By Iliana Dimitrova

ETA Andrea Childs reflects on her two years as a Fulbrighter in this interview with Program Officer Iliana Dimitrova. Read on to find out what Andrea loves most about Bulgaria and what she’ll be taking home to Iowa with her!  

Andrea, this is your second year as an ETA at the Ekzarh Yossif Foreign Language School in Razgrad – what unfinished business brought you back? 

I wouldn’t necessarily say that unfinished business brought me back to Razgrad, mostly the overwhelming desire to keep working with the students at the school and to be involved in the Bulgarian English-language Speech and Debate Tournaments (BEST). I truly believe I have some of the best students in the entire country, and I recognize this is biased, but also, they’re my students! The students are eager to learn, they’re kind, and they’re overall just fun to be around. They’re also incredibly talented, and I selfishly wanted to keep seeing their talent in person. Now, for BEST, I fell in love with the foundation last year as a coach and judge. I knew that I wanted to have some kind of impact on the organization in a bigger way, which led to me joining the management team. I’m so glad I did, because I feel like I got to learn a lot about more students from across the country, and I got to interact with some more amazing kiddos as well. It warmed my heart every time they would come up to me at the tournaments, or the few times I ran into them around Bulgaria, and they would wave. I think the BEST foundation does such important work, with the focus being the kids, which is why I love it so much and wanted to join! 

Your choir in Razgrad, Zhelezni Struni, celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. How did joining the choir enhance your Fulbright experience? 

So, a bit of background on me and the choir – I have been singing for as long as I can remember. Before I officially joined a choir, I was singing country karaoke on vacation with my grandma. I joined my first choir when I was ten, and continued until COVID hit while I was in college. So, choir is a huge part of my life and something that I knew I wanted to start again when I came to Bulgaria. I would say that without this choir, I probably wouldn’t have felt quite so connected to Razgrad and the people here. Singing with them and traveling with them makes me feel like I have a little extra family here in Bulgaria that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Getting involved in the community is important in every city and in every way, but I truly believe my choir has some of the most kind and accepting people I’ve met, because they let this random American into their group and welcomed her with open arms. The choir is one of the things I’ll miss most when I’m gone.  


During these two years as a Fulbrighter, did you learn anything surprising about yourself? 

I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’m sure I’ll keep making new discoveries that started with my time here. I’ll highlight two important things though, the first of which is just how much I love teaching. Since I started teaching in the US, I’ve always said that I loved it and it made me happy, and that was true. But being here these last two years and interacting with the students at my school, it’s different than what I’ve done before. I really feel like a part of the school community, and I can see the impact I have on students, even if it’s frustrating them by taking their phones away. If anything, these two years have affirmed for me that being a teacher is what I’m meant to do. The second thing I’ll say, and this might sound a bit narcissistic, is that I’m cool! Like, not actually cool, I don’t know how social media works and I spend too much time talking and thinking about sharks, but this Fulbright thing that I’m doing is really cool, and I’m really lucky to be doing it. I think what this means is that I’ve actively gained confidence while being here and realized that the hard work and dedication that brought me here is actually pretty impressive. I still have a way to go on confidence, but being here has made me pretty satisfied with where I am in life and what I’ve accomplished.  

If you could bring anything back home with you, what would those things be? 

Three things: my students, my mentor teacher (and her family), and all the stray dogs in Razgrad. I have a few students trying to convince me to take them with me to the U.S., and if it were up to me, I’d bring them back and keep being their teacher. I really do love the students here, they’re the main reason I came back for a second year. As for my mentor teacher, Aneta Kiranska is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s been so incredibly kind and helpful throughout this entire experience, and I love working with her. Her family is also wonderful – I sing with her husband in the choir, her eldest daughter was my student and then worked with me on the BEST management team, and her youngest daughter waved to me the other day in the city center, and I thought it was the sweetest thing ever. Maybe I couldn’t bring them over permanently, but I wish I could pay for a visit for them so they could meet my family and see life in Iowa. Finally, the stray dogs. I’m a HUGE dog lover and the strays in Razgrad are really cute and generally pretty sweet. I hate seeing dogs without a home, even though I know my own dog (Barnaby, a.k.a. the love of my life) wouldn’t love to have twenty new brothers and sisters! 

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