International Student Experience – Internship in Bulgaria

Dear SPOT community,

Infront of the Ruse-sign (source: private picture)

We are Milena Horst, Raquel Müller, and Kira Hanßmann. We are currently studying occupational therapy in our third year at the ETOS (School of OT in Osnabrück) and University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück, in Germany.

For the past four weeks, we had the opportunity to get an insight of OT in Bulgaria, specifically in Ruse.

In the following we are going to tell you about our internship and further experiences we had.

In Ruse the possibility to study OT was first introduced by Liliya Todorova 16 years ago. Since then, there have been around 150 bachelors’ graduates, about 50 of them are working in their profession now. Liliya is still involved in the exchange programs and welcomed us with open arms. The only place to study OT in Bulgaria is at the university of Ruse, which is why we came to this city via Erasmus+ for an internship.

The internship

We were placed in two different OT facilities. One of them is a private practice for paediatrics run by ABET, the Bulgarian association of Occupational Therapists. There are 8 such practices in Bulgaria, located in the big cities. The other facility is a day care centre for young people with intellectual disabilities. It’s part of RALIS which is the organisation for people with intellectual disabilities in Ruse.  
Due to the language barrier, we mostly observed. Towards the end of our stay, we were nonetheless able to conduct a therapy session with a few clients mainly using nonverbal communication. We are glad to have had colleagues who translated for us whenever verbal instructions were necessary. In both establishments the OTs spoke English which enabled us to get a good insight on their work.

Our realization

In this short period of one month, we learned to read the Cyrillic alphabet and acquired a small number of Bulgarian polite phrases and therapy relevant expressions like prompts, colours, and numbers.  Through Erasmus we met two OT students from Portugal and Liliya also arranged a meeting with the Bulgarian OT students. This way we exchanged experiences as OT students in our countries and i.e., discovered that inclusivity is handled very differently in each of our countries. It also gave us the opportunity to reflect on our own social system and the standing of OTs in Germany. We definitely feel more grateful for the possibilities we have as OTs in Germany due to societal and political recognition. Although there is still a long way to go, as in many other countries, we have a lot of further training opportunities and profit from our health standard where OT is prescribed and paid for in many different areas. In Bulgaria OT is not prescribed by doctors. They are officially a health profession, but are not concidered medical staff, which is why OTs don’t get to work in the field of rehabiliation. Most OT’s are employed in peadiatrics or mental health centres. In Ruse we met welcoming, cordial, and dedicated OTs who are fighting for the right to their profession.

It seems experiencing a different culture helps us to get a new perspective on our own culture.

Food and culture

In Veliko Tarnovo (source: private picture)

Besides getting to know the Bulgarian OT world, we also had the chance to travel around a bit, visit historical cities, try traditional food, experience nature, learn parts of the traditional Bulgarian dance and meet friendly and helpful people along the way. We spent a weekend in the mountains, in the former capitol of Bulgaria: Veliko Tarnovo. With its colourful houses, narrow streets and an old fortress with a view of the town and valley, this place has a beautiful charm to it. To round off our stay, we spent our last days in Warna at the black sea. Our hostel was a 1920s building with the oldest running elevator in town.


All in all, we are thankful for the opportunity to make this trip, especially after a long time of covid restrictions. Sadly, we caught covid during our stay and had to quarantine for nearly two weeks, so we couldn’t spend as much time in the internships as we would have liked. The time we did have, we enjoyed a lot. We return to Germany with lots of new impressions and are grateful for the whole experience.

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