The Bulgarian Fulbright Commission hosted its Wrap-Up Seminar for U.S. Grantees from Thursday, June 9th through Sunday, June 12th in Burgas. After a year that was quite the roller coaster ride, and in spite of the unseasonably wet weather, it was a weekend to remember. Attendees enjoyed a variety of presentations in different formats, including musical, game show and experimental film, alongside the traditional narrative summary of grantees’ time in Bulgaria. It is clear that  even though the pandemic certainly changed what has been possible to achieve, our scholars, students and fellows possess the resilience and creativity to keep the spirit of mutual exchange alive.

The seminar was officially opened by Executive Director Angela Rodel and kicked off with entertaining and thought-provoking presentations by Fulbright scholars Aaron Kleist, Alexandra White, Rebecca Singer, Mariofanna Milanova, Matthew Brunwasser, Mira Niagolova and Sonia Hirt. Fulbright student researcher Christopher Harper also gave an overview of his upcoming research in Bulgaria.

Julia Mishkova and Maria Cheresheva, representing the Association of European Journalists – Bulgaria, conducted a media literacy training workshop for secondary school teachers and principals attending the wrap-up. Our partner schools are located across the country, serving students in 24 cities and small and large towns, and some of them have hosted Fulbright grantees for over a decade now. This year, we bid farewell and a happy retirement to long-time mentor teachers Lyudmila Hvalabogova-Johnston (FLS “Geo Milev”, Dobrich) and Tatyana Baycheva (FLS “Ezarh Josif”, Razgrad) and school principals Tsvetanka Shterionova (FLS “Aleko Konstantinov”, Pravets) and Penka Nenkova (FLS “Petar Bogdan”, Montana).

Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were filled with the inspiring words of our 32 Fulbright | America for Bulgaria English Teaching Assistants: Adalyne Cummins, Amanda Adinolfi, Amanda Burau, Audrey Novak, Bailey Galicia, Benjamin Custer, Bjorn Carlson, Brenna Lewis-Slammon, Chase Forster, Christopher Nash, Courtney Meissner, Emily Bom, Gabrielle Cascio, Giovanni Gamalong, Jacob Pintar, Jason Entingh, Julia Lynch, Kadia King, Katerina Sankow, Madelyn Bjork, Mahika Gopalka, Malique Brunner, Megan Siedman, Michael Smith, Morgan Rowe, Nathan Shearn, Pearl Morttey, Samuel Henthorn, Savannah Jelks, Savannah Modesitt, Sophia Thompson and William Andriola. This ever-growing program reaches students at the middle, secondary and university levels of education, who have access to a native speaker in their English classes as well as during various extracurricular activities.

English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) have been involved in the BEST Foundation tournaments, Bulgarian National English Spelling Bee and Creative Writing Competition, also volunteering with the Trust for Social Achievement and a joint volunteer teaching initiative between Fulbright Bulgaria and Mejduchasie benefitting Ukrainian refugees. For the first time this year, two 12th-grade students from Zahariy Stovanov Foreign Language School in Sliven were invited to present their reflections about the ETA program and its impact. Special thanks go to our other sponsors Contour Global, Asarel Medet, Foundation Lachezar Tsotsorkov, Opticoelectron and the Bulgarian Memory Foundation for supporting the program over the years.

Finally, Desislava Taliokova, Executive Director of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, gave a speech thanking all our grantees for the wonderful work that they continue to do. After her closing remarks, a reception followed where everyone showed off their impressive horo, singing and other talents. What better testament to the real connections made during this unusual year could there be than us holding hands, dancing in time with the unique rhythms of Bulgarian folk music?