On Sep 1-10 the new cohort of American Fulbrighters received their in-country Orientation in Sofia. 32 English teaching assistants (6 of whom – staying in Bulgaria for a second year), 2 scholars and 5 student researchers spent 10 days learning about Bulgarian language, culture, politics and society.
One of the very first things for the studious group to learn after spelling their name in Cyrillic were the Pravo and Gankino horo, taught to them by the executive director of the Fulbright commission, Angela Rodel! During her lecture on the history of Bulgarian folklore music she half-jokingly emphasized the importance of folk dance skills at social events in Bulgaria, an advice taken to heart by the new grantees. Some of them had the opportunity to practice the same evening after dinner, which took place in a traditional Bulgarian restaurant with folk song and dance performances!
On day 3 the whole cohort visited Rila Monastery and the American University in Bulgaria, where they were greeted by AUBG President Dr. David Evans, met with Fulbright alum Dr. Ron Harvey, AUBG student and former BEST speech and debate competitor Mihaela Kafedzhiyska, and were advised by the Admissions and Event offices on student admission and educational events hosted by the university. Last but not least, the grantees had a fun and informative lecture on recent Bulgarian politics by AUBG Provost, Dr. Emilia Zankina.
While ETAs had specially designed methodology workshops, delivered by returning ETAs, ETA mentor teachers, and experts from Академия НИКЕ | Steps Academy, all grantees met with partner organizations and learnt about various volunteer opportunities during an NGO fair. The CORPluS Foundation for Education and Development, Association of European Journalists-Bulgaria, Trust for Social Achievement, Teach For Bulgaria, Single Step Foundation, American Councils for International Education Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian Reading Association all had their representatives at the fair and talked to grantees about their projects and programs.
The Fulbrights were also lucky to be invited to not one but two parties this year, graciously hosted by the Embassy of the United States in Bulgaria and the America for Bulgaria Foundation, the main sponsor of the ETA program in Bulgaria. At the embassy they were greeted by Deputy Chief of Mission Justin Friedman, and met with Public Affairs Officer Drake Weisert, Culture Affairs Officer Matt Hagengruber, and other US diplomats. The America for Bulgaria Foundation welcomed the group at the interactive science museum for children, MUZEIKO, where President Nancy Schiller talked to grantees about the history and mission of the Foundation. ETAs also had the chance to meet and make friends with young teachers from the Teach for Bulgaria network.
At various times during Orientation the new grantees enjoyed meeting with Bulgarians informally as part of a cultural exchange initiative of the Commission. The initiative invites volunteers to host a Fulbright grantee at their home for dinner and conversation. As in the previous years, many of our wonderful hosts were Bulgarian Fulbright alumni, and partners and friends of the Fulbright program.
The last couple of days were especially exciting for the ETAs and their mentor teachers, who arrived from 26 cities in Bulgaria to meet their counterparts. Together they participated in the “Embrace Diversity” workshop, specially developed by the Trust for Social Achievement, which helped participants explore personal bias and prejudices, form deeper understanding of other cultures, and foster personal bonds.
Orientation concluded with a Farewell Party, where a special birthday was celebrated, and the guests were surprised by wonderful performances of the Fulbright Choir – an initiative of Commission ED Angela Rodel, which for the third consecutive year invites musically talented Fulbrighters to learn and perform traditional Bulgarian folk music.