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“Go-en”: Fated Relationships

Emi surrounded by a group of friends.

By Emi K., YES Abroad 2022-2023, Bulgaria

I stood in front of my new classmates and made an announcement.

“This is a Japanese coin. The pronunciation of the coin’s name, Go-en (“go” means 5, “en” is the Japanese currency) portrays the coin’s worth, but also has another meaning of fate in finding good relationships and connections. This is why in Japan it is believed that this coin has good luck. I wanted to give you this coin to pass on the luck of finding those fated connections and also because it is my ‘Go-en’ to meet you!”

Attached to a little blue and white string with a Japanese 5-yen coin, I nervously passed out 32 of these notes to my classmates and my host family on my first day of Bulgarian school, a gift my mother and I had spent hours crafting back at home, not knowing who or what this new year abroad would bring for me. As my mother scrubbed every coin and I cut out every note, I was overwhelmed with worry—what was I getting myself into? Who was my host family? Would I make any friends? My mother and I spent our last days together cutting, scrubbing, tying, and packing this little gift for all of the people I would come to meet in this new chapter of my life.

Within this first month, my life has gone through more changes than ever imaginable—in contrast to my small and quaint hometown in Ohio, I am now living in the bustling city of Sofia, Bulgaria where I cannot speak nor understand the language. From a life filled with comfort and familiarity, I was thrown into a whirlwind of new experiences filled with unknowns. I stepped into Europe for the first time, learned to use public transportation for the first time, and have learned how to connect with others without the commonality of language (2 key things: smile and nod). From trying the delightful and never-ending array of Bulgarian dishes to learning to live in an environment of not understanding, this year abroad in Bulgaria has challenged my idea of comfort in many ways, shifting as Bulgaria has become my new home.

Emi standing with her host family

And in October, this challenge came in the shape of my wallet disappearing. Just. My. Luck. My wallet—which contained my ID (driver’s license), my credit card, my debit card, all of my pocket money, my Bulgarian traditional dance class card, and my student card— was gone and nowhere to be found in this city of over two million people. As my host sister and I frantically began searching across the house with no avail, I was struck with panic, stress, and guilt. I felt like a burden and a failure. Of all people, why did this have to happen to me? I retraced every place I walked, contacted the American Embassy, contacted our local coordinator, turned every bag inside out, and racked my brain almost every minute to think of where I could have lost it.

But when I asked my friends if they had seen my wallet, what could have ended with a simple “no” went like this: two of my friends went all the way back to school to see if they could find it because they lived close by, one contacted all of the teachers of our building, and one called our homeroom teacher to have her look for it as well. Another contacted the school guards, and all of them contacted all the underclassmen they knew in second shift to ask for them to check if my wallet was left behind. Although I had only known these friends for less than three weeks, they went above and beyond to help me in greater measures than I could have ever imagined.

With the continuous “no”s, it became very clear that my wallet was gone. But, as I sat at the dinner table that night, drinking the miso soup that my host mother cooked for me to comfort me (which has become a tradition in our family: bad day=miso soup!), it became clear to me that I had met my “Go-ens” in Bulgaria, in greater numbers than I could have ever imagined.

Emi Hugging a Friend

But, the story does not end here.

About a week later, during school, I received a text from my host mother that my wallet had been found with my IDs and cards inside—according to my peers, an unheard of experience in Bulgaria.

The story goes like this: I was pickpocketed on my bus home. The person who pickpocketed me only took my pocket money without using my cards and threw my wallet away in a trash can near the bus station.  An older woman, who worked at a governmental firm nearby, was the first person to witness it and report it.

Next came the task of finding we, which apparently turned out to be an immensely challenging task for the police. First, the policewoman looked up my name on the Bulgarian citizen list…no results. Next, she looked up my birthday—if this girl had a Bulgarian students’ card, she has to be living here, right? Nothing. She decided to look through my wallet one last time and found my dance class card (for my Bulgarian traditional dance classes) with a name line that said “Еми и Цонка” (“Emi and Tsonka”, my host mother, in Cyrillic). Left without any other options, the police officer decided to call the dance studio to ask if they had a student named Emi.  Again, nothing. But because my host mother’s name (luckily) was so unique, the dance staff found my host mother. After spending the entire day looking, the policewoman finally found me and returned my wallet.

The policewoman had spent the whole day finding me, but when I thanked her, she told me that she was “just doing her job.” My host mother spent hours in her incredibly busy schedule to receive information about my wallet, but told me, “This is family. Of course.” My host sister rushed to the police station with me, wrote a two-page police report in Bulgarian for me, translated for and supported me without any hesitation and became my sister in the process.

Although I had just brought these “Go-en” coins as a little gift, I have encountered countless fated connections during these past two months in my life abroad.

Through these “Go-en”s—kind hearted, caring, selfless, and supportive friends, family, and even strangers—Bulgaria has become my new home, a place where I feel newfound belonging and a sense of community. I gained a second mom, dad, and sister who loves me and accepts me as their own. I gained friends who will endlessly support me and make me laugh. I met strangers like the police officer who went out of her way to be kind.

In exchange, there are countless mentally and physically challenging moments. In a constant surfing of the ups and downs, my experience abroad has wrung my preconceived notion of comfort in more ways than ever imaginable. But whether that comes in the form of culture shock, homesickness, or getting pickpocketed on the bus, always know that your “Go-en”s are waiting for you to support you in those moments and that these “Go-en”s, your fated relationships, will be the instigator for the next chapter of your life, awaiting to help you discover your second “home” abroad.