By: Kellie Schaefer
Where in the World is Bulgaria?
That was my first thought when I found out that I was part of CULP Bulgaria team five. I knew that it was in Europe somewhere, and that was about it. I had no idea of what to expect from this country and it’s citizens. After some basic research, learning how to count to ten, and many Canvas assignments, I felt that I had a pretty good feel for what Bulgaria was like.
We have learned some other interesting things as well while we have been in Bulgaria. They eat tomatoes and cucumbers like there’s no tomorrow, even for breakfast. There’s yogurt soup, yogurt drinks, sweet yogurt, and pretty much any other type of yogurt in existence. Jeans are actually fashionable over here, which is contradictory from what I’ve heard about the rest of Europe (If you wear jeans, they will know you’re an American). Last but not least, the people that we have worked with so far have been very friendly and helpful, especially when it comes to needing an interpreter for our menus.
Speaking of interpreters, we had no idea if we would need one in order to communicate with who we were supposed to teach: Bulgarian Air Force Academy staff, teachers, and soldiers. Our mission was to teach English, and we did not know what to expect. This is the first CULP mission of it’s kind, as no teams have ever worked with the Bulgarian Air Force before.
When we arrived at the academy, we were nervous. Would we be able to communicate with them? I think our students were just as nervous as we were, if not more. They welcomed us into the academy with smiling faces, and after we introduced ourselves and started to talk, we knew that we would have no problem working with them. There are also cadets at the academy, but because it is summer vacation, most of them are gone. We have worked with the equivalent of MSII’s and MSIV’s, but they are already proficient with their English, so we mostly talk to them about cultural topics. We have a quick lesson to review words and topics in English, then play a game such as Charades or Pictionary. Both the Bulgarians and the Americans are enthusiastic and excited while playing these games!
Aside from our mission of teaching English, we have also accomplished the task of immersing ourselves into the culture of Bulgaria. When we first arrived to Bulgaria, we explored the capitol, Sofia, which is 6,000 years old. We took a free tour around the city, which was extremely informational, and we loved it. One thing that I thought was amazing was the religious cooperation of Bulgaria. In one square of the town, there was a Mosque, Catholic cathedral, Bulgarian Orthodox church, and a Synagogue. Another interesting fact; Even though Bulgaria was an ally of Germany in WWII and was required to send it’s Jews to concentration camps, the King decided against this and procrastinated on this task. The war ended before the Jews even arrived to the concentration camp, thus saving 50,000 people. Apparently Bulgarians are famous for their tendency to arrive late. Hopefully we don’t pick up this habit, especially when we get back to Fort Knox….
We are fortunate enough to have three Air Force soldiers show us the cool places around the town of Pleven and surrounding areas. So far we have visited a castle, museums, churches, and even an orphanage. We continue to teach English at the Air Force Academy in the morning, and then take a tour of an interesting place in the afternoon. Our group is excited to travel to the Black Sea, the Rose Valley, and maybe even shoot AK-47’s later on during the mission!
We continue to adjust to the culture of Bulgaria, and even learn a few Bulgarian phrases here and there. Maybe by the end of our mission we will finally understand that nodding your head means “no” and shaking your head means “yes” (this is harder to do then you’d think). Bulgaria has been an amazing so far, and we are excited to experience it even more!