My journey begins

Well folks, it’s finally here. Departure day. It’s been almost 4 months since I first received my grant confirmation in April. Since then, I’ve left my job with Target, run more errands than I can count, traveled for several fun vacations and wedding celebrations, and said numerous goodbyes to coworkers, friends, and family. With so much going on, those 4 months flew by, and it’s hard to imagine that today is actually here. The first leg of my journey is behind me, and I’m sitting in Chicago awaiting my flight across the pond. I fly from here to Warsaw, Poland where I’ll connect to Sofia, Bulgaria.

DSCN0182Before: Clothes laid out to pack

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After: Fit ~60% of what was laid out in first picture

It’s hard to articulate how I feel right now. I’m excited, sad, eager, and anxious, all at the same time. I know the anxiety will subside once I arrive and am forced to be sharp as I navigate a new country. I’ll spend my first night at a hotel in Sofia very close to the airport. On Sunday, a shuttle will take me to Pravets where I will participate in the Fulbright International Summer Institute (unfortunately nicknamed FISI) for two weeks. I’ll share more specific information about my classes and the experience in a later post.

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Visa and Flight path: MSP –> ORD –> WAW –> SOF

As a parting thought, when I was at the airport in Minneapolis, I couldn’t help but get sucked into the news story on the TV at my gate: U.S. begins airstrikes in Iraq. For me, it was yet another reminder of why the Fulbright’s mission to enhance mutual understanding is so important. With unrest in Ukraine and rockets in Gaza, the need for reciprocal awareness and tolerance between nations, ethnicities, religions, and people is abundantly clear. Learning about your neighbors and seeking to understand their motivations can go a long way, and ultimately help prevent or resolve conflict. As a cultural ambassador, I’m excited to play a small part in fostering this way of thinking.

Thanks to everyone for your texts, calls, e-mails, facebook messages, and blog posts. Each one energizes me and instills more confidence that I can make a real impact on the world.

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Less than a Month!

Suddenly this is starting to feel real, people. My departure to Bulgaria, which once felt like a distant milestone, is now merely 3 weeks away. It’s hard to pinpoint anything specific that brought me to this abrupt realization. Instead, I think it’s the combination of many things–buying my airline ticket, selling my furniture, booking a hotel for my first night in Sofia (the capital), and starting to set aside things to pack. Perhaps the event that most alerted me to the reality that I’m down to 3 weeks in the U.S. was my brother Andrew’s wedding last weekend. While it was an overwhelmingly happy and fun weekend, it ended with saying goodbye to Andrew and his now-wife Kelly, as our travel schedules will prevent us from seeing each other again before I leave. Whatever the cause of my change in thinking, I know that August 8th will be here in no time, and that I have many more “to-dos” and tough goodbyes ahead of me between now and then.

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Andrew and Kelly’s wedding in the Duke Chapel

All that said, the most dominant feeling I have is excitement. Travel and culture are two of my biggest passions, and I’ve got an onslaught of both heading my way. Thinking through my first couple moves after landing invigorates me. How will I navigate to my hotel? How do I avoid getting ripped off by taxi drivers (I’ve heard that’s very common for visitors)? Where will I find my first meal? Previous travel and living abroad experiences have helped build my confidence, but the reality is that this will be unlike any other challenge I’ve faced. Not only is the language (Bulgarian) foreign to me, but it’s based on an entirely new alphabet (Cyrillic)! I’ve got my work cut out for me; and I can’t wait.

I’ll leave you with a youtube video I stumbled across today that made me smile. It was filmed in Silistra–the town I”ll be living and teaching in for the next 10 months.  Looks like there is plenty to be HAPPY about!