By Rada Kaneva
From November 16-19, Sofia, the vibrant capital of Bulgaria, hosted a seminar on media literacy for Fulbright English Teaching Assistants working in high schools across Europe. The seminar, sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the US Department of State, aimed to equip participants with crucial skills to navigate the complex landscape of modern media and to bring these skills to their classrooms.
The event brought together 68 Americans currently teaching in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, and Montenegro, with experts and educators from Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and the US passionate about fostering critical thinking and responsible consumption of information in today’s digital age. The seminar featured a diverse range of workshops, panel discussions, and interactive sessions.
Official greetings at the start of the seminar were delivered by His Excellency Kenneth Merten, US Ambassador to the Republic of Bulgaria; Natalia Miteva, Deputy Minister of Education and Science; Victor Stoyanov, Deputy Minister of Culture; Scott Righetti, Program Officer responsible for Bulgaria at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the US Department of State; and Angela Rodel, Executive Director of the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission. The core focus of the seminar was to address the pressing need for media literacy in an era in which information flows incessantly through various channels, often blurring the lines between fact and fiction. During the first day of the seminar, attendees were immersed in thought-provoking discussions covering topics such as “Exploring Patterns of Information Manipulation in Europe,” “Covering the Russian Invasion of Ukraine in the Fog of Disinformation,” “Methods to Increase Youth Civic Engagement,” “Countering Disinormation” and “Teaching Media Literacy.” As a treat after a day filled with serious information, participants in the seminar were offered a fun introduction to Bulgarian folk dancing that served both as an immersion in the local culture and a good work out. The day concluded with a karaoke party, filled with the delight of singing your heart out and crafting memories that linger long after the music stops.
The second day of the event offered more glimpses into teaching methodologies, such as adapting curriculum with social-emotional learning techniques in mind, and exploring the wealth of practical resources for English teachers prepared and compiled by the Regional English Language Office at the US Department of State. In the afternoon, participants could choose among several workshops to join: “Interactive Lesson Planning for Successful Student Engagement,” “Developing Active and Curious Listening/Viewing Skills with Students,” “Ways to Communicate with Gen Z and Make an Impact,” and “Inspiring Students to Tell Stories.” Workshops utilized real-life case studies and interactive exercises, encouraging attendees to question, analyze, and find the best use of the information provided in their respective classrooms.
In addition to arming participants with skills and inspiration to champion media literacy as a fundamental pillar of a well-informed and resilient society, the seminar offered several tour guides to inspire attendees to explore Sofia: a Guided Tour of Sofia, Sofia Jewish History Tour, and Sofia Communist History Tour.
Special thanks goes to ECA program officer Scott Righetti, who travelled all the way from Washington, D.C. to join the event; to our partners from the America for Bulgaria Foundation who hosted the welcome reception at their premises, and to our fantastic speakers and workshop leaders: Goran Georgiev (Center for the Study of Democracy, Sofia), Diana Butsko (Hromadske, Ukraine), Diana Filimon (Media Gen, Romania), Julia Mishkova (Teach for Bulgaria), Ivan Radev (Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria), Darina Sarelska (American University in Bulgaria), Petur Iliev (Iliev Dance Art Foundation), Frances Westbrook and Ivana Bankovic (Regional English Language Office, Serbia), Molly O’Keefe (American College of Sofia), Ekaterina Louizioti (Steps Academy Foundation, Sofia), Graham Griffith (Center for the Study of Democracy, Sofia), and Peter Georgiev (Bulgarian National Television).
We hope that in a world inundated with information, the insights from this seminar on media literacy have helped equip Fulbrighters and their students with indispensable tools for navigating, understanding, and critically engaging with the media landscape.