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!