Appreciation level-unmatched

laurenby Lauren Leadbetter YES abroad Bulgaria ’18

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In the past few months, I’ve been given the opportunity to travel outside of Bulgaria and see some of the places that travelers in Sofia often talk about. Outside of Sofia, it didn’t take long for me to begin reminiscing on the charm and small luxuries Sofia has. Small luxuries like streets rarely requiring a cross light giving pedestrians the right of way to cross wherever the pavement is striped. Or having a diverse collection of architecture in the city (caused by a fascinating history and recent economic growth) with the styles mixing in an informal fashion but they’re unified by the charm of incredible graffiti or small specialty shops that cover the ground floor of most central buildings. Huge mountains for hiking and skiing are only a city bus ride away. There are so many beautiful and practical fountains constantly running with mineral water for the people to use as they wish. The list of assets feels endless while strolling around the city on any day of the year.

So many of the aspects of life in Sofia and Bulgaria feel really special, especially with accompaniment by features in the infrastructure that are hard to find anywhere else in the world. Just as I encountered feelings of longing to return to Sofia, many Bulgarians share with me that they experience the same feelings for all the same reasons and more.

The most common question when meeting new Bulgarians is “How are you finding Bulgaria?” When I respond that I’m happy every single day I wake up here, most smile and talk about the best things Bulgaria has and how much it gives to Europe and the rest of the world. However, their admiration is frequently followed by how hard it is to properly promote and share the country’s facets with the rest of the world because of internal issues like a decreasing population, a shrinking workforce, and an absence of comprehensive legislation.

Bulgarians living here commonly tell me how easy and popular for Bulgarians to leave the country for university or to gain work experience, and then continue their lives outside of Bulgaria free of the difficulties present with life in Bulgaria. I have so much admiration and respect for Bulgarians for sharing with me how their lives here must be so that one day their country can be holistically incredible for visitors and residents.

It is always understood that I love Bulgaria, and it has felt like most other people here share that feeling too.  The people living here are wanting to share with the world and grant Bulgaria all of the recognition it deserves, as a country capable of seemingly everything and should compete with other global top travel destinations. The zeal for an amplified Bulgaria is unmatched by any other movement or cause I’ve ever seen, so much so that even my classmates talk about their life plans to enhance their country.

Though my short trips outside of the city were on a much smaller scale, I understand the feelings that motivate Bulgarians for their entire lives. I understand why the tram driver keeps all of the Bulgarian flags in the front windows. I see why the worker at my local market watches me place seemingly typical cucumbers in my bag, then he comes and replaces them with Bulgarian grown ones while shouting the Bulgarian national anthem.   I appreciate people that have share hidden information on the status of Bulgaria upon our first interaction. I have great admiration and appreciation for the aspects of my experiences in Sofia, from the open people to just crossing the street every day on my way home. I appreciate all of it.

 

My first two months in USA

-by Alex Dzhebarov, YES 18-19

Hello, my name is Alex Dzhebarov and since two months I live in the sunny city of Pueblo, Colorado. On 21st of August I arrived in the US and honestly every day I’ve spent here has been an amazing adventure. During these two months which passed so quickly I did number of things I never thought I would do. I wanted to come to the US and become a YES scholar for so long but I never imagined that my experience here will be that awesome. I can’t even chose what to start with.

I’m amazed with so many things and the American life keeps surprising me with something new every day. During the last month I had two Spirit weeks in school – weeks during which the students dress differently every day. Every day had a theme and people dressed as construction workers, cowboys and wizards were going around the school. I’ve never imagined that I would go to school dressed like that. At the end of the first week my school had an American football game against the other big school in the city. Both schools have an old rivalry so the students go watch the game and support their school’s team. Everybody was dressed in the school colors and cheered for our team. Before this night I’ve only had seen something like that on the movies. That was my best night in America so far because it wasn’t even like on the movies, it was way better. The other spirit week was Homecoming week. Homecoming is the first school dance for the year. The whole school cafeteria in my school was decorated and turned into one big dance floor where everybody was dressed up and dancing. I went with my friends and had so much fun. The day before there was another American football game I went to. I love going to the games and feeling the energy of the crowd and the school spirit going around.

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I’m really surprised how different the schools in America are and I still can’t believe I go to one of them. I love my school and every Sunday I look forward to the upcoming Monday to go to school and see my friends. For these two months I visited number of places in my state and soon I’m going on a trip to Kentucky with my host mother. I was on my school’s tennis team and recently I joined two clubs. I did 55 community service hours and became a student of the month. I found many new friends here, but my first American friend was my host family’s dog – Cooper. I’ve never been around animals and now I have three cats, two dogs, a ferret and a lizard! I needed some time to get used to all of them but now I can’t imagine my American life without them. My host parents are awesome and support me in everything, I’m really grateful to be hosted by them. They are not just my host parents, but also I feel them like really close friends I can sit and talk for hours with. Next week is Halloween and I and my host parents already picked pumpkins from a field so we can carve them and decorate the house for the holiday. I’m so excited because Halloween is just the beginning of the holiday season and after it there are Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year waiting to be celebrated.

I can still remember how excited I was just before one year, filling my application and imaging how I could experience all of that. Before I even realized that it was happening I was on the plane, crossing the ocean and starting to live my American dream. If you also want your American dream to become true, say Yes to YES and apply online at ais.americancouncils.org/yes until 31 October

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For more information visit:
http://ac-see.org/new/yesbulgaria/

Media literacy camp: Call for trainers

TRAINERSWANTED

Apply on: https://bit.ly/2DVBBsH

PROGRAM OVERVIEW
Through the ABC Media Literacy Camp 2018, youth from all parts of Bulgaria will gain skills to evaluate, understand, and use information in engaging and innovative ways. The goals of the 3-day camp are for campers to analyze and critically review and understand media messages in a variety of forms; broadcast and produce media using electronic tools readily available to youth in Bulgaria; and connect and transfer skills and knowledge to local communities. Participants will be selected on the basis of strong engagement in contemporary media and motivation to engage their peers in a dialogue about media literacy. During the camp, participants will be provided with foundational knowledge in print, video and web media. They will increase their skill and aptitude in these content areas through hands-on analysis and through collaborative media projects such as public service announcements and social media campaigns. Sessions will be theoretical, practical and collaborative, utilizing a “training of trainers” approach that will prepare participants to not only utilize the approach they are exploring, but effectively share their knowledge and skills with countless members of their local communities after the conclusion of the camp.

ELIGIBILITY AND POSITION REQUIREMENTS
ABC Camp Trainers will lead small groups of up to 5 Bulgarian youth in a series of interactive sessions. Trainers will contribute to the development of the curriculum for their group prior to the start of the camp, with guidance and support from American Councils staff. All activities will be conducted in English.

In order to be considered as a trainer, a candidate must:
-Be from, or currently reside in, Bulgaria.
-Have demonstrable training, expertise, and experience in media literacy topics, including:
—Use of critical thinking skills
—Understanding how media messages shape our culture and society
—Identifying target marketing strategies
—Recognizing what the media maker wants us to believe or do
—Naming the techniques of persuasion used
—Recognizing bias, spin, misinformation, and lies
—Discovering the parts of the story that are not being told
—Evaluating media messages based on our own experiences, skills, beliefs, and values
—Creating and distributing their own media messages
—Advocating for media justice
—Designing and implementing a community-oriented media literacy project
-Have past teaching or training experience and the ability to contribute to the development of curriculum.
-Have good working English language skills
-Be available to attend and actively participate in both the camp and training of trainers in Sofia.

APPLICATION GUIDELINES AND SELECTION PROCEDURE
Trainers will be selected by a panel of evaluators based on application materials, interviews, and professional background and experience. Interested candidates must complete and submit the online application, including all supporting documents requested, by October 21, 2018 11:59 PM EEST. Candidates who are selected for interviews will be notified by October 26, 2018, and interviews will be conducted in the period October 30-November 2, 2018.

Please direct questions to the American Councils Bulgaria team at sofia@americancouncilssee.org.

The life-changing journey called YES

Story from Shebi Niazi about the connection between her exchange year in the United States and the University of UAE, but also about all the other things that happened to her after she came back from America – thanks to the valuable experience she received from the YES program.

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-by Shebi Niazi, YES Alumna 13-14

Many exchange students describe their year abroad in the United States as a “life-changing” one. And often it sounds like a cliché. How can a single year play such a crucial role in one’s life? How can a single year determine one’s future? Here is how it did mine.

In 2013, after competing with hundreds of high school students in Bulgaria in a series of interviews and tests, I was chosen to be one of the six finalists for the “Kennedy-Lugar” Youth Exchange & Study (YES) program for the 2013-2014 academic year. During my stay in the USA, I participated in myriad events and volunteering opportunities; I took classes that I wouldn’t have been able to do so in my home country; I was involved in extracurricular activities that enriched me academically and personally beyond measure.

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Two of the most important aspects of my exchange year were the people I met and the diversity I was exposed to. Being placed in a diverse seminar with students from all over the world, I developed a sensibility regarding the vicissitudes of cultural stereotyping and misunderstanding. Every discussion on pressing global issues was equally nuanced with the perspective of my peers from Israel, India, Pakistan, Tanzania, etc. From each I learned and to each I adopted. Checking CNN World news became part of my daily routine. Examining tensions between local ways of life with deep historical, linguistic, ethnic and religious roots and today’s transnational cultures and multiple identities, was what excited me.

After returning from the USA my passion to understand the multifaceted interconnectedness among nation-states, international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and ethnic, cultural, and religious groups never faded away. I was awarded a scholarship from Connecting Cultures, one of the world’s leading civil society initiatives aiming to bridge the Western and Arab world through the power of dialogue. I spent one week in Oman exploring cultural differences and discussing the issues of peace with young female leaders from Europe and the Middle East. At the end of my senior year in high school I attended the YES Alumni Interfaith Harmony Conference in Rabat, Morocco. Using the skills and knowledge gained from such educational initiatives, I organized several peacebuilding workshops both in my school and community. I implemented an interfaith cross-country collaboration event in Bulgaria called “Letters of Hope to Refugees”. The campaign’s goal was to provide messages of support and solidarity from around the world to asylum seekers in Bulgaria. The project ended up having over 1,200 participants from 5 continents and 18 countries.

I was first introduced to volunteering in my exchange year in the United States where I completed more than 100 hours of community service. In 2014 I became a part of the YES Alumni Association. The goals of the YES Alumni Program are to expand on and practice what YES students have learned during their exchange year by implementing various projects. The projects I have participated in include: making handmade jewelry and Christmas cards for charity; participating in the nationwide eco-campaign “Let’s Clean Bulgaria in one Day!”; spreading love with the “Love Note Project”; organizing activities for International Children’s day; informing others about the merits of vegetarianism; participating in campaigns to address HIV/AIDS prevention, etc. My worldview was broadened by another volunteering opportunity in rural Sing Buri, Thailand where I taught English and helped with the construction work at the Sri Udam orphanage. I managed to fundraise to travel to Thailand by using all the techniques I had learned in the United States. All of the aforementioned activities taught me how to become an active citizen not only in my home country but also in every other community around the world that I choose to join.

After my graduation from high school I was presented the wonderful opportunity to work for a year as an Alumni Coordinator at American Councils for International Education. It was so much more than just working in an office setting, managing email overloads, tracking on alumni activity spending, filling timesheets, writing budget proposals, submitting monthly reports. Being able to strengthen the alumni community, to help its members bring their ideas to reality, to organize projects that make a difference and to see the impact of our actions- whether it’s the smile of an old lady at a soup kitchen or the warm thank you of a stranger, is what makes the existence of the YES Alumni community worthwhile.

Where are you now and what are you doing, you will ask. As of now, I am attending the New York University in Abu Dhabi on a full ride scholarship. I am pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Social Research and Public Policy. NYU Abu Dhabi is one of the most selective liberal arts colleges in the world, with an admission rate of around 3%. The student body is arguably the most selective and internationally diverse one. My peers come from all around the globe and bring their unique perspectives with them. Being part of the community of NYU Abu Dhabi is a dream come true and a great honor. It is an important stage in my life that I wouldn’t have come close to without my exchange year in the United States that sparked my interest in international education. My year in the USA taught me how to appreciate human diversity, how to create and maintain meaningful social ties, how to invest my time and energy in developing myself professionally and personally, and above all else how to strive to make an impact somewhere somehow. I am beyond thankful for having had the opportunity to be an exchange student. All I had to do was say “YES”. And I believe that you can do it, too!

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Apply now for YES scholarship if you want to live and study in USA for the 2019-2020 academic year on: ais.americancouncils.org/yes

For more information visit:
http://ac-see.org/new/yesbulgaria/

Life is all about exploring!

A short story about life from Mirsolav Pehlev currently on YES exchange in Howell, Michigan, USA

-by Miroslav Pehlev, YES 18-19

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‘Life is all about exploring’ That is what always leads my curiosity. I will never forget how I became an exchange student. It was a long, but more than exciting process. A year ago I didn’t even imagine how far this application might send me, as well as how much I can grow as a person. Yes, the YES program literally does it. And our mission as YES students is to keep going and develop our interests while on exchange.

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I already spent a month since I arrived in the US. And I cannot stop being amazed how many opportunities our host communities provide. The only thing I was not keen on was the cold weather in my state. But it doesn’t matter at all, because here everything is so beautiful. And leaving these things apart, I would like to mention that there is nothing to do about the placements. It’s all about the kind people you will meet, the friendships you will make, the unforgettable moments you will remember and the passionate and caring host families. Nevertheless, being a part of the YES community is more than exciting. I can’t describe how many awesome new people I met since I participate. But what mostly makes me happy, is the fact that I started this journey successfully.

There is no doubt that the American high school is providing so many opportunities for exchange students. No matter where we are, there will always be something for us. And if not, then we can create it on our own. This is how me and my friend – an exchange student from Kyrgyzstan, decided to make a Russian club together. This year my high school introduced to its students something new – a weekly class for self-related activities, in which we can write our homework, study for tests, ask for help from teachers or just relax, all this in the middle of the day. But as long as some long-term clubs emerged during this hour, taking place once a week, we found a fabulous opportunity and potential in that gap between classes. Shortly after we started attending it, our proposal for a Russian language club was admitted by the office and they even found a sponsoring teacher for us. Very soon we had the number of students needed for our club. Finally, I can say that this plan will hopefully be realized in a week and I can’t wait to see what is going to happen.

I’d like to encourage all the future and present exchange students, who are reading this, not to be afraid from the unknown that is expecting them in this vast and diverse country. You are chosen to become a part of the YES family for your abilities – and here you can show what you are capable of. Teach people about your culture, travel when possible, eat new food, hang out with friends and enjoy the small moments, even if there is something not that special. Be thankful for everything you have, and don’t forget to share the best moments you experience with your host family, because they are your closest ones here. And of course, say yes to YES.

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Apply now for YES scholarship if you want to live and study in USA for the 2018-2019 academic year on: ais.americancouncils.org/yes

For more information visit:
http://ac-see.org/new/yesbulgaria/

My high school experience in USA!

Alper Ahmed article

Short story about high school experiences in Baldwin City, Kansas.

-by Alper Ahmed, YES Alumni 17-18

My name is Alper Ahmed and I am a YES Alumni from generation 18′. I was placed in Baldwin City, Kansas and went to Baldwin High School. For American teenagers high school takes a huge part of their daily lives from sports and extracurricular activities to homework and papers you need to get done. It’s the same way with exchange students, the only difference is you can use the excuse “I’m an exchange student” for anything.

Finding friends can be difficult in a completely new environment but one of the best possible ways to do so is by joining sports and clubs. Different schools have different sports and clubs. The Fall sports for boys that my school offered were soccer (football) and Cross Country (CC). I joined the cross country team and really got to understand what a team spirit really means. A lot of sports have daily practices and CC was one of them. Every sport has meets, competitions or tournaments against other schools from the area and state. They could start as early as 6 A.M which could mean waking up at 4 A.M, getting ready and traveling an hour.

If playing a sport is not your strength, the coaches are always looking for managers who could help out the team and make it easier for everyone. This is exactly what I did during the winter season. I’m not good in basketball nor can I wrestle, so I managed basketball for the girls. I would have to fill up water bottles, run the game clock, keep the score, etc. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the U.S.A and that’s also true for high school and schools love playing against each other, so we had almost two or 3 meets each week during the Basketball season. Spring sports season is the one that gives you most options, at least in my school. I decided to take part in Tennis and I very much enjoyed it. The only downside that it had was the Spring sport season being far shorter than the Fall and Winter ones.

There are many possibilities for becoming a part of a club depending on your interests. Art, public speaking, crafts, FBLA, Stand up to Cancer, international club, anime, scholar’s bowl, etc.

American Football: where all the students gather in one section of the tribune, dress coded in their most outrageous but at the same time amusing outfits that they have. And that happens at many other sport events where the students want to show their support for their team. Being a part of an audience of this kind was also one of the many reasons how I got to understand and really take upon myself the team spirit that American high school students have.

Another, really fun and exciting part about the schools in America is the DANCES. Back to School, The Homecoming Dance, the Halloween Dance, Winter Formal, etc. The school dances are probably the funniest and most entertaining thing that you could be a part of in a school cafeteria. This is when you could Whip and Nae Nae and listen to the best hip hop hits from the 00s while dancing in your Halloween costume. The school dances are an irreplaceable part of the American high school experience. Before every major dance there is something called Spirit Week, where each day of the week the students are supposed to be dressed with specific outfits which could be PJ day, Fashion disaster day, Funny socks day and many more.

If I was to tell you all the things about American High Schools it would probably take me days, that is why you need to apply for the YES program and try your best at getting to experience it all your way first hand. Thank you for your attention!

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Apply now for YES scholarship if you want to live and study in USA for the 2018-2019 academic year on: ais.americancouncils.org/yes

For more information visit:
http://ac-see.org/new/yesbulgaria/

My amazing host family in USA!

Eli Stoeva Article
Short story about the excellent relationship between one YES student from Bulgaria and her Host family in San Antonio, Texas during 2016/2017 season.

-by Ellie Stoeva, YES Alumni 16-17

Hi, my name is Ellie Stoeva and I am one of the lucky students from Bulgaria who won a full scholarship from the YES Program to go and study in the United States for a year in 2016/2017. My placement organization was ASSE and I was hosted in San Antonio, Texas by the wonderful family of Jason, Cherie and Claire Gilmore.

My entire year was incredible and full of breath-taking moments. I got to learn about the American culture, make new friends and try new things in the coolest high school in the world- Louis D. Brandeis. I consider myself to be the luckiest girl in the world for getting this opportunity, but I am most grateful for having such an amazing host family.

The Gilmores took me as one of their own and treated me like a family member from the very first moment we got in contact. We shared passions for the same movies and activities like Harry Potter and theatre. They would help me with anything and everything throughout the year and give me the best advice possible. My host father is the funniest person I’ve ever gotten the chance to meet, my host mom is probably the wisest and most inspiring person in my life and my host sister was so lively and full of curiosity and goodness. Probably my favourite memories with them must be the times they would play pranks on me. One time I was coming home from babysitting with my best friend and I found my room all covered in paper notes, balloons and ribbons. It took me and my friend an hour to clean up and unpack every single one of the items I owned that was also wrapped in wrapping paper. It was the most hilarious thing that has ever happened to me!

My host family also had a very love and caring side too. They were very interested in and had great respect for my culture. They were always excited to try the traditional Bulgarian meals I made. My host dad really loved Bulgarian banitsa and one time when I was making it and apologised for it taking so long he simply said: “It’s Ok, you can’t rush art”. For my name day they decorated my room and our kitchen table on theme with my favourite movie Beauty and the Beast – they covered my room floor with rose petals and made special rose vases for our table. In return I cooked traditional Bulgarian foods like – “banitsa, sarmi, shopska salata and mlqko s oriz”. We all enjoyed the delicious food at a special dinner for my name day. To say that they were incredible people would be an understatement. They supported me throughout the year, taught me how to be more confident and love myself, be more open minded and fight against injustice in the world. I am so happy I have them in my life and still keep in contact with them to this day.

I am so lucky and grateful to the YES Program for granting me with the amazing opportunity to study and live in America for a year, create life-long connections with people and be able to call the amazing Jason, Cherie and Claire my second family. I encourage everyone to apply to get a chance for a taste of this incredible experience.

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Apply now for YES scholarship if you want to live and study in USA for the 2018-2019 academic year on: ais.americancouncils.org/yes

For more information visit:
http://ac-see.org/new/yesbulgaria/

ENAM SPRING BOOTCAMP

ENAM SPRING BOOTCAMP, MY EXPERIENCE -Elitsa Stoeva YES Alumna ’17IMG_20180415_004120_569 FB_IMG_1523818296448 received_1833078473403989

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

Recently, I had the huge honour to represent the U.S.-Bulgaria Alumni Associations and more specifically the YES Program, together with Kirilka Angelova, Project Manager for the Junior Achievement Organization in Bulgaria, at the ENAM Spring Bootcamp in Cagliari, Italy.

ENAM (European Network of American Alumni Associations) was founded in 2010 and is a permanent coordination unit of more than 65 American Alumni Associations established in the region-Europe and Euro-Asia. Its mission is to promote all the cultural exchange programs administered by the Department of State and bilateral commissions alike, by designing and implementing through its member organizations projects and initiatives such as conferences, seminars, workshops, awards, information campaigns, editorial products and other. IVLP/ VOLVIS and Fulbright are some of the bigger alumni association members of ENAM.

During the 3-day Bootcamp me and the other participants had the opportunity to learn more about leadership, management, team building and additionally did case studies on previous successful projects implemented in different European and Euro-Asian countries. In our free time we managed to get to know each other, exchange personal and work experience, talk about important problems that each one is trying to solve and battle in our countries and communities such as gender inequality, racism, discrimination, social and political injustice, etc.

At the end of the Bootcamp I felt inspired by all the amazing participants to work harder in my community and solve the existing problems. I am thankful to the YES Program, U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, the U.S.- Bulgaria Alumni association and ENAM, for this incredible opportunity to establish connections with different countries in Europe/Euro-Asia to tackle together the problems that we all face. Because in the end, it does not matter how we are different, what matters is how we are alike. Our common goals and willingness to work together as a team to benefit the communities is what will help the world move forward.

Re-entry Seminar Made the 2017 Bulgarian Alumni Part of the YES Family

By Mirela Minkova, YES 2016-2017 Bulgaria, hosted by American Councils in Edwardsville, IL
One of the most exciting parts of coming back to Bulgaria after one academic year in the United States is the re-entry seminar for the newest Bulgarian alumni. The meeting gave us the chance to share our experiences from the year, and to talk about future projects that will make a difference in the community.
The re-entry seminar for the 2017 alumni was held on July 12th and 13th in Sofia, Bulgaria. On the first day the seven of the newest alumni met with the alumni coordinator, Shebi Niazi, and with alumni who completed the program in 2016, Victoria, a student in the American University in Blagoevgrad, and Nazi, our next Alumni Coordinator. We were happy to be introduced to the community and immediately felt very close to each other. We felt comfortable and started sharing our most amazing and most difficult moments from the year. Shebi organized a few activities with questions which everyone of us answered for themselves, but later we found out that most of the answers were very similar. This is the best part of the seminar – connecting with people who have been through experiences that you can relate to. Having the opportunity to interact with my Bulgarian YES family has made me feel more confident and optimistic.
After each one of us shared what has been the most challenging part of living in America, we started discussing our re-adjustment to the Bulgarian environment. One of the most important parts of the seminar is sharing advice on how to cope with the reverse culture shock that we all encountered after coming home. Even though we returned to our familiar environment, it does not feel the same. We have grown and developed as individuals and leaders. We realized that now, as more open-minded, organized, and independent young citizens of our country, we are the ones to make a positive impact. In America we became part of a different culture and lifestyle, which made us more tolerant and acceptable of diversity. We all share new skills and qualities that will help us identify the social issues and take action. Even though, the Bulgarian alumni community is still small, it is growing, and there have been multiple projects organized by them. Our coordinator, together with the other alumni shared the activities from previous years that have benefited the community. Shebi talked about how she developed a project for sending letters of hope to the refugees living in bad conditions in the camps. Victoria and Nazi showed us pictures from their project which involved collecting food and helping to feed people from disadvantaged backgrounds. We also learned about the renovation of a room in a nursing home for people suffering from Alzheimer`s disease and dementia, conducted by alum, Georgi Bakoev, city representative in Sofia.
The numerous examples from the great impact that the YES Alumni community has had inspired us to be active, to initiate more projects in the future, and to be responsible ambassadors for the YES program. On the second day of our re-entry seminar, Rumi, the American Councils Assistant Representative, made a presentation on planning and implementing of a project. She emphasized on team work and leadership skills, finding of a team, creating a budget, and accounting for the expenses. Our team even started a plan and elaborated on two projects – one of them was related to ecology and cleaning the environment, and the other one was concerned with solving the problem with the homeless animals in our community. While discussing our ideas, we all found out that we were mainly influenced by our volunteering experience in America. Our motivation and ambition were inspiring and we had a lot of great ides which will make a difference.
The re-entry seminar for the Bulgarian newest alumni has been extremely helpful and prepared us for the second part of being a YES program exchange student – being active ambassadors for the program. Our introduction to the alumni community created bonds for life and enabled us to receive valuable advice. Now we are part of the YES family of ambitious young individuals who are about to make our community a better place.

 

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First OPIT program participant in Bulgaria

John Seman is the fist participant in OPIT program in Bulgaria. OPIT – Overseas Professional and Intercultural Training Program  gives students the substantive overseas professional experience and intercultural skills demanded by today’s global market.

Here is what John shares about his personal experience during the 6-week stay in Sofia.

19224870_830983743747089_147138348582880332_nI’m 20 years old, from Ohio, and I somehow managed to be placed in an internship program in Sofia, Bulgaria. I go to Capital University in Bexley, Ohio (about five minutes away from OSU), where I double major in Spanish and International Studies and a minor in Military Science. For my International Studies major I need either a study abroad or internship abroad. My internship here in Sofia fulfills that requirement. The question that I’ve been asked the most since finding out that I would be going to Bulgaria, and since arriving in the country itself, is “why, why Bulgaria?” Well, if I’m being honest, I wanted a Spanish speaking country. However, none of the countries listed spoke Spanish so I was out of luck in that regard. I then asked the people I knew who had been to the Balkans which country they would suggest. Bulgaria was usually the first or second country that was recommended. Even though Bulgaria wasn’t my ideal choice, I’m glad that I’m here. I’ve loved ever moment since landing in Sofia. Knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t change a thing and would recommend Bulgaria to anyone.

 

Living with a host family
Arguably the best part of the Overseas Professional and Intercultural Training Program (OPIT) is living with a host family. This is a great insight into Bulgarian way of life. Anyone can read about the country. Some people might even travel to Bulgaria and stay in a hotel. However, nothing can beat having the opportunity to live with a host family. This is a once in a life time opportunity. From this you will gain a new perspective and also a deeper understanding and respect for the country you’ve just entered. The host parents have opened their house and hearts to you for six weeks. The parents are some of the kindest people you’ll meet during your stay. My advice to anyone who is considering going on the OPIT program is to seize the chance, if only for the home stay experience. Moreover, if you do decide to join the OPIT program, make sure that you spend as much time with your host family as possible. It might be tempting to stay in your room after the long flight, but you’ll find that your host parents (and all other host family members you might meet) are extremely interested in getting to know you and your way of life. So, as a twenty year old American college student who has traveled abroad before, OPIT stands out from other programs because of the full cultural emersion gained from living side-by-side with a host family. Not to beat a dead horse, but you get out what you put into your stay. The only bad thing about OPIT is that it lasts for a short six weeks. It might not seem like it to the family you leave back home, but the time flies by. The end of the program is bitter sweet because you must say goodbye to your newly adopted family. On the other hand, you leave knowing that you’ve made connections and bonds that will last for a life time!

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Sense of adventure
I’ve never been the type who wanted to just walk and see what I might find. I never wanted to wander without a plan and just go with the flow. I never wanted to explore. That recently came to a crashing halt when I landed in Sofia, Bulgaria. I found myself in the largest city of a country where I didn’t, speak the language. I can’t even read their alphabet. Initially this bothered me greatly. I was worried that I would have to use charades any time I tried talking to someone. However, my preconceived notion that no one would speak English was as wrong as it could possibly be. No, the English isn’t perfect, but then again I know some Americans whose English could use some work. I now find myself walking around the city with absolutely no worry if I get lost. I usually have an hour to kill before my internship and during that time I wander aimlessly. I try to find the best cafes or the whole in the wall restaurants. From my point of view, Sofia is a city that was stuck in the early half of the 20th century and suddenly caught up with the rest of the world after 1991. This has created a unique blend of new and old. I’ve walked down streets that have soviet style block apartments next to a McDonald’s. Or a building that is older than that of the United States and a skyscraper across the way. My sense of dumbstruck awe might have something to do with being from rural Ohio, but the sprawling Bulgarian capital has a charm about it that cannot be captured by words or pictures. The streets are narrow and the buildings tall, yet I’ve never felt confined. Regardless of where I am, I always feel a certain comfort and sense of ease. The sites that Sofia is renowned for (i.e. the Alexander Nevski Church, numerous statutes and parks) are well worth taking a tour. But, if you want to truly see this reborn city, leave the maps at home, lace up your Nikes, and just go. Like many of Eastern Europe’s countries, Bulgaria is a diamond in the rough just waiting to shine. Are you going to be the next to find this hidden gem?
What to bring/pack
20170615_183835 (1)_Easy-Resize.comBeing from Ohio, I’m used to all types of weather, possibly in one day. I also run track for my university. Both of these things have taught me to pack every type of clothing for every type of weather imaginable. But, you’re about to go abroad and can’t bring everything that you would like to. You might even be sitting at home on your bed staring at your suitcase and clothes with the hope that they somehow manage to pack themselves. Sadly, this won’t happen. What will happen though is everybody asking if you’ve packed and if you’re ready to go. If you’re like me, then you might lie and say you’ve been ready for days. When in reality all you’ve done is get the suitcase down and consider packing. So, my advice on what to bring to Sofia for the summer months is as follows. Men, collared shirts are reasonable and can fit just about any situation you might find yourself in. I would also recommend a couple of regular t-shirts and shorts as it can become hot and somewhat humid. Any type of pants will work. Finally, the most important items to bring, for both men and women, are a sweater and a rain coat. For women, I’ve seen a mixture of clothing. There are a majority of women who wear dresses and business suits to work. On the other hand, the majority of teenagers and young adults wear a mix of shorts and pants. Again, t-shirts are recommended. Basically have one formal outfit, two of three business casual, and then clothes for ever day use. These would be the things that I would suggest bringing with you on your trip to Bulgaria.
The food
As it is in the states, food is a large part of the people and culture. The food here is incredible and easily accessible. Along the span of 100ft. there might be ten or so small shops, all of which are selling a different type of food. Bulgaria is a great place to expand your culinary pallet. There is the local, traditional meals dating back centuries, and then there are the dishes that were introduced by the Ottoman Turks during their five centuries of occupation. Bulgaria is a strange mix of cultures, but somehow manages to turn it into a culinary masterpiece. A tip to any perspective travelers would be “don’t knock it until you try it.” Admittedly some of the dishes might look strange, but you never know if you’ll like it or not. I’ve found myself wanting to try every different type of food possible. The food is a gateway to Bulgaria and her people. For those people who don’t like spicy food this is the place for you. The majority of meals are lacking in the “heat” department. However, what they lack in fire, they make up with a flavorful combination of herbs and spices. Most of the food that I’ve had here has many different layers of flavor. Every bite is as good as the last and you’ll find yourself a little disappointed that you didn’t order more. Now, for what I consider to be the most important matter: the coffee. The coffee here is without a doubt a change from the U.S. You might be used to your iced mocha macchiato or frapachino, and you can still find those here in any Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. However, if you stop at any local coffee shop you’ll find that they serve espresso in the smallest cups imaginable. This is as strong and bitter as I’ve found anywhere. I love coffee probably more than the next guy, but every now and again I just need an “Americano” style coffee. The espresso has a deep rich flavor that will wake you up better than a bucket of ice water. Just be warned, if you’re the type of person who likes a little bit of coffee with their sugar and cream, I suggest that you get the espresso with milk. On the whole, the food culture here in Bulgaria is on the rise. You’ll find gourmet pizza parlors, KFCs and McDonalds, and the local mom and pop shops that permeate every street of Sofia. If you’re coming on the OPIT program to Bulgaria, prepare to have your taste buds blown away.

 

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The People, Language, and Culture
Like many Eastern European countries, Bulgaria was a Soviet satellite state up until the 1990s. You might have an image of a rough, cold hearted people bent upon bringing the world under the hammer and sickle flag. If this is what you think all Bulgarians are like, you’re wrong. Yes, some people still do support or favor a communistic view. However, this isn’t a majority of the population. Many of the people that you’ll meet are extremely kind and generous. The only thing you might have to worry about is being smothered by the attention that you’ll receive. People are interested in who you are, where you’re from, and your story. Unlike in America, strangers will start having deep and intimate conversations. It’s not unusual to talk with someone you’ve just met about personal problems or issues. In general, Bulgarians, really the rest of the world, are much more open than Americans. This includes the concepts of personal space. Don’t be surprised if people make contact with you while speaking. Since, we’re on the topic of speech, don’t assume that there will be no one who speaks English. While Bulgarian is based upon the Cyrillic alphabet, many people can speak English. At times it might be hard to convey your meaning, but the game of charades that ensues never gets old. Once you’ve gotten used to interpreting their English, and they yours, you might notice that they do the reverse of what Americans do for yes and no. We shake our heads up and down for yes, side to side for no. This isn’t the case in Bulgaria. They do up and down for no, side to side for yes. To be honest, this will feel strange and just plain wrong if you try doing it. However, it does become easier with time and eventually you’ll find yourself doing it without a second thought. I have found Bulgaria to be a country with deep roots dating back centuries ago. Bulgaria was already an old country before America had gained her independence. The history of the country you’re about to step into will, and rightfully so, astound you. In America we consider a building old if it was built around one hundred years ago. Here you can find churches that were built in the 15th century. I’ve even see a church in downtown Sofia that construction started around 300 A.D. Bulgaria is a unique blend of ancient and modern, democratic and communistic, Middle Eastern and European. It might appear a complete mess and the most unlikely of combinations, but the mix doesn’t feel out of place. Bulgaria has seen a lot in its long life, and her people and culture reflect the best parts of every aspect of her long and rich history.

More info about the OPIT program at www.acstudyabroad.org/opit/