Saturday marked the end of the Fulbright International Summer Institute (FISI). The fact that I’m still standing (albeit hardly) after two of the most fun, socially invigorating, and intellectually stimulating weeks of my life feels like an accomplishment in and of itself. Somewhere in the blur that was FISI, I managed to:
- learn how to say “cheers” in Bulgarian (Nazdrave!)
- develop an understanding for the complex ethnic tensions that exist in the Balkans
- pick up on the basic rules of “belot,” a popular Bulgarian card game
- study tactics for successful conflict resolution in both interpersonal and international disagreements
- eat dessert after just about every single meal (I know this one is especially impressive)
- teach Bulgarian friends popular American card games and expressions
- hear directly from Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors regarding the conflict in Gaza
- nearly burn my face off in a sauna (thanks, Pradeep)
- meet the lead actor from Don Giovanni
- beat a Bulgarian friend in table tennis
- lose to that same Bulgarian friend in table tennis more times
- disagree on potentially contemptuous topics with tact
- laugh…a lot
- dance a traditional Bulgarian dance
- listen to a Mozart symphony
- learn enough Bulgarian to make a presentation about myself…IN BULGARIAN!!!
- and most importantly, walk away with a handful of lifelong friendships
FISI friends before dinner
To celebrate the program’s completion, everyone had dinner at the hotel’s Golf Club. After dinner, the dancing started almost immediately with the traditional Bulgarian “Horo.” The Horo is incredibly fun, and is popular at weddings, festivals, parties, and other social gatherings. As you can see in this video, dancers hold hands and follow the steps of a leader who snakes and weaves all over the dance floor. I found I could keep up with the simple patterns pretty well, but once the steps got complicated, the Bulgarians were in a league of their own. I’m hoping that with enough practice, I’ll be able to keep up in the future!
Saying goodbye to my FISI friends was difficult. I didn’t anticipate getting so close to new friends so quickly, but that’s exactly what happened. One thing (of many!) I really enjoyed about the smaller group of friends I spent the most time with was that despite being from all walks of life, we each put forth a genuine effort to understand each other’s backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, and to share our own. My Bulgarian friend dubbed the Americans in our group “Local Americans.” Unsure why, I asked him to explain what he meant. He said that he could tell we had a strong desire to really understand Bulgarian people, language, and culture, amongst other things. While some other Americans at FISI and otherwise had hung out with exclusively other Americans, he appreciated our curiosity and desire to bond with locals. I’d encourage others to “think local” when they travel. Try local food, learn some phrases in the local language, and strike up conversations with local people; so much can be learned this way.
I went on two tours today in Sofia, that I hope to post about soon. Tomorrow, I head to Macedonia for a couple days, where I will work hard to continue living up to my “Local American” nickname.