Keeping a promise to make change: Changemaker Mila shares her story

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Work Exchanges

Work Exchanges


By Mila Kostova, CIEE Work & Travel USA 2013 participant from Bulgaria  

My name is Mila Kostova. I am twenty-five years old, and I am originally from Bulgaria but have been living in London for the past six years. I came straight to the UK after I finished high school, so I became an adult abroad—it feels as if I have two homes. Having this experience abroad helped me to adapt to another society and London is very international and never boring, so it wasn’t hard to get used to. I completed my law degree in 2016 at King's College London and then started a two-year Commercial Procurement graduate program at Transport for London, which I am due to complete this September. At the moment, I am doing work for the United Kingdom’s Department for Transport on a big franchising contract for provision of services on one of the country’s rail lines.

Mila on the metro with the driver, when she volunteered for a pilot of the night metro before it was introduced in London

Just a year after I had moved to London, I came to the United States to take part in the CIEE Work & Travel USA program during the summer of 2013. I was already prepared to go abroad, but the program helped me realize that I can live anywhere—although lifestyles are different, people are people everywhere.

I've always loved travelling, so the decision to come to the U.S. was mainly motivated by my desire to explore a new country and, as a student, this was a relatively easy and affordable way to do so. The move to the America was a bit stressful because I flew to the states literally one day after my final exam at university. I then spent the summer working in an amusement park in Atlantic City. It was a challenging experience because it was my first full time job and I was also studying for IELTS, the university entry English certificate for foreign students at the same time.  I was an International Relations student, but I wanted to transfer to Law school.  The system in the UK is different from in America—one can go to Law school straight after high school; there is no need to have another degree. Passing the exam was one of the requirements for the program, even though I was already living and studying in the UK. I took the exam in New York and passed successfully! The combination of dealing with the culture shock, working for the first time, and having to study was tough, but the experience taught me so much.  I learned to communicate with people from various backgrounds and respect their culture and way of thinking. I also made great friends and had so much fun.  The whole experience taught me that, no matter the circumstances, if you want to achieve something there is always a way—you just have to keep going! 

My stay in the U.S. was full of meaningful cultural experiences. I met people from all over the world and found out about their cultures and lifestyles. I travelled around both the East and West coasts, exploring America's history and natural beauty. I also took part in the CIEE Civic Leadership Summit, which was the highlight of my stay in the States.  It was amazing to meet so many young and bright people and to discuss the issues affecting modern society and ways to solve them. One of the main issues we discussed was women’s equality. You definitely see this problem today—the pay gap between men and women in Europe is a hot topic. The Civic Leadership Summit helped me overcome my fear of public speaking as well!

With friends in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the Civic Leadership Summit

I returned to London full of energy and positivity (being accepted to law school contributed to that!).  I was much more open-minded, active, and willing to make meaningful contributions to society.  This was a direct result of my American experience: I find it easier to respect people’s different views about equality, religion, culture, music, etc., after going on the Work & Travel USA program.

Since then, in November 2017, I became the Secretary of King’s College London’s Alumni Association—the idea is to keep in touch with alumni and encourage them to set up sports leagues and other societies, to attend graduation ceremonies to represent the alumni community, and to initiate communication with former students as early as possible.

Bo and Mila in Saint James’s Park in London, one of their last pictures together

I am also currently running a fundraising campaign for my closest friend and flatmate, Bozhana, who I’ve known since I was fourteen. Bo passed away suddenly in January, and I am raising money for Brain Research UK in her memory by running the Scottish Half Marathon. Supporting this particular organization for this race is very important to me personally—Bo left us too early, at the age of just twenty-four, due to a brain hemorrhage. She and I often ran together and dreamed of completing a marathon. I am now determined to fulfil this dream for her. The choice of the race’s location is not a coincidence, either: Bo spent five of her happiest years in Scotland, and Edinburgh was one of her favorite cities. 

Mila and Bo at their high school prom in Bulgaria

My initial fundraising goal for Brain Research UK was £250 but I've raised £1100 in just four and a half months. See more details at this link.  At the Civic Leadership Summit, we discussed the importance of being a Changemaker, and I think running this race and raising this money is a way to keep the promise we all made there.

Mila running in London, practicing for the big race!

I didn't come to America with any concrete expectations, but I definitely learned a lot about diversity, nature, values and the American way of life.  I left with both good and bad impressions- for which I am thankful, as discovering both helped me to form a more objective view of the American society. The U.S. is a diverse and inspiring place and I would love to come back again one day. 

With a Macedonian friend, holding signs reading “I bring change” in our native languages


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