Plamena Pesheva has delicate cursive handwriting and always is smiling. Quiet and soft-spoken Plamena has a rich history one has to ask for.
Plamena grew up in the seaport city of Varna in Bulgaria, the European country’s third largest city with a population of 300,000. Plamena, who left Bulgaria at 15 with her family, when her mother got a job in the United States, remembers often running into friends walking around the streets and eating at cafes in the large city.
“From my window, I could see the black sea,” Plamena said.
Every weekend, the Pesheva family would walk 40 minutes to Plamena’s grandparents’ home. Most visits, Plamena would sit in the living room and look through the pages of Bulgarian newspapers. This ritual “was part of my Bulgarian life,” Plamena says. Plamena’s grandfather hoped she would become a doctor and her sister, a lawyer. Plamena has other plans.
In the third grade, Plamena and her classmates wrote stories for class. After turning in one paper, Plamena’s teacher read her story to the class.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I can write,’” says Plamena, who decided then to be a writer.
Plamena began learning English in the fifth grade with two-hour lessons a week. After the seventh grade, Bulgarian students take exams to place into high school (which begins in eighth grade). Plamena placed into one of the city’s better schools, one that focused on English. Plamena took intense English classes that lasted four hours a day, on top of taking regular classes including biology, chemistry, physics, history, Bulgarian literature, music, art, geography and math.
In the middle of Plamena’s ninth year in school, the Pesheva family moved to Shrub Oak, New York, about 50 minutes outside of New York City. In high school in the United States, Plamena began writing for the school paper, “The Voice” at Yorktown High in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
“I used to miss [Bulgaria] in the beginning,” Plamena says. “Now everything is here.”
Plamena and her sister, Maggie, both spoke English, but their parents struggled. Plamena’s father, Rumen, often asks about an English word and then repeats it, until he knows it.
“He is the funniest person in the world,” Plamena says. “He cracks jokes in English, Bulgarian and languages that he doesn’t know.”
Her father is a former Bulgarian Olympic boxer and her mother, Krasi, a former Bulgarian Olympic gymnast. Plamena’s sister practiced gymnastics and was a Bulgarian national champion, and regional, including eight states, and New York state champion. Plamena plays tennis.
“Plamena loves writing,” says Andreia Moura, 21, a friend at Pace University in New York.
“English was her favorite subject in school. I don’t know why; I hate it.”
Plamena is now a junior at Boston University studying newspaper journalism and history. Plamena writes for the Daily Free Press, an independent student newspaper at Boston University.
“She wrote an opinion piece about her housing situation. That was her best work and what she enjoyed the most,” says Boston University student Michael Quintavalla, Plamena’s boyfriend of almost two years.
Plamena is in the United States on a Green Card and will apply for citizenship when eligible. Plamena hopes to work for a major newspaper as an investigative journalist.