Bulgaria: A Year in Summary

So it’s been about two months since I arrived back in the United States, which means I’ve had plenty of time to reflect back on my year in Bulgaria. The idea of summing up the most transformational year of my life in a single blog post seems absurd, but I’m going to give it my best shot. I tried to boil down my thoughts into a few key takeaways, which proved to be pretty challenging.

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Coffee mug from my 8A and 9A classes…fitting for my year in conclusion post

Diversity produces the best learning experiences.

My time in Bulgaria kicked off with the Fulbright International Summer Institute (FISI). This two-week set of intensive courses covered a variety of topics including but not limited to politics, international relations, business, economics, law, education, science, and culture. The expense of this conference was not covered by my grant, so I had to think long and hard about whether it was worth going on my own dime. Ultimately, I decided that the allure of what sounded like an invigorating learning experience outweighed the cost, which turned out to be the right decision.

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FISI friends take a break from class for a hike

While the content itself was interesting, what really made the experience worthwhile was the diversity of my classmates. Despite having attended an undergraduate university that boasts diversity, this learning experience was unlike any I had previously encountered: PhD students from Bulgaria sat next to members of disaster response teams from Pakistan; Businessmen from India debated with business students from the University of Michigan; Linguists from the U.S. not surprisingly viewed conflicts differently than Russian graduate students. The result was passionate, dynamic, and sometimes even a little heated discussion about topics like Ethnic Tensions in the European Union and International Conflict Resolution.

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Last day of week 1 classes

Too often we view conflict as a bad thing. We’re taught to believe that conflict breeds animosity, and so it should be avoided at all costs. Especially after this experience, I tend to believe that quite the opposite is true. Conflict and diversity of thought can lead to a more thorough analysis of a complex situation, and if involved parties can remain focused and level-headed, it can be quite constructive. There were times when I felt compelled to step in and defend the United States and others when I found myself questioning previously held beliefs. Ultimately, these were two of the most eye-opening weeks of my life, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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FISI farewell party

Friendship comes in unexpected places.

For a whole year, my social life revolved almost entirely around my eccentric 60-year old neighbor whose English vocabulary was limited to “Deep Purple” and “Let it Be.” And I loved it. From the moment Krassy walked into my life (in his underwear, interestingly enough), he has treated me like family. Many of my fondest memories from Bulgaria involve Krassy: making rakia together, learning how to cook banitsa, road tripping to Serbia, and so many more. But I think the thing I’ll miss most is just daily life with Krassy. Whether we were eating dinner, practicing Bulgarian, watching a soccer game, or just aimlessly putzing around town, there was never a dull moment.

Buds

Simply put, my relationship with Krassy and Nadia was a big part of what made life in Silistra so enjoyable. Their generosity and friendship played a huge role in shaping my view of Bulgarian hospitality. What frightens me about that is that I was close to not pursuing this friendship at all. Early on, I was concerned about letting my social life revolve around someone that seemed different in every way possible. In fact, I even remember ignoring the doorbell a couple of times to avoid joining Krassy for dinner. People are wired to seek out people who are similar. While that can be easy and comfortable, it can also be incredibly limiting. I learned that friendship comes in many forms, and that sometimes the most rewarding friendships can come in the least expected places.

My second family

Challenge the status quo.

Many of you followed along or even participated in my 10A class’s fundraising campaign to build a school in Ghana with Pencils of Promise. Fortunately, the project was wildly successful, and my students significantly surpassed our $25,000 goal. Getting there wasn’t easy though. Had my class not been willing to challenge their preconceived notions about what is and isn’t possible in Bulgaria, this never would have happened. I applaud my students’ willingness to take a chance on accomplishing something big in an environment where there isn’t a culture of volunteerism and there’s a lingering “communist hangover” effect that sometimes thwarts progress.

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10A – The class that built a school

For those who have been following our story, check out my latest update on the school build. We’re almost finished!

Get out of your comfort zone.

I’ve told many of you about the note my dad has on his desk reminding him to get out of his comfort zone. That’s something I have tried to incorporate into my own life as well, and it was a big motivator as I considered moving to Bulgaria. Over the past year, the best example I have of this came back in March. As someone who doesn’t love public speaking, I experienced a mixture of excitement and dread when an e-mail hit my inbox asking if I’d be willing to present at the annual Berlin Fulbright Seminar. My knee-jerk reaction was to reject the offer; it was just an e-mail after all, and saying “no” would be easy.

But I decided to sleep on it, and when I woke up the next morning, my attitude had changed. I knew that the discomfort I experienced when I pictured myself in front of 250 people wasn’t a good reason to avoid the situation entirely. In fact, that was exactly the reason I should be seeking it out.

Was I nervous leading up to the seminar? Absolutely.

Did I spend way too much time preparing and rehearsing? No doubt about it.

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Presenting at annual Berlin Fulbright Seminar

But the presentation went well, and the enjoyment I had presenting and participating in the panel discussion following it far outweighed the slight anxiousness. I am a firm believer that the best way to grow and learn is by doing the things that make you uncomfortable.

Think from others’ perspectives.

Growing up in the United States, it’s easy to view America as the greatest force for good in the world. We see ourselves as global peacekeepers, promoters of freedom, and good samaritans. But what we often don’t realize is that much of the rest of the world doesn’t see us that way. In fact, there were times during my year abroad when even I started thinking that maybe America’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

I remember going to a concert in Silistra one of my first nights there, and meeting a couple of Bulgarians my age. “Friends!,” I had thought as I tried to use my Bulgarian (quite limited at the time) to strike up a conversation. After a few minutes, they wanted to introduce me to another friend of theirs who happened to be Russian. That sounded great, so I introduced myself to their third friend. However, as soon as he found out I was American, things changed quickly. He got aggressive and started shouting at me for reasons I didn’t understand. His friends and I tried to talk him down, but it was clear that he had some ingrained distaste for Americans, and my insistence that I was a decent human being wasn’t going to change that; I went home baffled, trying to figure out what had gone wrong.

Perhaps I had been a bit naive, but this was an eye-opener for me–not everyone loves Americans. And in fact, many people have quite a strong distaste for us. I recently stumbled along the below map, which shows the most common responses by country to the question: “which country do you see as the greatest threat to world peace?”

Greatest threat to world peace

Greatest threat to world peace

Prior to living abroad, I think I would have found this map surprising. That’s why I think the Fulbright mission to “enhance mutual understanding” is so vital, especially in the world today. It’s our responsibility to advocate for America to do the right thing, and be the global force for peace that we claim to be. When we see things like the current Syrian refugee crisis, we ought to be vocal about making sure America does its part. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be stepping up in a big way to help the millions of families being displaced by war and devastation. Not doing so will only further tarnish a reputation that’s already damaged in many parts of the world.

Laugh at yourself.

As a bit of a perfectionist, I hate making mistakes. Usually, I think that’s a good thing because it causes me to be intentional and thorough, but I had to take a different approach in Bulgaria. While trying to learn a new language and culture, you’re bound to make mistakes; I made many. Perhaps my favorite mistake came during one of my many cross-country journeys from Silistra to Sofia. With 20 minutes left of our bus’s coffee break in Ruse, I decided to strike up conversation with a shopkeeper. Things went well as I explained my background, profession, and reason for moving to Bulgaria (he was shocked by the last one). But when I told him that I knew two other Americans living and teaching in his hometown (what’s up Nora and Anthony!), he burst out laughing.

“Аз знам две други учители че живеят в Русе. Момичето има руса коса и се казва Нора и момчето се казва Антони. Той има картофи коса,” I repeated emphatically, trying to improve my pronunciation that I assumed he was laughing at. Here’s what I thought I said: “I know two other teachers who live here in Ruse. The girl has blonde hair and is named Nora, and the boy is named Anthony. He has brown hair.” Unfortunately, instead of saying кафява (kafyava), the word for brown, I used картофи (kartofi), the word for potatoes. “He has potato hair,” I had said. I wish this had been the sole mistake I made, but instead, it was one of dozens I made in that day alone. I learned early on that getting comfortable with making mistakes is essential for language acquisition, and learning in general. Fear of messing up and looking silly can cause one to avoid taking chances, which stifles learning. As I start business school, I’m trying to more fully embrace this mindset, as I expect there are many more mistakes to come as I grapple with new information.

The potential of (Bulgarian) youth.

When I first arrived in Bulgaria, I expected the English level of my students to be quite low. I thought I’d be up in front of the classroom teaching very basic vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence structure. What I found instead was a group of highly intelligent, capable, and passionate students whose English abilities far surpassed my expectations. I remember introducing myself during the first week of school, and explaining that I had previously been working for Target, a big retailer in the U.S. A bright-eyed senior sitting in the front row shot his hand up in the air, and before waiting for me to call on him belted out in perfect English: “What were the annual revenues of Target last year?”

Just like that, my previous lesson plans were out the window. My students were capable of having very mature, intellectual discussions about topics that really matter. Some of my favorite lesson topics that my students seemed to enjoy too were: crowdsourcing, literacy rates, and the Nobel Peace Prize.

The creativity of my students was further demonstrated in our Speech & Debate club. Debating complex topics like how to thwart the spread of ISIS, how to reduce the gender pay gap, and how to decrease social inequality is hard enough in your first language…my students were doing it in their second or sometimes third! These kids are impressive!

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Kaloyan from my Speech & Debate team hard at work!

My takeaway is that despite the many problems that exist in Bulgarian education, young people can and will thrive when given the chance. I have trouble imagining that this isn’t the case in other parts of the world too. Education can unlock potential, and I’m frustrated by the fact that so many people don’t have access to the basic resources needed to learn. I’m thrilled that my 10A class was able to help tackle a small part of that problem in Ghana, but the fact remains that 250 Million children lack basic reading, writing, and math skills. Improved education is one of several avenues I will be exploring in business school as I seek to play a role in helping alleviate global poverty.


The above takeaways are just a few of the thoughts that flooded my mind as I drove away from Silistra for the last time (on this trip at least). Looking for any excuse to further delay my departure, I pulled to the side of the road to soak in the beauty of Bulgaria one more time. While enjoying the vibrant yellow of Bulgarian sunflowers, I reflected on what had really made my experience so worthwhile: the people. And with that, I want to take a minute to say Thank You to the many people who made this past year possible and awesome.

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First and foremost, thank you to my family, friends, and Lindsey for encouraging me to take advantage of this opportunity. Your support meant the world to me, and helped me get the most out of my time in Bulgaria.

Secondly, I want to thank Valentin and Alex, my friends from FISI who entertained my nonstop questions about all things Bulgaria. Your patience and willingness to share taught me so much about politics, history, sports (Само Левски!), and culture. I value our friendship, and look forward to future meetings!

Alex, me, Valentin

Alex, me, Valentin

Thank you Iliana, Rada, and the rest of the Bulgarian Fulbright team for being there for me and my peers throughout the year. I greatly appreciate your commitment to making our time in Bulgaria as comfortable and productive as possible.

Next, I want to thank the Peyo Yavorov Foreign Languages High School Community. I felt at home at Peyo on day one, and really appreciate you welcoming me with open arms. An extra special thanks to Principal Atanasova and English teaching partners Kremena, Ani, Margarita, and Valentin. Working with each of you was an absolute pleasure, and I learned so much about how to be a better teacher. Valentin, thank you for your mentorship that extended beyond the classroom. I would have been lost in Silistra without your guidance.

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Peyo Yavorov English Department

Students of Peyo Yavorov–you are what made my time in Bulgaria so special. While I didn’t advertise this blog at school, I know several of you tracked it down, and have been following along. Your engagement both inside and outside the classroom motivated me to be a better teacher. You have such bright futures, and I can’t wait to hear about the many great things you go on to accomplish. Please continue reaching out to me from time to time to let me know how things are going!

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Some of my 8th and 9th graders on the last day of school!

Thank you to the many generous donors who helped my 10A class learn what it means to accomplish something monumental. Your commitment to the project (either financially or by helping spread the word) instilled a new sense of what’s possible in the minds of young people, which can be very powerful. I think my students say it better than I can.

A big shout out to the other Bulgarian Fulbrighters! It was a pleasure getting to know each of you over the past year. Our weekend getaways kept me sane, and I wish you the greatest of success in the future–keep in touch!

Bulgaria ETA friends

And last but not least, thank you, the readers, for your interest in and engagement with this blog. I appreciated your comments, e-mails, calls, and conversations. My goal for this blog was to help fulfill the Fulbright mission to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” My hope is that with nearly 10,000 views from 69 different countries, this blog has generated at least some interest and discussion about Bulgaria.


For those of you interested in continuing to learn about Bulgaria, I highly recommend following my successor McKinley’s blog. He is living in my same apartment teaching many of the same students, and seems to be off to a great start! Most importantly, he’s already met Krassy, which guarantees another year of entertainment!

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Best Day Ever?

I’ve been fortunate to have a tremendous amount of support here in Bulgaria–from an incredibly helpful Fulbright staff, to a teacher mentor determined to make me feel at home, to a hilarious neighbor who has adopted me as his own son, to eager and welcoming students, to a steady stream of visitors from the states, and to enthusiastic Fulbright peers happy to discuss the many highs and occasional low of our experiences. All in all, that’s helped me avoid feeling much in the way of homesickness. This past weekend was a bit of an exception. It marked my five year Duke reunion in Durham, and I was thousands of miles away.

My Gmail inbox filled up with Duke friends coordinating hotel and transportation arrangements. My Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with pictures from events on campus that I longed to be a part of (BEER PONG IN CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM…ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!). Groups of friends sent pictures that I should have been in. My jealousy only grew as I thought back to the Duke Community that I love so much.

Senior housemates minus me

Senior housemates minus me

Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to stop feeling sorry for myself, because Tuesday night just might have been the best night ever. It was the night of my students’ charity concert and for many reasons, it’s a night I will never forget.

In the days and weeks leading up to the show, we broke a lot of rules. Typically when my school organizes an event like this, it is several weeks or even months in the making. Scripts are carefully written and edited, performers rehearse multiple times, marketing efforts start early, venues are booked well in advance, and directors, sound technicians, and lighting experts are contacted ahead of time.

We didn’t do any of that. Three of my students in 10A wrote our script the week before the show. Being well-rehearsed was out of the question as our set list wasn’t even finalized until a few days ago. We lucked into a director after our first choice refused to work with us because we were getting such a late start. The only reason we had lights was the individual efforts of one of my amazing ninth graders and her connections with a local theater. Our marketing effort could best be described as a last-minute scramble, and our first full rehearsal ended an hour before the show started. But when you set out to accomplish big things and give yourself an aggressive deadline ($25K in 25 school days), sometimes moving quickly is more important than being perfect…somehow my students figured out a way to do both!

I loved the idea that we were breaking the rules. Since arriving in Bulgaria, I’ve constantly heard “this is not possible” or “this is not the way.” We were trying to prove that, as the saying goes, when there’s a will, there’s a way. That also meant that a lot was on the line; and we were behind.

To be honest, when the curtains opened last night, I didn’t know what to expect. Things had been moving quickly in the days leading up to the show (they had to), and I wasn’t exactly sure how it would go. It wasn’t that I doubted my students or their abilities; I just knew how fast we had been moving!

But then, the next couple of hours happened…and they were truly magical. 10A and some key support partners had stepped up to the plate, and the result was brilliant. Unfortunately, our photographer and videographer need a few days to process content from the show, so I’m going to save the play-by-play for my next post. That being said, I want to share some of the highlights as they are moments that moved me greatly and that I will never forget.

In no particular order…

  • Going into the show, our hope was to raise 900 leva ($497). We were thrilled to exceed our goal, raising 967 leva (~$532), which was a huge success! Even more exciting for the campaign is that we had two donors willing to match our charity concert fundraising efforts. Becky and Roger Tuuk, extremely generous friends of my family from back when we lived in Michigan, posted a $500 match, and an anonymous donor opted to match the entire $532 amount. For those keeping score at home, that’s over $1,500 in one night!
  • A few minutes before the show started, a couple of ladies I had never met came up to me and presented me with a rose. “This is from the mothers of 10A,” they said. “Thank you for what you’re doing for our children.”
From the mothers of 10A

From the mothers of 10A

  • The performances of my students were fantastic. There are so many good stories here, and I promise to elaborate more once I have the photos and videos to do them a bit more justice. In the meantime, I included a few pictures below to whet your appetite. Suffice it to say that I’m unbelievably proud of all the performers and the amazing acts they put on.
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Some youngsters joined us for the show, and they definitely stole the hearts of the audience. I was amazed by their voices and stage presence!

Desi dance group

Dancing group

Meli Mecho

Two of my stud musicians from 10A

One of my 8th graders KILLED IT with his beat boxing

One of my 8th graders KILLED IT with his beat boxing

  • As an additional motivator, I agreed to sing a karaoke song at the concert if we raised 300 leva on top of ticket sales in a box labelled “Embarrass Michael.” A few acts into the show, some of my students passed me a note letting me know that the box had 420 leva in it (later updated to 484 leva), and my fate was sealed in the form of Frozen’s “Let it Go.” In my three and a half minutes of fame, I made just about every mistake possible: I forgot the words, I was out of tune, and I’m pretty sure my voice cracked at least once in an ambitious pursuit of the high notes. Needless to say the crowd loved it. My students unexpectedly rushed on stage to sing and dance along and the song ended in a huge group hug. It felt magical in ways that I’m sure not even Elsa has experienced.
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The Elsa wig I made just before the show left something to be desired.

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Happy to have some support on stage!

Group hug

  • The concert ended with a big group singing of Michael Jackson’s “We are the World.” An extremely talented vocal group, Do Re Mi, got us started, but inevitably all the performers once again flocked to the stage to sing along. There was so much joy and energy in the room!
  • After the show, I joined about 10 of my students at the local pizza joint. As I devoured a large pizza (pre-show prep had caused me to skip a couple of meals), we celebrated the progress we’d made towards our fundraising goal and hypothesized where our school might one day be located and how the kids would benefit. It was fun to hear my students admit that when I first issued the challenge, they were excited, but didn’t believe that it was possible (that’s actually reason I wanted to do this project in the first place). With over $21K raised, it’s safe to say that nobody feels that way anymore!
  • Krassy rang my doorbell shortly before I left for the show, and gave me 4 leva–the price of two tickets–even though he and his wife Nadia could not attend. Shortly after that, he came back with dinner, knowing that I was busy preparing for the show and might not have time to eat. I’m going to miss that man so much.

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  • Many of my teacher colleagues and the principal from Peyo Yavorov Foreign Languages High School came out to support the cause! Regardless of whether they came to see me humiliated or to help build a school, I was extremely appreciative of their attendance. I was especially moved when the school’s chemistry teacher–a favorite of many students–thanked me for challenging our students to tackle something monumental and pursuing such a worthy cause.

In conclusion, despite feeling down about missing out on time with many of my best friends at my reunion, Tuesday night solidified that I was exactly where I was supposed to be this week.

My students are making waves in Bulgaria!

My students are very tech savvy, and they’ve been putting their skills to good use. At this point, we’ve had about a half-dozen Bulgarian celebrities post our cause on Facebook, and some have also committed to making a donation. While I’m not very in tune with Bulgarian pop culture, it’s been fun to see my students’ excitement when they successfully reach a famous actor or musician. It feels like every morning, I wake up to a new message in our class Facebook group about another supporter. Enjoy some of their updates!

But before you do, check out our video and fundraising page!

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One of the ways I am measuring the success of this campaign is the level of engagement with our local community and with Bulgarians. Seeing such overwhelming support in our first week is fantastic, and I anticipate it will only grow as we continue to get more media attention.

Also, don’t forget to follow our progress on social media. These accounts are run by my students to keep you updated!

I’m also pleased that this project is stretching my students’ language skills. They are having to translate messages, post social media content in both English and Bulgarian, and thank our donors in English. In one extreme case, I even had a student write an English/Bulgarian rap about building a school. This is his first foray into rapping, but I’m extremely proud of his valiant efforts to help spread our cause. He turned this project from an idea to a complete song and music video in less than a week! You can watch his video here:

I’m also encouraged by the fact that the rest of our school is rallying behind our cause. I have students from other classes individually going out to fundraise. Some are selling artwork, others are volunteering to perform at our upcoming charity concert, and some are even offering their own pocket change. The rest of the school has also been quite engaged in sharing our story on social media. Once again, I feel very fortunate to have so many passionate, creative, and intelligent students at Peyo Yavorov Foreign Language High School in Silistra!

As a side note, I enjoyed watching Duke knock off Michigan State last night. In Bulgaria, tip-off was at 1 a.m., but I managed to mostly fight off sleep until the very end. When Duke extended the lead to what felt like safe double-digits, I might have nodded off for a minute or two. We’ll have a tough match against Wisconsin tomorrow night, but it’s great to see Duke back in another National Championship game!

A little more on teaching…

Today marked the end of my 3rd full week of teaching, so I figured I’m about due to share more about my experiences in the classroom. Let’s start with the basics:

  • Peyo Yavorov, named after a famous Bulgarian poet, is a Foreign Language school specializing in English, German, and French. Each student selects two foreign languages, one of which is prioritized more than the other to attain a higher level of fluency. That means some of the classes I teach specialize in English while others are learning it as their secondary option. This means there is a wide range of ability!
  • At my school, the students stay in the same classroom all day. Instead, teachers move from room to room meeting with different groups of students. This allows the classes to get incredibly close because they spend all day together for 5 years (8th-12th grade). It’s fun because each class seems to have almost developed its own unique personality.
  • I teach every grade level, and meet with most classes 1-2 times per week. There are also a couple classes I only meet teach twice each month. For me, Mondays and Thursdays are quite busy with 5 and 4 classes respectively, while Tuesdays and Wednesdays are pretty light. The Fulbright mandates that we have Fridays off, which is incredibly nice for weekend trips. In fact, it’s Friday, and I’m on a bus to Sofia right now!
  • The 8th and 9th graders have tremendous amounts of energy and enthusiasm. Every question I ask is met with at least 7 or 8 hands in the air, and that doesn’t include the other 10 who belt out an answer without raising their hands. Some of the older classes have entered the “too cool for school” phase, so sometimes I have to work a little harder to get them involved.
  • My official title is “English Teaching Assistant,” which means I’m typically working with a colleague . I work with four other teachers, averaging about four classes with each of them every week. Despite the “assistant” label, my colleagues have been pretty hands off so far, and let me control the classroom (they seem to like the time to catch up on grading). I love the independence, but it’s certainly comforting to have a partner there if anything were to ever get out of hand. Working with multiple colleagues has its challenges too, because they all have their own unique style and approach to lesson planning. For instance, I meet with one of my colleagues for 30 minutes each week, and we plan content for all of our upcoming classes. Another prefers to send me her tentative plans for the week via Facebook on Sundays. Still another prefers to throw me curve balls frequently, and my entire lesson changes 10 minutes before it starts! Being a teacher in Bulgaria means spending a lot of time on your toes!

Now for a few of my favorite lessons so far:

  • My first week of introduction lessons were really fun. Because the first week of school is pretty relaxed, I decided to use the first lesson to get to know my students better, and share a little more about myself. I decided to play two truths and a lie. For those of you who don’t know how the game works, you essentially say three statements, two of which are true, and one of which is false. The rest of the group then tries to guess which statement is false. I was a little hurt that most of my students didn’t believe that I was in a YouTube video with more than 10,000 views, making me a somewhat of a minor celebrity (I’m not). Most also successfully guessed that I did not have a webbed toe, but I certainly got some of them!
  • I did one cultural lesson on the school system in America. While I was lesson planning, it dawned on me that the best representation of American schools was obviously Billy Madison. So my class watched clips from Billy Madison’s 2nd grade classroom and the Mr. Holland’s orchestra classroom from Mr. Holland’s Opus. Needless to say, they found quite a few differences in our compare and contrast exercise.
  • Who doesn’t love Aladdin? When I had the opportunity to do a lesson on describing characters, I decided to show this clip from Aladdin. The class then described the personalities and appearances of Aladdin, Abu, the magic carpet, and the genie. I also had the chance to talk briefly about Robin Williams and his amazing acting career.
  • In several of my 12th grade classes, we have been talking about job applications and interviews. This gave me the chance to show a clip from Step Brothers, one of my favorite movies. Talking about things that are NOT appropriate to do during a job interview paved the way for a great conversation about proper interview etiquette and attire. My students then came up with questions to mock interview one another and practiced good and bad interview body language in front of the entire class.

While I’ve had a lot of great classes, I’ve certainly had some challenging ones too. Just this week, for example, I had a class that was about as lively as a pile of bricks (no offense to any of the livelier bricks out there…). After the first hour, I was struggling to get them involved. I tried to be as energetic as possible, but they just weren’t having it. I decided to change things up a little during their second hour, and made everyone stand up. I asked them to complete an exercise that required moving to one side of the room or the other depending on which of two opposites they identified with more (Ex: impulsive/cautious, considerate/unfeeling, etc.). Despite getting the biggest eye roll I’ve ever received from one of my 11th grade girls (yes, I called attention to it in front of the whole class), it actually seemed to work. The second hour was slightly less painful than the first!

It’s hard to squeeze three weeks of school into one post, but in summary: I love teaching here. My students are creative, energetic (usually), passionate, and they seem to really appreciate me being there. There were times people told me I was crazy for quitting my job and moving to Bulgaria, and there were times I agreed with them. But being here and doing something that feels so purposeful is giving me the fulfillment I wasn’t finding before. It makes me feel more confident that my goal of transitioning into social enterprise, where I hope to find a similar sense of fulfillment, after this experience is the right one.

I’m curious to hear what questions you have about the schools or students in Bulgaria? I find some things are very similar to what I experienced back home, while other things are entirely different. Post any questions you have down in the comments section, and I’d be happy to answer.

City/School Assignment!

Since receiving my official acceptance e-mail, I’ve been eagerly awaiting my specific city placement and school assignment. Each Bulgarian ETA (English Teaching Assistant–I’ll likely be using this acronym a lot!) is matched with a school and paired with a teacher mentor.  After much anticipation, I was placed at the Peyo Yavorov school in Silistra, Bulgaria!

Obviously I still have tons to learn about my new home, but here is what I know so far:

  • Silistra looks very different in Bulgarian: Силистра…holy cow!  Bulgarian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, but more on that in a later post.
  • It’s in the northeastern portion of the country situated on the Danube River, which creates Bulgaria’s border with Romania (see top right corner of map above).
  • The population is ~35,000.  Minneapolis is over 10 times that big!
  • It looks like I’ll be pretty far from the capital, Sofia, but close to the Black Sea.
  • The city has a Roman tomb, remains of a Medieval fortress, an Ottoman fort, and an art gallery.
  • “Peyo Yavorov” is a Language High School (8th – 12th grades) that focuses on teaching English, German, and French
  • Students at this school have to pass two entrance exams, earning the school a more elite reputation
  • The school is named after a popular Bulgarian poet and revolutionary
  • Average class size is 22!
  • My teacher mentor is Valentin Eftimov.  I don’t know anything about him other than his role as an English teacher, but I sent him an e-mail, and hope to know more soon!

peyo

I found this picture of Peyo Yavorov on their website.  Apparently it was recently renovated with funds from the European Union (to which Bulgaria was just admitted in 2007)…looks nice!