New Student Profile: Iliana Lazarova

New Student Profile: Iliana Lazarova

FES welcomed its most international class this year, with nearly a third of new students coming from 25 different countries. Iliana Lazarova is one of those students, hailing from Sofia, Bulgaria. Bulgaria and the Balkans in general are rarely represented within FES, so I was eager to sit down with Iliana to hear her perspective on the school.

Iliana did her undergraduate work in Sofia, studying international economic relations. She’s had an interest in the environment, and specifically in energy, for some time. “I realized that we all live in the same place,” she told me, speaking about her revelation about the nature of environmental problems.  After college, Iliana worked for Teach for Bulgaria, a program modeled after Teach for America. Through that work, she came to see the value of education for affecting bottom-up change in Bulgaria. After teaching, Iliana gained some business experience by working for a telecom company. She then worked for an environmental startup called Greenhero, which does crowdsourcing for green projects and products.

Iliana had wanted to pursue a Masters degree in the US for some time. In college, she was an exchange student at Barnard for a year, and the experience stuck with her. The draw of Yale itself was considerable: “It’s a great community,” she told me. And then there’s the appeal of FES more specifically, which “has a very impressive history of an entire century of doing amazing environmental work,” she said. The school, she continued, is “a collective of knowledge and experience… It feels like the right place to be for me.”

As a Fulbright student, Iliana wants to make a change in her country. She sees several means of doing that: She hopes to make connections with FES alums from all around the Balkans in order to better understand environmental issues in the region as a whole. “The Balkan [countries] have common environmental problems,” she said. Understanding how they are addressed in other countries may provide insight on potential paths forward for Bulgaria. Iliana also sees a lot of potential for change in the business sector. “No one cares about the environment in Bulgaria,” she told me. “There aren’t really environmental values at this point.” She thinks business will be more effective than policy in creating an environmental consciousness in the region. In her view, politics are too corrupt to address this.

While at FES, Iliana intends to focus on renewable energy as well as business and the environment. She’s considering the joint degree at the School of Management in order to hone her quantitative skills. Her favorite thing about FES so far is the resource embodied in the diverse student population. “People from all around the world are here with very different experience,” she said.

She has an idea for a side project in which she would create a blog featuring successful people from Bulgaria. She told me there’s historically been a tradition of brain drain in her country, where young, educated people leave and never return. But slowly, people have been coming back in order to apply the education they gained abroad within Bulgaria. “I’ve met some amazing people who are Bulgarians… it’s very motivating,” Iliana said.

Iliana herself intends to get some work experience in the US before she goes back to Bulgaria, but she does plan to return. “I’d love to work for the region,” she said. She thinks that Bulgaria can be a leader in improving the quality of life in Eastern Europe. In the short-term, however, she feels it’s easier to be recognized and to get paid competitively in the US. Regardless, in the meantime, FES “feels like home.”