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!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Life in Byala Slatina

Hello! Sorry it's taken awhile for me to post again, I've just been so busy! But everything is still going very well and I have a lot to update you all on...

I've been living here in Byala Slatina for two weeks now but it really feels like it's been atleast a couple of months. We are all kept so busy during training - our days usually start around 9 a.m. and really don't end until we go to sleep because we're constantly having to learn new things. The language is coming along, slowly but surely, and communication with my family has definitely improved a lot. I know it's going to take time so I'm just concentrating on being patient and learning the most that I can without overwhelming myself.

On the teaching part of my training, things have been moving along very quickly. I have taught five classes already and was observed by a Peace Corps technical trainer two days ago. Despite many classes not knowing a great deal of English, the teaching is going very well. I've taught a range of students - from 8th to 10th grade, A and B classes (the A students generally are much more advanced in the language). All of the classes have been very enthusiastic and excited about us Americans being there and have done a great job participating in our lessons. The difference between us volunteers and the Bulgarian English teachers is that we focus on using a lot more hands-on type of activities whereas the teachers here strictly follow lessons from their textbooks. Being that MOST of the students don't have and can't afford the textbooks, doing lessons from these is completely pointless. So, for my lessons, I have provided vocabulary words and games to the students so they actually have some sort of visual to follow along so they have the opportunity to get involved. So far, it's working out great! I have gotten compliments from both the teachers and the students, one class even told their teacher that they want me to teach their class from now on!

The observation of my class went well too. Gorkhan (sp?), a Peace Corps technical trainer, observed my 8th grade class two days ago and said that I did a great job. He complimented my enthusiasm and vitality in the classroom and said that I was successful at connecting with my students. So that was really great to hear!

Besides studying the language and teaching classes, I've spent the remainder of my time with my family and the other trainees here in Byala Slatina. Yesterday, we had a "cluster" (group meeting with trainees from nearby towns) here in my town and afterwards we all went to the cafe for a few drinks, it was really a fun time. Although we've only known eachother a few weeks, we have all become so close already. It's just a comforting feeling to know that others are going through the same challenges that you are.

On June 18th we will all find out where our permanent sites will be for the next two years of our service - crazy! We're all pretty excited for that, because about a week after finding out we will all make visits to our towns. So I'll let you all know as soon as I find out!

I think that's all I have for now, hope everyone back in the states is doing well - I miss you all!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Panichishte & Byala Slatina, Bulgaria

Hi everyone! WOW, so much has happened since my last post! But I want you all to know I got to Bulgaria safely and everything is going well so far.

The pre-orientation week in Panichishte, Bulgaria was SUPER busy, but a lot of fun. Every day began around 7 a.m. and ended around 6 p.m. Then, most of us would use our evening time to hike through the surrounding mountains and forests, it was beautiful there! My roommate Whitney and I had a really nice balcony connected to our room, so we enjoyed a view of the snow-capped Rila mountains every morning. So I couldn't complain about that! The classes, however, were very long and we had to learn SO much within such a small time frame. We had language classes every day with different language trainers and we also had a lot of health and safety classes. During this week, we also found out where we will be located during our pre-service training (PST) and who our "satellite" groups will be (aka the groups we will be with during training).

The town that I am currently in is called Byala Slatina and it is where I will be living until I move to my permanent site towards the end of July. It's a town of about 6,000 and is located 45 miles or so northeast of Vratsa (so I'm still in the northwestern part of Bulgaria). On May 24, all of our host families were waiting for us in Vratsa to pick us up and take us to our homes. It was a very exciting but nerve-racking day. My family consists of a mother (Yulia), a father (Krasimir), and a baba (or grandmother). My parents do have two sons, but they live in Sofia and do not visit very often. When I first met my parents, my mother cried because she always wanted a daughter - it was really sweet.

I've been living with my family for a little less than a week now and communication is very difficult (because they speak ZERO English). I'm the first American they have ever met, and they do not have children nearby, so they have really not been exposed to the English language at all. However, I'm learning more and more of the language every day (4 hours worth!) so hopefully communication will start to improve soon. Until then, I carry my dictionary with me at all times and rely a lot on my body language. Speaking of that, it definitely is true that Bulgarians nod and shake their heads the opposite way - which makes things even MORE confusing than they already are! For instance... I went to Mtel (the main cell phone provider in Bulgaria) the other day to buy more credit, so I asked the worker if they were able to do this for me, and he shook his head. It took me awhile to figure out that that really meant yes. I'm semi-starting to get used to it though!

This week the other trainees (I'm with Emmy, Raf, & Carolyn) and I visited the local school to observe classes. There are only two English teachers in our town, and they themselves do not understand or speak much English, so I think our presence will definitely be important in helping them learn what they need to learn. Tomorrow, I get to teach my first class! It's an 8A class (there are A & B classes - and the A classes are more advanced) so I'm hoping it will go smoothly.

Well it's about time for lunch and for classes to start again, but I will post more again soon about my life here in Byala Slatina. I will also be posting pictures soon so stay tuned! I miss everyone back in the states!


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Last Week in America

Wow, so my time left in America has officially come down to ONE WEEK! After applying to the Peace Corps almost a year ago, the time has finally come for me to finish packing my bags and head to Bulgaria. It seems unreal.

In the past couple of weeks I have tried to focus my time on being with friends and doing the things that I know I will miss the most (like eating a lot of good American food!) I've been slacking quite a bit on learning the language, but after talking to fellow volunteers and meeting one of them last week, I'm pretty sure we're all in the same boat on that one. Although it's obviously an important thing for us to be focusing on, we've also got to worry about packing, saying our goodbyes, and soaking up what we can from our final days in the states.

This will probably be my last post until I get to Bulgaria, because I'm assuming that I'll be stressed out a lot this week making sure I have all the essential things I need packed. But I hope to have internet access probably about a week after my arrival in Bulgaria (because we're staying in a mountain resort in Panichishte for the first week, which as I understand, has ZERO access to ANYTHING). But after that, our host families will arrive to pick us up on Sunday, May 24 and take us to our homes where we'll be living throughout training. I can't wait to meet them!

Anyhow, wish me luck and I'll be posting again as soon as I can!

Dovizhdane America!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Final Steps

A few days ago I received my staging instructions via e-mail which informed me that my staging event (aka orientation) will begin in Washington, D.C. on May 18th at noon. Today, I made my flight reservation and will officially be leaving Ohio May 18th at 7:41 a.m.!

My staging instructions also included a lay-out of what will take place at the event. After registration, we will have a brief but intense orientation session from 2-7 p.m. During this time we will be given background information about the Peace Corps, talk about our anxieties and aspirations for service, cover the organization's policies and safety procedures, and detail logistics and departure/arrival information.

In the meantime, I am beginning to pack and finalizing things I need to get done before I leave (such as financial matters). I'm starting to find out how difficult packing is, since I need to fit everything I need for two years in two suitcases! I'm also trying to figure out some sort of gift to give to my host family when I arrive. I'm thinking about a mini-scrapbook highlighting some parts of my life in Ohio, so they have an idea of my background and where I'm from. I'll figure something out...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Patiently Waiting...

I'm about a month and a half away from my orientation in Washington, D.C. and I could not be more excited! Since my last blog I've spent a lot of time reading about Bulgaria and the Peace Corps experience in general. With my invitation kit, I received a Volunteer Handbook that I am supposed to read before heading to D.C. and it has really explained a lot about what life will be like once I begin my pre-service training.

When I arrive in D.C. on the 19th, I will meet the other trainees in my group. I just received an e-mail stating that there will be approximately 70 of us that will make up the 25th group that has served in Bulgaria! At orientation, I will get acquainted with the other volunteers and also the Peace Corps staff that will be with us during training. This will be a very important period as I will be spending a great deal of time with these people during training and will likely keep in touch with them throughout my two years of service.

Once arriving in Bulgaria, I will spend 4-5 nights at a hotel in Sofia where training will officially begin. I will then move into a home with a host family who I will be living with for the duration of my training period. I just filled out a "survey" listing my personal interests and hobbies in order to help the Peace Corps Bulgaria staff match me with a family. I can't wait to get there and meet them!

That's all I have for now, check in again soon!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Journey Begins!

Today, I officially accepted my invitation to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria! It has been such a long waiting process, but has finally paid off. My assignment is secondary English education - so I will be teaching English as a secondary language to children ages 8-19.

My placement officer sent me a great deal of information about my assignment and country, and I am very eager to learn all I can before I depart for orientation on May 19. Here, I will meet the other members of my training class and receive my passport and Bulgarian visa. From there, I will fly to Bulgaria with my training class to begin an intensive 10-week pre-service training program. The training will include Bulgarian language study, community skills, health and personal safety, and technical training. I know it will be a difficult process, but I cannot wait to start learning!

I will be posting updates here and there before my departure, so stay tuned :)