Thursday, December 19, 2013

I bid thee adieu, 2013!

The 2013 portion of the school year is winding to a close. Students in my school are busy preparing for tonight's Christmas (Koleda) concert and, even though the term doesn't end until the last of January, I feel a sense of finality settling over the school as everyone preps for a well-deserved break. Myself, I'm prepping for my first Christmas spent abroad. My friends and I will wind our way in a meandering sort of path up to Germany, hitting Vienna for Christmas and Prague for New Year's (!!!!). Before I depart my school, town, and Bulgaria, I want to share some of the lessons I've learned this year (both in Bulgaria and in the U.S.) with those who are keeping up with me via this blog.

1. There is no substitute for hard work in achieving success. My thesis, my time with Fever, the effort of finishing my degree, and the work that goes into preparing for each day in the classroom has taught me this obvious lesson. Over and over, it is reinforced.

2. The internet is my friend. I sometimes rue our modern connectedness, but I think I would have given up on striving toward effective teaching long ago if not for the support my friends and family offer me daily through snapchats, emails, facebook posts, and skype calls. It is truly remarkable that despite the distance, my momma and poppa are still just a phone call away.

3. The internet is my foe. I can so easily come home, plop down on my couch, plug into my virtual existence, and forget to live here and to get out in my community. Sometimes, I fall prey to this. I come home just around the time everyone in the states is waking up and I always have notifications waiting to be checked. Every day, I have to make myself reach for my novel or running shoes instead of my laptop upon arriving home. It's a challenge.

4. News is awesome. Since beginning undergrad, investing an effort in understanding global news stories has been on my plate of things to do. Unfortunately, I never made time for this. Now, however, I'm a part of what American me would consider global news. I feel so much closer to all that is happening outside the U.S. (because duh, I am) and I've finally taken the time to learn about foreign political leaders, protests, trade union scariness, etc. Checking the daily news is, without a doubt, one of the best changes I've made in my life.

5. News isn't always where I'd expect to find it. Recently, I led a lesson with my older students which introduced Time Magazine and the annual Person of the Year title. We discussed the news and various news sources as well as what the title has meant historically. Not surprisingly, they were all outraged that Miley Cyrus was up for what is widely considered to be an honor. Ha! Surprisingly (to me), they taught me without knowledge of doing so that word of mouth news has changed to word of Facebook news. They said they check the weather for the day by checking their friends' Facebook statuses, they look for election results in stories posted on Facebook, and they find out about celebrity news through video shares that pop up in their news feed. Of, course, I do the same thing, but I've never stopped to think about how we are actively revolutionizing the way news is shared through our online habits.

6. Community is my number one need. Though some of my friends may beg to differ, I promise I am an introvert. I do love to be in front of a crowd if it means a performance or any kind of impromptu entertainment, but I find people and conversation and crowds to be draining most of the time and I need frequent moments of aloneness to keep my energetic spirit charged. However, I still need community. Since I live alone, I need solid community now more than ever. Thanks be to God, my previously created communities still make an effort to keep in touch with me and my newest communities, the other Bulgaria ETA's and my colleagues/ students in Dgrad, are becoming such important people in my life.

I'll end with a "quote" shared by one of the most influential figures in my life to date, my old youth leader. Note the quotes around quote...I'm not 100% certain that this is exactly what he said! Give me a break, memories are fallible. My youth leader said once that "the only sign of life is growth." I feel that I've grown this year, and by growing I know that I am truly living!

Cheers to everyone back home and everyone here in Bulgaria that has helped me learn these lessons. May your holidays be the most resplendent and everlasting kind of bright!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Turkey Day!

Let me tell you a little bit about Thanksgiving in Bulgaria. The holiday isn't celebrated beside roaring fires. Pies on pies on pies? Nay. Jumbo turkey stuffed with all manner of herbs and vegetables? Not happening. Family football game in the backyard? Uh-uh. I missed Thanksgiving as I've always known it, Thanksgiving with momma in the kitchen, grandma fussing over the gravy, dad grumbling about football and peeling potatoes, sisters fighting over who gets to eat the leftovers in the pumpkin pie mixing bowl, grandpa giving me a high five and making coffee, hands pruning up from peeling boiled eggs, family talk and good food and lit candles and all the happiness.

But I didn't miss Thanksgiving altogether! In fact, I was lucky enough to take part in two beautiful, unique Thanksgiving dinners. I was able to make pumpkin pie, to whip up mashed potatoes, to taste and smell roasting turkey, and to count my blessings alongside good friends.

My fellow teachers, school staff, and I had a dinner in the staff room on Turkey Thursday. The school's carpenter, who turns out to be a master chef (legit), prepared two flawless turkeys, one made in the Bulgarian way and the other prepared "American style." I made my first-ever homemade pumpkin pie (roasted dat pumpkin, rolled out dat crust) and all the other teachers contributed a dish- pickled veggies, macaroni and cheese made with sugar, roasted pumpkin slices, homemade wine in fanta bottles (classic Bulgaria), flavorful rice dishes. It was the most zaney, mixed-up Thanksgiving of my life, but it was delicious and made me feel so at home.


One of the teachers, one who doesn't really speak English, told me "You, our family, all of us," while motioning to the other staff members. She was telling me that I was a part of their family at that moment, and I nearly cried! This was their first Thanksgiving, and they were nearly as giddy as I felt! I felt so at home, and so grateful that they shared this wonderful holiday with me.

The second turkey dinner was celebrated in Plovdiv with some of the other ETA's. We rented a house, shopped together, and dug in up to our elbows in butter (waddup, Paula), sauces, herbs, and flour to make the dinner. I spent three glorious hours making pies, making fun of Kanye's "Bound 2" music video, and relaxing with a friend and good tunes. Dinner was, of course, hilarious. We said grace in three ways- with a jewish prayer (prayer? song? sorry, my Jewish friends!), with a catholic prayer, and a protestant prayer. We passed around a bottle of spirits and declared what we have "beam" thankful for this year, we toasted to our health, we watched fun videos. A merry time was had by all.

ETA's celebrating!

Just a little table humor.

The pie queens! Homemade apple, cheesecake, and pumpkin. Uh huh, honey!

I had assumed Thanksgiving would be difficult and that nothing could fill the void of missing my family's dinner for the first time in my life. The day/ weekend was weird and it was at some points really hard, but it was perfect and fun. So glad to have a solid group of people here in BG to share my experience with!