Dr. Raina Kostova, a native of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, earned her American citizenship last month.
Kostova, an associate professor of English, has been teaching literature at JSU since 2006, and has lived in the United States for 16 years.
Her pursuit of citizenship has been a long process. She said applicants seeking American citizenship must have lived in the county and possessed a green card for at least five years.
“The hardest part is actually getting a green card. You have to have an employer who sponsors you. JSU was my sponsor so I am eternally grateful to them for that,” Kostova said.
She explained that not everyone can get a sponsorship, and that obtaining her doctorate opened a lot of doors for her. Kostova said if she did not have that degree, she probably would not have received her green card until several years later.
“If you have that Ph.D degree, you have more possibilities to realize yourself professionally as an immigrant in the USA. It makes the process go faster,” she said.
Kostova said she did not obtain a doctorate for citizenship; instead, her “passion for literature” was her motivation. It was that motivation that brought her to the U.S.
“I spent my childhood until I was seven years old in a small village up in the mountains,” she said referring to her time in Ravnogor, in the Rhodope mountains. From there, Kostova moved out of her grandparents’ home and moved in with her parents in the city of Plovdiv to pursue her education at a local high school that taught English.
She was only 12 years old at the time, and said that “only one out of every 27 students were accepted” to the school. Kostova earned her bachelor’s degree from the American University in Bulgaria in 1999, where she had the opportunity to interact with professors and students from American universities.
Kostova said one of her professors recommended that she pursue a master’s degree in English.
“I really had an adventurous spirit; I wanted to travel to places, and I specifically wanted to come to the United States,” she said.
Kostova arrived in the U.S. in 1999 when she was 21 years old. She enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Maine, and the English department immediately assigned her to teach a class.
“I was still adapting to the culture, but I also had to go into the classroom and teach students who were not much younger than I was, and teach them English,” Kostova said.
From there, she went on to earn her doctorate from Emory University in 2006.
Kostova plans to take advantage of her American citizenship.
“I have more responsibilities as an American now,” she said. “I feel that now I have a voice.” Before becoming a U.S. citizen, Kostova would still participate in Bulgarian elections. Now that she can vote in U.S. elections, she said her interest in American politics has increased.
Just because Kostova is now a U.S. citizen does not mean she is abandoning her Bulgarian heritage. As she sat in her office Monday, she wore a red and white bracelet made of twine.
Kostova said March 1 is a special day for Bulgarians because it signals the beginning of “Baba Marta,” a Bulgarian tradition that celebrates the arrival of spring.
The bracelet on her wrist was called a martenitsa; they are placed on people’s wrists as a sign for health throughout the year.
“Its always white and red,” Kostova said, referring to the colors of the martenitsa.
Her bracelet also contains a small blue bead that holds the red and white striped twine together—a representation of the two cultures that she now calls her own.