Recently, most of my posts (and time) have been dedicated towards the fundraising project I’m working on with 10A. But today, I wanted to take a short timeout from project updates to tell you about a cool experience I had this week. Elizabeth Noell, my former neighbor and family friend, teaches kindergarten at Sedge Garden Elementary School near the the town I grew up in. On Tuesday afternoon, I had the opportunity to Skype with her class (and a group of 3rd graders that joined us) about my experience in Bulgaria.
After giving a brief introduction, I was asked a number of questions ranging from “What foods do you eat in Bulgaria?” to “What do you miss most about North Carolina?” My Mom and sister Emily had joined for the conversation (you can see them in the back below), so in answer to the latter question, I had fun joking with the students that the thing I missed most about North Carolina was BBQ!
During the next 30 minutes, I shared many things I hoped the students would find interesting. Check out this local news piece by FOX Channel 8 WGHP for some highlights of our session!
- How to spell Bulgaria – I gave the students the opportunity to try first; hilarity ensued (B-U-L-I-G-E-I-R-E-A).
- Where Bulgaria is located on a map – I was pleased they knew it was in Europe, because some of the adults I spoke to before leaving hadn’t managed to get that far.
- The approximate population in Bulgaria – Initial guesses from the students anchored around 25,000, so there was an element of surprise when I told them it was closer to 7 million!
- Popular dishes in Bulgaria – I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, and I’m hopeful my growling stomach didn’t come through on the Skype call as I described shopska salad, sarmi, and banitsa. I didn’t think this was the right audience to tell about rakia!
- Popular jobs in Bulgaria – I talked about some of the big industries in Bulgaria like sunflowers and rose oils. I also explained that there are many people in Bulgaria who want to work, but don’t have the opportunity. It’s hard to have an elementary conversation about unemployment, but I think I managed to express that it’s indeed a big problem here.
- Technology in the classroom – I gave a dual answer to a question about what technologies are available at my school. While I wanted to highlight the amazing technology we have at our school thanks to the America for Bulgaria Foundation (smartboards, tablets, laptops, speakers, etc.), I also wanted to emphasize that many schools are alarmingly under-resourced. I challenged the students to think about how their learning experience would be much more challenging without technology, and shared that as the reality for many Bulgarian students.
- What my students are like – I liked this question because it gave me the opportunity to brag about my AMAZING kids. The kindergarteners and third graders were impressed when I told them that most of my students know 3 or 4 different languages and are exceptionally bright and creative.
- What sports are popular in Bulgaria – It was fun to talk about the different meanings of “football” in America and Bulgaria (and the rest of the world, for that matter). I also shared that volleyball is an incredibly popular sport here and that my students dominate me when I train with our school team. I was also thrilled to get a question about my own favorite sports team, because it gave me the chance to gloat about Duke’s win over UNC on Saturday night. In fact, I might miss that more than the BBQ. I managed to wake up at 4 a.m. for both Duke/UNC games this year. For the most recent one, that meant watching curled up on a bean bag in my freezing cold hotel lobby while snow dropped in buckets outside. I was sharing a hotel room with my school’s bus driver Nikolai (I spent the weekend in Pazardzhik for a BEST Speech & Debate tournament with my students–more on that later), and believe it or not, he didn’t seem particularly interested in waking up for the game. The receptionist was beyond puzzled as she watched me set up shop for the game. “Do you ever sleep?” she asked me in Bulgarian.
The students’ enthusiasm and curiosity was so infectious that I was legitimately sad when the session came to an end. After the interview, it dawned on me that there aren’t many better ways to fulfill the Fulbright mission to “enhance mutual understanding” than by instilling a genuine curiosity about foreign countries, languages, and cultures in a group of young people. Hopefully, something I said planted a seed of interest that will grow into a strong desire to learn about people from other backgrounds all over the world. We need more of that.
A big thanks to Elizabeth Noell and her class for inviting me to speak!