In the beginning of September we welcomed our new cohort of U.S. Fulbrighters! Thirty-two English teaching assistants (six of whom returning for their second year), one Fulbright scholar, and six student-researchers gathered in Sofia for their week-long Orientation, where they met with Fulbright staff, sponsors and partners and learned about Bulgaria’s culture, history, educational system, politics and society.
The intensive Bulgarian language classes weren’t too much of a challenge for the grantees, as most had successfully completed all quizzes and assignments in their ten-week long online summer course in Bulgarian language and culture. Along with useful everyday phrases, the Fulbrighters acquired another vital social skill in the very first day of their training—dancing the Bulgarian pravo horo, which they practiced during our traditional welcome dinner at Vodenitsa Restaurant on Vitosha Mountain.
In the course of one week, the new teachers and researchers met with diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Sofia — Jeffrey Weinshenker, Counselor for Public Affairs; Eric Brassil, Cultural and Educational Affairs Officer; Christopher Belmonti, Regional Security Officer; and Julia Corby, Consular Officer — as well as with Fulbright Commission Board members Tzvetomir Todorov, Svetla Daneva, Traci Speed and Eric Halsey, who also delivered a lecture touching upon important moments in Bulgarian history. Program expert Elena Hadjisotirova and board chairwoman Gail Buyske from the America for Bulgaria Foundation greeted the new English teaching assistants and wished them good luck in their important role as citizen ambassadors. Yavor Siderov, a political analyst, gave a brief overview of the current political situation in Bulgaria and the region to the newly arrived Fulbrighters, many of whom have academic backgrounds and interests in the fields of political science and international relations. Educational experts, some of whom are ETA program alumni — Ekaterina Louzioti, Molly O’Keefe, and Michael Smith — introduced topics such as professional goal-setting, approaches to teaching speaking in a multilevel classroom, classroom management, and more. Returning ETAs Andrea Childs, Devon Rancourt, Hannah Gilson, Finlay Adamson, Sonja Haakonsen and Sofia Syed played a vital role in introducing the new teachers to some differences between Bulgarian and American schools, opportunities for community engagement and leading extracurricular activities. At our traditional Partner Organizations Fair grantees met with representatives from the NGO sector who work on projects in education and community development: American Councils in Bulgaria (YES); the American University in Bulgaria; BEST Foundation; the Bulgarian Reading Association, supporting high school exchange in the USA (ASSIST, Davis) and UK (HMC); CORPluS Foundation for Education and Development; sCool Media; the Trust for Social Achievement; Junior Achievement – Bulgaria; and Meeting Points. Both Fulbright ETAs and their Bulgarian mentor teachers received DEIA training by Delphine Perchec, Regional Diversity & Inclusion Coordinator for Europe and Eurasia at the Fulbright program, and Bulgarian teachers had their first training on countering hate speech in the classroom, delivered by TSA experts Ognyan Isaev and Vesy Deyanova, co-founder of Meeting Points.
The event concluded with a farewell party at The Steps, where Nancy Schiller, President and CEO of the America for Bulgaria Foundation; the newly arrived US Embassy Press Attache Richard Pinkham; and Ivan Dimov, founder of the Single Step Foundation, wished good luck to the new Fulbrighters. Under ED Angela Rodel’s direction, the Fulbright choir (which had only had two rehearsals!) serenaded the audience with two Bulgarian folk songs to start the year on a joyous note.
We would like to thank our long-term partners and sponsors, the America for Bulgaria Foundation, ContourGlobal, Asarel-Medet Ltd., Opticoelectron Ltd. and the Tsotsorkov Foundation for their continuous friendship and support!