Monday, October 20, 2014

I feel as though I can finally breathe again...

For the past two weeks, I have been planning like a mad lady for two huge speech and debate training events, all because I got coffee with a friend in March and started discussing a silly little dream we shared.

***

In the early spring of this year, I found myself sitting across from a fellow ETA at a cafe in Plovdiv. We were trying, in a most vague of ways, to put together a budget and basic outline for an idea we had hatched just two weeks before, a student leadership retreat for Bulgarian speech and debate students. 

Before sitting down to plan, I'd just been ridiculed by the most hipster man in Bulgaria for trying to order my дълго кафе c мляко with my broken language skills, and my face was still American flag-red from the sad experience. In shame (me) and somewhat clueless (both of us), we got to work, sketching up rough plans for this hypothetical retreat. 

I think our guiding goal was something along the lines of "we should find a location that feels retreat-like. Yeah, that'll teach 'em... skills..." We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

You see, we were both first-year coaches of speech and debate clubs at our respective schools, through an organization called the Bulgarian Forensics League (BFL). BFL was founded a little over a year ago by Fulbright Bulgaria teaching assistants, such as myself. Last year was their first full year in existence, and BFL amazingly acquired NGO status over the summer, becoming the BEST (Bulgarian English Speech and debate Tournaments) Foundation.

My friend and I were hoping that, if we outlined this student leadership event, BEST could find a way to create and host the retreat. Thinking about this now, I have to stop and laugh, because that whole implementation part fell onto our shoulders when they somewhat unexpectedly asked us to join the exec team in the spring, right after our naive and blind coffee shop planning session. So yeah...I found myself planning and dreaming as a team member of this brand spanking-new NGO in Bulgaria over the summer. Haha?

***

So far, it's been an amazing ride. We have four national tournaments planned for the year, and we just wrapped up the new coach training. I had the pleasure of watching the student retreat come to life in the form of the first annual BEST Student Ambassador Leadership Retreat two weeks ago, and couldn't have felt more happy! Two students from each participating BEST school came together for a weekend of brainstorming, planning, idea sharing, team building, singing, dancing, frisbee, pine trees, name tags, ice breakers, and reflection. 

We sang silly songs about pizza hut and jabba the hud, the princess pat and boxes of mixed biscuits. We danced our hearts out to ABBA and classic rock, we threw frisbees and bumped volleyballs, we got to know one another over shopska salad and action plan templates. Most importantly, we got to see a glimpse of the great things that can happen in Bulgaria when we give bright teenagers the chance to share their ideas and collaborate with their peers in new, challenging ways. 

I went home exhausted, but happy. I have great enthusiasm for BEST and for its potential to literally change how students view themselves and interact with their world.  If you'd like to learn more about the wonderfulness that is happening in Bulgaria, you can view BEST's website and learn more about the organization. Be sure to read about mah babies, the Student Ambassadors! You can learn more about my school's speech and debate team on our gofundme account




 Students and I spreading the word during school!


My goofball little friends










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