Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Wait... It's November?!"

     Well, I'm not sure how it happened but somehow it's already November.  In many ways, it is a blessing how quickly time has been passing.  There's no time to be homesick if you don't even notice the month has flown by.  I'm in an unfamiliar state of having enough to do to feel busy but not overwhelmed enough to be efficient in getting things done.  (If you know my overachiever tendencies, you know that this is unfamiliar territory for me.)  The result is that I fluctuate between marveling at how little stress I have in my life and feeling guilty/lazy that I am not squeezing maximum potential out of every wonderful second I get to spend in Bulgaria.
     Teaching continues to be something I enjoy, even though teaching high schoolers can be full of unexpected challenges.  My students amaze me in their ability to fluctuate between very perceptive comments and questions and somewhat juvenile tactics.  They are certainly a very creative bunch.  A very eye-opening interaction happened on a day that I decided to demonstrate for them how I always seemed to know when they were texting under their desks.  I sat down at the desk in the front of the room and pretended to be texting, including a variety a facial expressions, such as smiling for no apparent reason.  There was a collective "Oh..." around the room as the students realized how obvious it really was.  
     One of my favorite things I got to do in October was coach some students for the regional round of a speech contest.  We had a day long workshop the day of the competition where students practiced their speeches, gave and received peer feedback, and participated in mock interviews.  It was a long day, but I hope it was also a helpful day.  Three of the students I coached made it to the national round of the competition, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them.  I can't take credit for their success, they each worked very hard,  but I was very proud of how well they did at the regional competition.
     There are days that I question how helpful my presence is here or how effective I am as a teacher. I know English because I grew up speaking it, but I've never studied it formally.  I know about America because I have grown up there, but I've also been asked on several occasions, "Are you sure you're a real American?"  But giving speeches and performing are things I know.  They are activities I have enjoyed for years.  They are things I have studied and things I have taught before.  So the opportunity to coach students for the speech competition was a wonderful reminder that there are helpful things for me to do here.  Starting this week, I will also be co-teaching a Speech and Debate club/class on Wednesday afternoons.  I'm very excited to get to work with students in a less formal setting and to get to teach a subject I know well.  
      In addition to teaching, I have also had many opportunities for exploration and adventure.  I also had my first house guests! Two of the other ETAs came to stay with me the weekend before Halloween.  We carved pumpkins, made tacos, and spent a lovely afternoon in Bucharest.  It was neat to get to show friends my new home.  I also spent a weekend exploring historic Bulgarian sites including Etara, Buzludzha, and Shipka.  
The second largest administrative building in the world (#1 is the Pentagon), built by Ceausescu .  

Poetry for sale at a folk museum in Bucharest.

Near the end of October I asked myself, "which is sadder, not carving a pumpkin this year or having to carve one by myself?" Luckily I had friends to carve with! 

The final product! Mine is the one on the far left.
Halloween at school! 
The city of Gabrovo is known for having particularly stingy residents, which lead to Gabrovo being the butt of many jokes.  The city has decided to embrace this stereotype and has a wonderful humor museum.  This room felt more like a fun house than a museum.
"You might be from Gabrovo if..." exhibit. 

The historic village of Etara.

Buzludzha was an old party meeting point.  Many people say it resembles a space ship. 

After climbing through a sketchy window, this is what I saw.

But then I walked upstairs and saw this stunning hall.

The pictures don't accurately convey the decaying beauty of this room.

That's Buzludzha in the background.

Shipka: an important site in the Turko-Russian War.

The socialist art museum in Sofia is definitely worth visiting.  My favorite part was the political posters gallery which was full of propaganda posters from the cold war.  It was very interesting to see propaganda posters from "the other" side.  

Wise words from Senator Fulbright.