Fulbright|America for Bulgaria Foundation English Teaching Assistantship
The program offers graduate students in all fields the opportunity to teach English in Bulgarian public secondary schools for one academic year.
The program offers graduate students in all fields the opportunity to teach English in Bulgarian public secondary schools for one academic year.
The ETA Program started in 2006 with one ETA based in the capital, Sofia. In each of the following three years there were two Fulbright ETAs teaching in Sofia, Burgas and Plovdiv. Since 2010, responding to increasing interest from potential host-schools and thanks to the generous support from the America for Bulgaria Foundation, the ETA Program rapidly expanded and currently oversees 30 English Teaching Assistants placed in 24 cities across Bulgaria. The Fulbright| America for Bulgaria Foundation ETA program has had a tremendous role in the improvement of the English language instruction in all participating schools, as evidenced by the evaluations of thousands of students and feedback from ETA mentor teachers and school principals. The program also benefits local communities, where ETAs often initiate or are involved in various public service projects such as organizing fundraising activities for charitable causes, starting sports, arts or cookery clubs, helping with community or school project grant applications writing, giving consultations on college application and serving as judges or coaches for English language competitions. Perhaps the most notable initiative started by Fulbright| America for Bulgaria Foundation ETAs to date is the Bulgarian English Speech Tournament (BEST) Foundation. Finally, the program offers its participants the unique opportunity to acquire invaluable intercultural, professional and life experience and the chance to make genuine impact in their local community.
If you have questions about the program, please contact Iliana Dimitrova, ETA Program Officer, at Idimitrova@fulbright.bg.
English Teaching Assistants are due in Bulgaria on time for their Orientation Training, starting on September 1st. The 10-day orientation offers professional training and Bulgarian language and culture classes. The school year in Bulgaria begins on September 15.
Grantees’ assignments will not exceed 20 hours per week of teaching English, independently or with a Bulgarian co-teacher. Details of assignments will develop from direct communication between selected candidates and designated host institutions. Grantees are encouraged to combine teaching with extracurricular projects and/or educational advising. Fridays are usually free of teaching or administrative duties.
Based on their performance and host-institution feedback, grantees may apply for a one year extension of their grant. Grant extension applications are reviewed by the Fulbright Commission Board and a limited number may be approved.
The basic amount of the Fulbright| America for Bulgaria Foundation grant is not increased for accompanying dependents. Housing is provided to grantees by their respective host schools free of charge. Grantees are responsible for covering utility bills.
The Bulgarian Fulbright Commission also offers training for grantees throughout the year:
Fulbright ETAs undergo an intensive 10-day in-country orientation training in the beginning of September. The training includes Bulgarian language and culture classes; intensive teaching workshops; practical introduction to the Bulgarian educational system; meetings with U.S. Embassy representatives for consular and safety and security briefings, etc.
In December the Fulbright Commission hosts a two-day midterm conference for all U.S. grantees to further support them in their role, monitor their progress, discuss challenges and address current issues.
In June the Fulbright Commission hosts a three-day Wrap-Up Seminar for all U.S. grantees, offering them the opportunity to present their projects and achievements in front of Commission staff, program sponsors and partners, school principals and mentor teachers.
Fulbright U.S. Student Program Division
809 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017-3580
Intercultural awareness and curiosity, good communication skills, flexibility and adaptability, ability to accept challenges and differences with an open mind, good planning and organizational skills, goal-setting skills and discipline, self-sufficiency, a genuine desire to help others and serve the community, team-building and team-playing skills will definitely help make your ETA assignment both rewarding and successful.
How are ETAs assigned their placements?
We try to be really good match-makers and give careful consideration to the specific needs of each host-school, the ETA candidate’s academic background, work experience and unique skill set, as well as their personal interests and extracurricular project ideas, as laid out in their application and during their online interview with the Commission. Sometimes, however, there can be additional factors which intervene with this process, such as unforeseen circumstances, personal or otherwise, special medical conditions, last minutes withdrawals by a grantee or a host-institution, and other.
What can ETAs do to prepare for their Fulbright year?
Start following Bulgarian and Balkan region news channels. Start learning Bulgarian. Sign up for our newsletter, follow us on social media, read alumni blogs. Think of the best ways to apply your unique skills and experience in support of Bulgarian high school students and your host community. Go to class observations, spend time in a real classroom with teenagers. Make use of the alumni network to ask questions and set realistic expectations. Connect with your mentor teacher. Get familiarized with the guides in the “For Grantees” section on our website, where you will find plenty of resources for language learning, teaching, links to alumni blogs, visa and travel information, recommended reading lists, cultural tips, and more.
Does Fulbright Bulgaria extend ETA grants past the one-year term, and if so, what is the process to request an extension?
Yes, the Commission is able to offer a limited number of second-year grant extensions every year. At the end of the first school term (Jan-Feb), the Commission sends an invitation to apply to all ETAs. The final selection is made based on the ETA’s performance so far, feedback from their host-school, as well as the results from the Teacher Evaluation Forms filled out online by students at the end of the Fall term. Candidates capacity to serve as mentors and trainers to the new ETA cohort is also of importance.
What side projects, if any, do ETAs undertake during their Fulbright years?
The ETA grant is awarded for full-time teaching, and for developing of extracurricular activities and projects that benefit the students and the community. These could be leading sports or interests’ clubs with students or community members, volunteering with local organizations, coaching a BEST speech and debate team, leading English tests and college preparation clubs, and many more.
What does it mean to be a teaching assistant? Will I receive guidance and supervision in the classroom?
A teaching assistant may teach independently, or with a co-teacher. They may be responsible for their own lesson planning and lesson content, or they may be required to follow a strict curriculum. While the situation in each host school is unique, each ETA is assigned a mentor teacher, who will support them in their professional and cultural adjustment.
What makes the ETA program in Bulgaria special?
Our ETA program is well established and we are doing our best to improve our program administration every year by actively seeking and implementing feedback from our grantees and alumni. We work with a pool of schools with experience in hosting an ETA, while also trying to onboard at least one new host institution every year. We also partner with a number of organizations from the NGO sector, and this collaboration provides our grantees with unique opportunities for extracurricular work and personal development.
What skills and qualities do ETAs gain during their Fulbright years that have broader applicability to their lives and careers?
We decided to leave our ETA alumni to best answer this question for you. To summarize from their responses below – it seems that adaptability, creativity, confidence, presentation and public speaking, flexibility, cross-cultural communication, self-awareness, teaching and coaching, deep listening, better understanding of the English language, patience, people and time management, resilience, risk-taking, accepting feedback and – last but not least – cooking, are all qualities and skills people gained or improved while on their Fulbright ETA grant in Bulgaria.
“I definitely gained the ability to really think on my feet and adapt to changing circumstances, sometimes coming up with brand new approaches on the fly when a given lesson plan was failing, or when I learned I’d be in different classes/age groups than I had planned for that day. Classrooms are…hard like that.” Ariel Boomer, ETA in Smolyan, 2012-2013
“I gained confidence in public speaking from managing the classroom! I started off a little uncomfortable, but soon enough there was no time for the discomfort, and I’ve found public speaking easier since.” Mathew Lauer, ETA in Ruse, 2019-2021
“FLEXIBILITY!! I think living in a new environment, especially a culture that doesn’t seem as “hurried” as the US, made me slow down and also be ok when plans didn’t go “as planned.” Also learning how to communicate cross-culturally. This is huge!! Understanding that direct speech, mannerisms, and body language may mean something different in different cultures. For example, I had to adjust to more direct speech that came off as harsh at first because where I grew up, speech is more passive and surrounded in politeness (whether genuine or not). I learned that directness was not meant to be mean or insulting, it was just direct!” Anna Kate Brainerd, ETA in Gabrovo, 2016-2018
“Adaptability — I can quickly improvise, change gears if needed, and roll with stressful situations in a professional setting (and in my life!) based on my experiences in the classroom, coaching BEST, and being placed in unfamiliar cultural situations. Presentation/public speaking skills — my public speaking skills improved SO much, got to practice every day in front of a class and I’m way better at working a room if I’m presenting at work, at a conference, or just in social situations; I went from dreading presenting to actually really enjoying it.” Boris Busov, ETA in Sliven, 2016-2018
“Creativity! I use a lot of my lesson planning skills in my current job and it feels totally effortless since I spent so much time on it as an ETA. Of course intercultural communication is an obvious one as well.” Sara Huzar, ETA in Dimitrovgrad, 2019-2021
“Self-awareness regarding our own acculturation practices and what we bring into spaces where we are “foreign” or “other”. A deeper understanding what it means to each person to be “American”. A deeper understanding of learning practices. Improvement of coaching skills…Bulgarian language skills!” Tatiana Rostovtseva Kan, ETA in Pernik, 2012-2013
“ETAs can learn deep listening. Cross-cultural communication, from my experience, begins with a willingness and ability to listen, a skill that must be honed. Also, you learn resourcefulness, to ask for help, and how to collaborate with and learn from others (teachers, students, and ETAs). How to write a lesson plan and manage teaching time. This came in handy as a graduate teaching instructor. And finally, I personally gained a deeper understanding of the English language (grammar and style) and how spoken and written rhetoric work from having to teach it.” Sarah Craycraft, ETA in Dimitrovgrad, 2013-2015
“Patience!! Whether it’s unruly students, students who think they’re hilarious when they make a certain comment, discussing lessons with other teachers, etc. Also, learning to manage in way that is not authoritarian, but also not as someone who gives in is a huge bonus. Third, public speaking. I used to be somewhat shy, but after Fulbright and teaching in front of 20 classes a week, I became the first person to volunteer for presentations in grad school, which is something that never happened in high school or undergrad. Fourth, I got really good at impersonating fellow cohort members and myself! ” Nia Kapitanova, ETA in Plovdiv, 2019-2020.
“Learning to be flexible, communicate, adapt. Learning how to go with the flow and react to new circumstances very quickly. I definitely developed a stronger sense of self and thicker skin.” Helena Tatgenhorst, ETA in Ruse, 2016-2018
“Public speaking became simple and natural for me after doing it daily in class and, on occasion, without warning for visiting groups. Also, teaching skills in general, like explaining concepts simply, organizing ideas, or asking good questions, is always useful whether you continue to teach or not.” Allison Rice, ETA in Lovech, 2019-2021
“I’d say that resilience is a huge one that intersects with more than a few. For me, there was a lot of perspective-shifting and learning to accept (even laugh at) mistakes or failure. Also everything that goes with opening your heart to a new place and embracing perhaps unexpected ways to be part of a community. My entire life is in Bulgaria now, and I’m still learning. Bulgarian language skills certainly haven’t hurt!” Sophia Kleinsasser, ETA in Pleven and Sofia, 2010-2012
“Learning to feel more comfortable trying something new without a paralyzing fear of failure. The experience helped me lead with a much more open mind & to ask questions along the way. Lastly, becoming more dedicated to a spirit of continuous improvement based on feedback. I learned that gathering information on what student interests & identities were before making decisions led to better activities & engagement – instead of imposing my own likes & world views and just staying in my comfort zone.” Maeve Murray, ETA in Pleven, 2012-2013
“I learned how to be flexible and adjust in real time to info as I got it. Also, intercultural communication. (I feel like that’s almost a given, because of the Fulbright program.). And how to cook banitsa . I also found my husband in Bulgaria, but that’s probably not a guarantee ” Barbara Arduini, ETA in Plovdiv, 2014-2015