Loyal followers (read: Mom),
I’m long overdue for a post! The last couple weeks have been incredibly busy, and my internet access has been sporadic at best. I want to use this post to give an update about my 10 days of teaching orientation in Sofia, and hope to follow it up soon with some details about my first week of school (spoiler alert: I love it so far).
On September 1st, I finally had the chance to meet the other 30 or so English teachers in my program. While we all have our own unique backgrounds, we bonded over a shared passion for culture, education, and of course, rakia (Bulgarian brandy). The majority of ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) just finished college, making me one of the older members of the group. My roommate Jason happened to be from Charlotte, NC and had just graduated from NC State. Reminiscing about home was fun, but tantalizing; thoughts of Bojangles, the ACC, and Cheerwine came rushing back. A handful of ETAs are returning from last year’s program, while several others have a few years of teaching experience under their belts (Peace Corps, etc.). Orientation was held at Hotel Vitosha in an area of Sofia known as Studentski grad, or “Student city.”
Most of our time was spent in the classroom. We covered everything from lesson planning to cultural adjustment to teaching resources to classroom discipline. Hearing the perspectives of returning ETAs who had taught English last year was especially helpful. I also had another week of Bulgarian class to build upon what I learned during FISI.
A few highlights from outside the classroom:
- GO-KARTS! Driving in Bulgaria is a little crazy. People drive very quickly despite poor road conditions. I had been warned before coming here that as a pedestrian, you have to be really careful to avoid getting run over. The one good thing about the dangerous driving is that it translates directly to the Go-Kart track. My Go-Karting experiences in the States have been pretty tame. “NO BUMPING” signs line the tracks and top speeds are unimpressive. Things were a little different when I went with friends in Sofia. Karts whip around corners at 40 kph, they are capable of insane drift, and there don’t seem to be any rules about bumping (I have the bruises to prove it).
- Fire Walking. One night, the entire group went to a restaurant in Sofia. The restaurant staff put on a performance that included traditional music, dancing, and Нестинарство (aka Fire Walking). The participants carried religious icons associated with Orthodox Christianity while walking effortlessly across a bed of hot coals. Though this particular performance was for the benefit of tourists, Нестинарство is still practiced in several smaller towns in southern Bulgaria.
- Day trip to Plovdiv. We had the opportunity to visit Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second largest city, and one of Europe’s oldest. Situated on and around the seven hills, it has been civilized for over 6,000 years! With such a long and interesting history, Plovdiv is not surprisingly a hub for culture. In fact, it was just recently selected as the European City of Culture for the year 2019. I’d encourage you to take a few minutes to learn a bit more from this video!
- My friend Bobbi is teaching English in Plovdiv this year. Check out her first impressions of the city (and Sofia)!
The last part of orientation was exciting because we met our mentor teachers for the first time. I feel fortunate that my mentor Valentin and I seemed to hit it off right away. He has a great sense of humor and seems to really care about his students. I’m excited to work with him this year!
Here are some photos I took in Plovdiv. I’ve shared photos of the city, Thracian ruins, two major cultural centers (Atanas Krastev House and Symmetrical House), ancient Roman amphitheater, and some of the coolest graffiti I’ve ever seen. All of these things (and so much more) combine to make Plovdiv city that just gushes culture.