Amanda served as LIFE’s student administrative assistant from 2015 to 2017. She received a Fulbright scholarship after graduating from UCF in 2017. She was selected for assignment to Bulgaria and agreed to send back periodic emails to LIFE about her experiences there. Below are her informative emails.
Tue, Sep 12, 2017 at 6:29 AM
Hello from Vidin, Bulgaria!
I write to you from a place of beautiful weather, and I am so sorry to hear of all the destruction that Irma brought to Florida. I hope your home and neighborhood are not too much the worse for wear, and that everyone you know is safe.
I will be in touch with Alli at some point so that she can share a blurb in the newsletter, but I wanted to take the opportunity to say hi to you! I sure miss spending my Tuesdays with LIFE, and I hope this school year is off to a great start despite weather-related interruptions. My mom sure loves being a part of the program, and she has raved about it so far.
Although it’s early on, so far my time in Bulgaria is proving to be great experience. We finished a very extensive 2-week orientation in Sofia, and have now all spread out to our various cities. I am up in the northwest of the country, sitting right on the Danube River. It is the poorest region of Bulgaria, and much more small/ run-down than the capital and the more metropolitan areas, but I am adjusting to the style of living here and settling into my very traditional communist-era apartment. The school year officially starts next week, so I am dividing my time between exploring my surroundings, planning some lessons, and trying to learn a bit more of the Bulgarian language 🙂
October 2, 2017 at 2:27:25 PM
I will share some perspectives I have gained on the country throughout the past month or so.
Firstly, there is definitely a detectable attitude of negativity observable in the Bulgarian people as a whole. As the poorest country in the entire European Union, Bulgaria’s so-called “transition” from socialist rule to a democratic and capitalist system has been going on for more than 25 years, and problems such as high unemployment and political corruption are persistent with no end in sight. This is all reflected in a high rate of population decline, as people seek better jobs and higher standards of living abroad wherever they can.
Because 1989 was not so long ago, many of the folks with whom I interact are able to recount their own personal stories of life under communist rule, its sudden end, and how things are different now. I think it is really neat to be able to hear this firsthand.
It seems largely true that the older, retired generation displays a reverence and nostalgia for the socialist regime, because everybody was employed, the cities were well kept-up, and society seemed to be working. Now, infrastructure is weaker throughout the municipalities, and in my city alone, there are dozens of abandoned factories that testify to hundreds of jobs that no longer exist.
The generation below these pensioners— to which many of the teachers belong— seems to have a more mixed perspective; they recognize the positive aspects of socialism, but are also very aware of its ills. Most want their children to learn English, go abroad, and live a better life than what Bulgaria can offer them— which does present a paradox, because their children may be the generation that can change the way things are, if only they decide to stay.
However, as I understand this situation more and more, I feel like I better understand my role as an English teacher at the high school. Talking with the students about their plans and hopes for the future, I’ve yet to hear a single one say that they hope to stay in Bulgaria, and if I were in their situation, I know I would feel the same way. So I am focusing my energy on getting to know them better, coming up with creative ways to teach them conversational English, and supporting them as much as I can both inside and outside the classroom. Some of my classes make that mission easy by participating and working hard, while others are rowdy far more difficult to handle in class. However, it’s high school, so of course it will be a mixed bag. Every day is a new adventure!
I teach 16 classes in total, ranging from 8th to 11th grade. My class is focused on speaking and conversation, and is a supplement to their formal English classes, which focus on grammar, writing, etc. in accordance with government standards. I try to make my classes fun, and despite incendiary challenges, I really am enjoying the task so far.
As a final note, my personal experience with the people here has revealed a welcoming and generous spirit which, I believe, is just as much a hallmark of the Bulgarian personality as the pessimism which I mentioned earlier. The teachers at my school have welcomed me with open arms, and even the non-English speakers among them are constantly showing me gestures of kindness and support. Meanwhile, I am trying to (slowly) learn more of the Bulgarian language so that I can communicate better around town. Right now I only know “survival” phrases, and I can manage very simple interactions at the grocery store or on the street. I will keep you updated as that progresses 🙂 And the food is AMAZING. Some of my favourite staples are cirene (a white Bulgarian cheese), banitza (flaky bread, also with cheese), and their sour yoghurt which contains a specific bacteria (bacillus bulgaricus) that is only found in this country. I am having a blast trying the cuisine… wish I could send some home!
Please give all my best to everyone at LIFE! I think of you all, often and fondly. I am also attaching some pictures of my town, my school, and a trip I took to Belogradchik last weekend (a natural rock formation dating back 230 million years). There is a lot of natural beauty here!