My Dubai Expo: Superfan on a mission to collect rare pavilion pin badges

Boyko Novev has more than 40 from Dubai already - but staff don't just hand them out

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An Expo 2020 Dubai passport is a must-have souvenir, allowing visitors to collect stamps from each of the pavilions in a “round-the-world” tour.

But there is a secret upgrade to the simple stamp — for those in the know, that is.

Boyko Novev, 34, from Bulgaria is one of those people. He works as a host for the Netherlands pavilion, and is something of an Expo superfan.

He first worked at Expo 2015 Milan in the European Union pavilion, and has also visited the horticultural expo held in Antalya in Turkey in 2016 and the 'mini expo' in Astana in Kazakhstan in 2017.

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There is a tradition within Expo employees to exchange pins and to socialise in this way. Each exchange of a pin means a lot to me
Boyko Novev, Netherlands pavilion

He applied for several jobs at Expo 2020 Dubai to make sure he had a reason to be there every day.

“I like Expo because we can meet 192 nationalities from all over the world,” said Mr Novev.

“You can dance with Kazakh dancers in the morning, you can see the Netherlands sustainability concerts in the afternoon, and in the evening you can go to the Indian pavilion and have dinner.”

As a souvenir of his experience, each time Mr Novev visits a pavilion, he asks the organisers for one of their badges, or pins.

Nearly all of the pavilions have them for their staff and distinguished guests, but it is often not easy to persuade a pavilion representative to relinquish one. Sometimes staff swap pins, said Mr Novev.

“There is a tradition within Expo employees to exchange pins and to socialise in this way,” he said.

“It's similar to the visitors' experience where they collect stamps in their Expo passport. So the employees they are exchanging pins. It's like bringing the Expo story on to another level.”

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Extraordinary Expo stamps — in pictures

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At first it proved difficult to source the sought-after badges in Dubai, but now that he has dozens pinned to his accreditation badge, most people want to help him build his collection.

He has collected more than 40 so far, and each pin represents a connection forged and a memory made.

“I do not just exchange pins in front of the pavilion, I enter the pavilion, I have chat with people, sometimes with directors of the pavilion or staff members, and in that way I make new memories and new friendships,” said Mr Novev.

“Each exchange of pin means a lot to me.”

His favourite pins include the one from his own pavilion, a rainbow coloured circle from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals project, one from Poland because the people were very friendly, and the Kazakh pin, given his fond memories of the expo in Astana, which was later renamed Nur-Sultan.

He also has pins from Turkey, Moldova, New Zealand and Brazil — his favourite pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

With five more months to go, Mr Novev hopes to continue to collect pins, but he said he does not need one from every country to complete his collection, nor is it a competition.

“I'm not interested in the total number of pins that I'm about to collect — it is more important the chats that I made with colleagues, the new friendships, and the new culture that I explore,” he said.

“Every pin for me is a single story — I want to memorise it, and it's not just the number of pins — I can tell you a single story for each single pin.”

With just over five months left of Expo 2020 Dubai, Mr Novev has already started applying for jobs for the next global mega-event, Expo 2025 Osaka.

Best of Expo 2020 so far - in pictures

Updated: November 1st 2021, 3:10 PM
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