Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Journey Meets its End...

Wow. It has been one LONG month for me...

Teaching went well throughout the month of January. Things got back into full swing, and I was enjoying my time at school with my colleagues and students. As most of the other months, there were many holidays in January. Birthdays, name days, someone's neighbor's brother's uncle's anniversary... etc. Bulgarians like holidays. So almost every day at school there would be a table filled with chocolates, soleti, banitsa, and of course, rakia and homemade wine. I never complained.

February brought more difficult times for me. In fact, the most difficult since I got to Bulgaria. Unfortunately, an incident happened with a man in my town. I won't go into details, but it definitely was an uncomfortable situation for me. The police got involved, and took it very seriously at that. Any way, that brought about a lot of stress for me.

Less than a week after the incident, I was in Varna with a group of other Peace Corps volunteers for a Super Bowl party. The pub we went to had the game on a big screen, Killian's on draft, darts, and some good food. I was having a blast. However, around about halftime, I started feeling not so great...

Long story short, I ended up in a hospital in Sofia for about a week to have surgery. Let me tell you... a week alone in a foreign hospital to get surgery is NOT exactly a picnic. Any way, everything did go well, and recovery is going alright. But I think this experience (coupled with the other not-so-fun experience of the month) has made me think that it's time for me to go home. I guess I now realize that I never want to spend this long of a time (it's been about 9 months now) away from home, family, and friends. Because in the end, home is always where the heart is <3.

That being said... there are SO many people (and places) in this great country that I will miss. From my host family to the volunteers to my colleagues to the woman who works at the shop below my apartment, this experience has allowed me to meet such a great network of people who I will always be thankful for and will always miss. Peace Corps/Bulgaria has allowed me to experience things that few people ever get to experience, and I will always look back on the great memories that I have made here and smile. So to ALL of you who have helped shape this rollercoaster ride part of my life into something that I will cherish forever, thank you. Really. And I love you.

...Ciao za sega, Bulgaria :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Holidays Away From Home

Well, I survived my first Christmas and New Year's being away from home! Definitely wasn't easy, being that this is the time of year that friends and family really take the time to get together, but my friends here made it bearable.

I feel like the entire month of December just flew by, despite my being sick for about 2/3 of it. School has been going very well. It really has made a huge difference being that I'm only at the one school now.. in a GOOD way. I'm able to see the same students more often, there's less confusion about my schedule, and the teachers are able to get more use out of me since my class time is no longer split among four different teachers and two different schools. So, all-around, it's a much better set-up.

Between school and getting sick about halfway through the month, the time for my friend Aaron to come visit came quick. He had decided a few months ago that he would visit for Christmas and New Year's so that I wouldn't be spending the holidays alone, and I'm very glad he did! Just the feeling of having someone here from home was extremely comforting, and made it less difficult to be spending the "most wonderful time of the year" away from home.

The night before he arrived in Sofia, my school held it's big Christmas dinner banquet for all of the colleagues at a restaurant in town near my apartment block. It was a BLAST! I honestly haven't had that much fun since I got to Bulgaria. There was food, music, dancing, and of course, a LOT of rakia! Not only was rakia served with our meals, but many colleagues brought their own water bottles full of their own homemade rakia. Needless to say, but the six hour train ride to Sofia at 6 a.m. the next morning to meet Aaron at the airport wasn't too enjoyable.

Once Aaron arrived, I showed him around Sofia for a day then we came back to Aytos to spend Christmas here. During his stay I took him to the important places throughout my town - the park, my school, the popular cafes, etc. It was great to be able to finally show someone where I've lived for the past several months. Although it still didn't really show him my daily Bulgarian life, it atleast provided a somewhat more accurate picture than what he probably had in mind.
Having him here also made me realize, and be very proud, of my Bulgarian speaking skills. Being that I had to translate everything for him and speak for him during his two and a half week stay, I was able to see how much I actually DO know. It was pretty shocking.

Then I got to go to Istanbul, Turkey for New Year's.. where I, at times, continued to speak Bulgarian when all I had to do was speak English. Oojus (awful). Any way.. Istanbul was a great time. It was amazing to see all of the mosques and be in such a different culture just a small distance away. Aaron and I saw all of the popular sites - Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, etc. Despite how great those were, I think my favorite hot spot was the Grand Bazaar, which is basically a huge shopping center where you're swamped by the salespeople to buy their things. It's fun though because you can haggle for almost everything in Istanbul and get things for MUCH cheaper than what they start out at. Could be dangerous if you spent too much time there, though.

Now it's back into the school routine until our next break (not until APRIL!) But I'll do what I can to keep you periodically updated on school life.

Ciao za sega :)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

6 Months In..

Wow, I can't believe I've been living in Bulgaria for SIX MONTHS! Although it definitely feels like I've been here awhile, it's weird to think I've been away from home for half a year. A LOT has happened since my last post so I'll do my best to get you updated..

First off (and probably the most important update) is that I am now only working at one school. I had spoken with Peace Corps awhile back about it being difficult being split between two schools, and after the many steps that needed to be taken, it's finally official. The main reason I wanted this to happen was because I had SO many different classes of students, and I worked with SO many different teachers, that I felt like I was being spread out far too much. Although I was obviously reaching more people by being at two schools, I felt that I was not being as successful as I could be. Whereas if I'm working with one school, with the same teachers, and the same students every day, I can really get to know them and do my best to help them learn English. So I'm glad that this transition is finally taking place!

A couple of holidays have also gone by since my last post - Halloween, and today Thanksgiving! Halloween was a BLAST! A bunch of the volunteers here in Bulgaria got together in Veliko Turnovo (a bigger city near the center of the country). We rented out a hostel just for us and had a big Halloween bash. It was great to get together with everyone and just let loose and have a good time. I also incorporated the holiday into my lessons. Since Halloween is not a celebrated holiday here in Bulgaria, the students were pretty interested to learn about what it is and how we celebrate it. I even brought in a bag of candy and had them "trick-or-treat!" It was fun.

Then today, of course, was Thanksgiving. Although it doesn't really feel like it, and it's hard being away from home for the holidays, I've actually had a not-so-bad day. All of the lessons I taught today were focused around Thanksgiving and teaching the kids about it (since it's obviously not celebrated in Bulgaria). It's really a great feeling to see how interested the students are in American culture and traditions. I even received two poinsettas and a dream-catcher from them - with the card on the plants saying "we are thankful you are in Bulgaria with us." I was really touched.

ALSO, I now have a PUPPY! Another volunteer had three puppies and only wanted one, so me and another volunteer took the others. I got a girl, and named her Ruby :) It's so nice to have someone around the apartment with me and someone to come home to every day! She really has helped me out in terms of making me a little less lonesome.

I'll end my post with one of my favorite "cultural misunderstandings" that has happened since I've been in Bulgaria, and it actually happened today...

So I'm at school and I'm in the teacher's room with my counterpart, Brani, and this other colleague comes and sits next to me and starts talking to me (she tries to talk to me in English most of the time because I think she really wants to learn to speak better). Anyway, she starts telling me about how she's had a bad day and she's really upset. I asked her why, and she said, "There is big problem in my house. The dirty channel, it doesn't work! And it makes me very angry!" Naturally, I'm doing my best to not burst out laughing but Brani went ahead and did that for me. Absolutely hilarious. I guess by "channel" she meant pipe, rather than a channel on TV. And so there's this dirty water running into her apartment. But, thanks to her dirty channel not working, me and the rest of my colleagues were laughing for the rest of the day :)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Let the Teaching Begin...

I apologize for it being such a long time since my last post, but I literally have been SO busy! It's not an easy job to teach 10 different classes, in two different schools, with four different teachers.. I wish I were kidding.

During the month of August, I taught classes to my fellow colleagues at both of my schools. It was a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be, because we did not have any textbooks and the majority of them were absolute beginners. I wish I could have gotten the teachers from both schools together into one class, but they insisted that that would be impossible (I have come to find that the two schools are actually pretty competitive, or so it seems...) Any way, I taught them the alphabet first, and then worked on teaching them common conversational phrases. Since most of my colleagues are women in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, it's really difficult for them to just now begin to learn another language - especially when it comes to pronunciation. Since they didn't even know the English alphabet, they needed these things called "transcriptions" for all of the words.. which are like, the "actual" ways to pronounce words by using these weird symbols. For example, since the word "light" obviously has no "g" sound in it, there's some special symbol you use to write out how to actually pronounce it. I know, very confusing. Since I had no knowledge of these "transcriptions" prior to them being shown to me, it was nearly impossible for me to teach them to my colleagues. Alright, enough of that..

At the beginning of September, the teacher classes were ended in both of the schools so I could take a breather before beginning the school year on September 15th. Wasn't much of a breather though because all of the teachers are required to be at school from September 1st-September 15th to plan their classes for the year. So I switched back and forth between the two schools trying to get some clue of what was going on, which I never fully did, which is becoming quite a common occurrence. One day, I was supposed to meet with both of my counterparts (one from each school) to discuss my schedule for the year and when I'll be at each school and what not, and one of them didn't show up. So the other counterpart called her, and oh my, did that turn into a mess! It's really hard to schedule time to work at two schools when the two schools have a hard time finding out how to make my schedule!

In the end, a schedule was worked out in which I'll be at the Hristo Botev school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the Nikola Vapstarov school on Wednesdays and Thursdays. They set aside Friday for me so that I can do some of my own activities with the kids or the teachers (on which I've decided to start a journalism club with some of the kids from the Botev school). I'm officially in my third week of school now and I suppose it's going alright. I teach with Pauli and Maya at the Vapstarov school and Brani and Vecela at the Botev school. At both schools, I teach 9th, 10th, and 11th graders, and at the Vapstarov school I have one class with 7th graders and one with 8th graders. If you're thinking my schedule sounds hectic, you'd be right. It's a lot of running around, and I'm still getting used to the kids and the classrooms and all the different buildings (because they're doing construction on one of my schools so some of the classes are taught in nearby buildings), but I'm hoping that I'll have the hang of it soon so I can focus my energy on teaching rather than trying to figure out where I'm supposed to be and when.

As for the kids, most of them are really great. I brought pictures from America into all of my classes and for the most part, they seemed really interested in getting to know me and where I come from. Some classes, however, are going to take a lot more work and energy. But hopefully after doing some fun English activities and being introduced to a different way of learning, they will begin to enjoy it a little more. I definitely have been showered with attention and gifts, however, usually from the younger classes. Yesterday I got a book in English from one of my students and on the inside cover she wrote, "To my Dear Miss Beck," - cute, I know :)

Speaking of school, it's time for my classes to start for the day (and yes, it's almost 2 p.m. - the school schedules in most high schools in Bulgaria run until 7 p.m.! who in the WORLD wants to be at school until that late?!) Oh well, ciao za sega!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Volunteer Life

Well, this will be my first post since I became an actual PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER! :) Almost two weeks ago, all 62 of us B-25s swore-in as official Peace Corps Bulgaria volunteers. I'd like to give a big "Congratulations" again to all of us - training was no picnic! It really was a nice ceremony they had for us in Vratsa. There were a few speakers, including the U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria, Nancy McEldowney; our country director, Lesley Duncan; and our B-25 representative speakers, Jared and Nat. They all did a great job! After the ceremony, one of my counterparts, Pauli, and her family were waiting and ready to take me to Aytos! It really was sad to leave the people who had become my close friends over the past two months, and to leave my host parents who I had been living with, but it's time to move on to doing what I came here for! Although I'm sure I'll be making a few visits here and there to see everyone :)

So... I've been living in Aytos now for almost two weeks, and besides coming down with a terrible virus this week, everything has been going pretty well. The day after I moved in, I went on a little camping trip in Shkorpilovsti, a town on the coast about 20 minutes south of Varna. It was really a lot of fun. We camped in a forest that is right off of the beach, and I got to see the Black Sea for the first time! I can imagine I'll be spending a good amount of time there over these next two years.

Besides the camping trip, I've just been focusing on getting settled in to my new town and my new apartment... getting things I need, learning where places are, meeting people, etc. I know it's an ongoing process but I'm getting there! I also started working on Monday, I taught a couple of classes at the Hristo Botev school. One class was for the teachers who wanted to learn English this summer, and 15 of the teachers came! I was really impressed. I guess Aytos is becoming sort of a touristy town because it's so close to the coast, so that's their reason for wanting to learn the language. Another class was of some sixth grade students. For the teachers, since they were mostly beginners, I started with the alphabet and phonetic sounds. And for the students, I acted out some dialogues with my counterpart, Brani, and played the "alphabet game," which is pretty much a spelling exercise. Both of the classes went pretty well. Then, unfortunately, I've had to take these past couple of days off due to my being sick. Apparently it's a virus that's been going around the country, my counterpart came down with it as well. So at least she understands!

Next week, since I'll hopefully be back at 100%, I'll be teaching and playing with kids from both schools. They have the days split up for me so that two days I'll be at one school, the other two at the other school, and one day I'm split between the two. Hectic, I know, but hopefully I'll be used to that kind of schedule once the school year starts.

I apologize for it having been so long since my last post, but hopefully you're all updated on what's been going on over here! Will post again soon... довиждане!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Final Week of PST (Pre-Service Training)

Wow - I've officially entered my final week of pre-service training! I really can't believe it. Although every day seems to be so long because we do SO much, overall, these past two months have really gone by fast!

This week has been especially busy for us trainees. We've had a lot of language, we took a trip to Sofia, and we implemented our community projects (each satellite site has to do a community project before swearing-in). I'll start off with the trip to Sofia..

On July 15th (two days ago) we made a day trip to Sofia to have our final interviews with the Peace Corps staff. Before going to the Peace Corps office, Elena (our language trainer) showed us around the city. We got to see a lot of the major landmarks of the capital such as the Parliament building, the Presidency, the main concert hall, and the Alexander Nevski Cathedral (which was my favorite part of visiting Sofia!) It really is a neat city, I was surprised by how much I liked it. After sightseeing, we made our way to the Peace Corps office for our interviews. I had my interview with Phil, who actually just began his position with Peace Corps Bulgaria. It went well, I'm pretty sure we just had the interviews so the staff could make sure we were really ready to swear-in and commit to two years of service here in Bulgaria. I definitely know that I am, and he said he could tell that I was, so the interview went really well!

This was also a big week for us because we began our community projects. For our community project, Raf, Emmy, Carolyn & I decided that we wanted the kids to paint a mural of the world at the Roma school in our town. Luckily, the director allowed us to do so on the cement wall that surrounds the school. So, we chose a section of the wall and painted it white so that the mural could be painted over it. Then, we traced an outline of the world on the wall and had the kids paint it blue and green. We also painted all of their hands and had them make handprints on the wall, after which we painted stems and turned them into "handprint flowers!" It really turned out great, and SO many kids showed up to work on it! It was a blast. We also played a lot of volleyball and frisbee with the kids who already had their turn to paint. I'm really pleased with how the project turned out! And the best part is that I really think the kids enjoyed it :)

Now, I'm just getting ready for our final language proficiency interviews, which are on Monday (in 3 days!) We are supposed to be at an "intermediate-low" level in order to swear-in, so I'm hoping I pass! Besides that, I'm just starting to get things ready for my big move and spending time with my satellite group (Emmy, Carolyn & Raf) and my host family. Although I will definitely be sad to leave, I'm ready to become an official volunteer and move to my new home in Aytos!

I think that's all for now, I'll post again soon after I move into my new apartment. Ciao!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Permanent Site Visit - Aytos, Bulgaria

WOW! So I just got back from my permanent site visit to Aytos, Bulgaria (located in southeastern Bulgaria - 20 minutes from the coast). Everything went SO well!

I was so nervous to meet my counterparts - who are the Bulgarian English teachers I will be working with over the next two years. But they were so great! Turns out I will be working at two schools in Aytos - Hristo Botev and Nikola Vaptsarov. So I have three counterparts - Vecela and Branimira from Hristo Botev, and Paulina from Nikola Vapstarov. They all speak fairly well English and are so, so nice and welcoming! Both of the schools have been waiting a very long time to get a volunteer, so they were extremely excited to finally meet me!

I also really love my town. It's located 20 minutes west of Burgas - a big city located on the Black Sea. They recently redid their town center - so it's really beautiful. They have new fountains and gardens and so many shops, it's great!

The town also has a really nice park where most people go to take walks and jog in the morning. That's really great for me because when I go running now in Byala Slatina, I get completely stared at because there's no park to jog. So I was really happy to find out about that. There's also a nice restaurant in the park and a ZOO! They have four bears, a few monkeys, many kinds of birds, ostriches, horses, etc. It definitely could use some work and a better environment for the animals, but it was really cool to visit.

I will be living in a flat in the center of town. It's a nice apartment with a double bed, kitchen, bathroom, and WASHING MACHINE! I was really excited to find out that I will have one of those because I definitely wasn't expecting to have one for the next two years.

On the visit, I was able to see both of my schools and was welcomed by all of the students and colleagues at both. At Hristo Botev, all of the students waited for me and some were dressed in traditional Bulgarian clothes and sang traditional songs for me. At Nikola Vapstarov, a first grade class sang English songs for me and showered me with so many flowers and gifts - it was so overwhelming but incredible! Then in the evenings, I went out to eat with all of my colleagues. They are all such nice and welcoming people it's truly unbelievable.

Then, since they knew it was my birthday on June 27, one of my directors bought me a really nice bottle of wine and gave me a few gifts right before I left. It was wonderful.

All in all, I am SO happy with my permanent site and really was sad to leave - even after only being there for two days! I cannot wait to learn some more Bulgarian and go back to live there for two years!

I will write more soon, ciao!