In the eve of May 24, the Day of Slavonic alphabet, Bulgarian enlightenment and culture, Fulbright Bulgaria had the pleasure to host an online closing seminar for US Fulbright cohort 2019-2020, mentor teachers, principals, and partners. Saying goodbye is never easy, but this symbolic wrap up of the year showed us once again that our US grantees will always carry a piece of Bulgaria, and all Bulgarians working with them will keep part of America in their hearts.
The meeting opened with greeting addresses from Dr. Tzvetomir Todorov, chair of the Fulbright Commission Board, and Nancy Schiller, President of the America for Bulgaria Foundation. Special guests also included ABF Executive Director Desislava Taliokova, ABF Program Director Natalia Miteva, and ABF Publications Director Sylvia Zareva, as well as Fulbright board members Sarah Perrine and Matt Hagengruber. Fulbright Commission ED Angela Rodel introduced various follow-on opportunities for Fulbright alumni and gave the floor to participants in the 2019-2020 cohort to share impressions from their life and work in the country. Fred Rooney, Fulbright Scholar, talked about his work with a local NGO founding a legal incubator in Bulgaria. His moving overview of challenges faced by underserved communities in their quest for justice was followed by a fun and engaging Kahoot game testing seminar participants’ knowledge of Bulgaria. Prepared by English Teaching Assistant in Galabovo Keegan Scott, the game brought back wonderful memories and was equally fun for US grantees and their Bulgarian colleagues. Our Teaching Assistant at the English Language High School in Burgas, Prudence Salasky, talked about the gives and takes from her experience living and working in Bulgaria – a fascinating journey with all its ups and downs, tears and joy, fun and sadness. Gergana Kostadinova, our ETA in Pernik, allowed us to peek into her life of a person with Bulgarian roots and American branches – a moving and beautiful story of identity exploration and finding the best features of the two cultures. Fulbright student researcher Theodore Charles discussed another angle of cultural exploration – as a food anthropologist, he made us all reflect on Bulgarian cuisine as part of the national identity, and how the coronavirus lockdown has affected culinary habits.
The Wrap-Up meeting continued with the thoughts of Lukas Koester, ETA in Sliven, who commented on the implications that the shift system imposed to both teachers and students. Andrew Kim, ETA in Stara Zagora, offered a poetic analysis on the art of saying goodbye that brought tears to our eyes, while the whole event concluded with a piano performance of our music star, student researcher John Thomas. He played a work by the famous Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov live, using a beautiful photograph of the Ancient Roman theater in Plovdiv as background. Many participants in the meeting asked questions and commented on the presentations, and grantees and partners alike expressed their gratitude to everyone who contributed to making the past school year a happy and rewarding experience despite its abrupt end due to the Covid-19 outbreak. We would also like to thank all presenters for their touching reflections on their experience as Fulbright grantees, the entire US 2019-2020 cohort for their hard and dedicated work, and the Bulgarian host institutions, Fulbright sponsors and partners for their unwavering support.