina to attend Columbia College, moving to Greenville nearly a year ago.

Her hometown “really reminds me of Greenville in a lot of different ways, the parks and the recreational areas,” says Elenkova, who works as account coordinator for DNA Creative Communications. “Greenville is a little bit more walkable than Columbia, for example, or other American cities.”

Ruse is situated near the mountains, like Greenville, and it’s just across the Danube River from Romania.

At age 18, Elenkova went to France to study for a year, and from there she was offered a full scholarship to Columbia College. She graduated last year with a degree in communication and business.

As a kid, Elenkova always knew she wanted to get into a field that involved writing.

“I’ve always been passionate about it. I remember when I was 6 or 7, I was doing my own newspapers and magazines. … At one point, I actually started selling them to my classmates and to my friends. And so I started my own business when I was probably 7,” she said, laughing at the memory.

The publications would include her original poems and short stories, word games and puzzles, and articles she copied from other magazines.

Elenkova’s year in France, studying in the city of Rennes, was fun, but it was the time in Columbia that changed her life, she says.

“Columbia College was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Elenkova says.

“It was an environment that really allowed me to grow and learn. It was a very nurturing environment where I could really find myself, explore different passions and different subjects, and participate in a lot of extracurricular activities.”

She also had the opportunity to travel to conferences in such places as Illinois and Texas and Florida.

Moving alone to a new country so far from home required a bit of adjustment for Elenkova, an only child, and her parents.

She’s made friends through her work and social connections, including her involvement with PULSE, the Chamber’s group for young professionals, which has eased the transition.“It is what you make out of it. There are difficult parts and there are different times when you wish you were back home with your family … but there are other moments when you realize that you’re fortunate to be here, and it’s a good opportunity.”

Bulgarian culture is easier to find in Greenville than you might expect. Elenkova has made friends who hail from her homeland, and she’s able to catch Bulgarian TV shows online.

The Upstate’s Greek restaurants have become favorite places, since Greek cuisine is very close to Bulgarian, she says.

Elenkova enjoys Greenville, but she says she isn’t completely adjusted to a different culture.

“One day you realize how you’ve become a mixture of cultures. Especially since I’ve lived in three different countries, going from Bulgaria to France, coming to the United States. You wake up one day and realize you’re a mixture of cultures; you don’t have one identity, you aren’t associated with one culture any more.

“You go out and you meet with your American friends and you speak in English, and then you go home and speak in Bulgarian on the phone with your family and then you listen to French music.”

WRITTEN BY DONNA ISBELL WALKER. PUBLISHED IN THE GREENVILLE NEWS ON MARCH 6, 2013