5,000 miles to yourself…

28 August 2017, JFK Airport, New York City, USA

Corey William Steen is anxiously checking his watch to see how much time he has until his trans-Atlantic flight to Bulgaria. His watch shows exactly 00:00, although it is 10:53 am EST. The timepiece has been broken for years but he keeps wearing it for sentimental reasons. It reminds Corey of his Native American heritage and Algonquian roots which he is especially proud of. The band is made by the Hopi people and encrusted with turquoise and obsidian stones, his spirit tokens. He recalls his Native American naming ceremony in the desert of Arizona on a full moon when he was 18 as he looks at it. The tribe named him “Cries like Wolf”.

A week ago Corey quit his job, left his house on Candlewood Lake and gathered what he needed most in a large suitcase. He booked a ticket and decided to come to Bulgaria in pursuit of self-discovery, cultural experiences, adventures and love. And while for most Americans it might be unthinkable to leave everything familiar behind and hop on a plane to Eastern Europe, he has no fear of the unknown. The next three months hold a lot of questions, uncertainties and excitement for him. One thing is for sure, there is no going back.

4 September 2017, Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria

Corey is sitting outside a caravan on the cliff of Arapya on the southernmost part of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast and he is writing in his journal. Writing has always been a passion for him or “the only thing I am good at” as he puts it and he had recently graduated with a BA in professional writing from Western Connecticut State University. He bought his leather bound diary from a vintage store in the heart of Old Sozopol and hasn’t stopped writing in it. He hopes that one day, he will be able to publish his memoir of all the places he has visited and people that touched his heart.

The reasons why he came to Bulgaria are many. He originally set out to follow his diverse roots and promised to himself to trace his heritage to all the places he is from. Not with the idea of tracking down specific people, but by immersing himself in the culture of his ancestors. He also had, in a way, too much of America in a single year and was looking for a way to get out of the political and social tension that became too dense in the last month before his departure. He was also, as a matter of coincidence, fairly in love.

3 November 2017, Bari, Italy

Corey is one half Italian, a combination of his half-Italian mother and father. This trip is perhaps what he was most looking forward to when he came to the continent. Starting out from the colorful town of Positano arched on the beautiful Amalfi coast, he had a bit of an urban shock when he first arrived to Naples.

“I was in awe. I didn’t think a place like that really existed on earth. Yet in a way like I had been there before,” he remembered.

After Naples he hopped on a tiny bus and crossed Italy to arrive on the opposite coast in the town of Bari. There, in a AirBnB in the heart of the old fisherman’s village Mare, with the oldest church ruins in Bari in his backyard, he finally felt at peace.

Upon leaving Italy with satisfaction of the experiences yet eagerness to come back, he vowed next time he came to Europe, to visit Rome.

12 November 2017, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels was one of those improvised trips that one books on a whim because they see a cheap flight online. Corey’s love for craft beer and desire to find out the origin of his last name brought him to Belgium, where every street, park or corner cafe seemed to have “Steen” in its name. Of course, it turned out that the one-way transfer from the distant Charleroi airport cost twice as much as the flight itself. But there was no time for regrets and “what ifs”. Belgium trip marked the last big weekend before his final departure to the States and was a last time to get lost in the streets of an unknown city and go with the flow. Maybe eat a hot street waffle or two.

27 November 2017, JFK Airport, New York City, USA

How does it feel to be back after visiting a total of 6 countries over 9o days and spending almost half of your time on the go? Emotions have definitely taken over Corey as his father picks him up from JFK airport to drive him home for Thanksgiving with the family. There are too many stories to be told, too many experiences to reflect on and not enough reasons for him to settle in just now.