Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lessons and Looking ahead

First things first, I owe readers an update and a bit of context. For those not in the know, I spent the past year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bulgaria, and I leave home in one week for year two in my town, Dimitrovgrad. 

I tried, I really tried, to write a thoughtful yet void-of-sap blog post about what these past two summer months have meant for me, and how they've helped me synthesize all that I learned and experienced during my first year as a Fulbright ETA. Things did not go according to plan. It was still sappy and I don't think anyone but my grandma wants to read that hogwash. I also tried to liken my summer to a juicy, greasy cheeseburger for a few paragraphs. You don't even want to know.

So what was this summer for me, besides being an in-between for my two years with Fulbright? It was road trips, reading, writing, and planning. Google hangouts, visits to see friends and family, a lot of musical discovery. It was a great time to invest in meaningful friendships, but it was surprisingly a lot of time, yet again, spent with myself. The only bit of regularity to my summer was the frequent list-making I did: lists of new ideas, checklists to complete (or not complete), a summer bucket list, lists of good food I need to have before going back, lists of lessons learned, and the list goes on with a drawn-out etc! I feel like I spent my summer months dreaming, gearing up for the year ahead, and finding rejuvenation for my soul. In the spirit of keeping up with this list thing I've got going on, here's a list of experiences from my first Fulbright year that I found meaningful, and that I hope will be continued in this next year.

Traveling cheaply
Frisbee and working out with students 
Music sharing with students
Keeping up with friends and making new ones
Making videos
Listening to country music
Thinking about and focusing on my religious walk
Cooking and eating well
Teaching wacky lessons
Speaking Bulgarian
Visiting villages
Vegetable Markets
Daily walks around my town
Banitsa banitsa banitsa

I'd like to expand briefly on a few of the items on this list, as I think they require some explanation and attention.
  • BFL. BFL is an English-language speech and debate organization formed in Bulgaria two years ago. In a nutshell, I learned that I love it and a large majority of my efforts this year will be put toward making this organization rewarding and sustainable in BG and enjoyable for my students.
  • Blogging. I started my first blog last year and discovered a love-hate relationship. Blogging is EXHAUSTING, yo! I realized a little slowly that the blogs my readers enjoyed the most were not my travel updates, but were instead those that taught them about Bulgaria or provided funny anecdotes of my day-to-day life. Duh Sarah. So, I've been re-thinking my approach to this blog. I hope the coming year offers readers more frequent, digestible, and real tastes of This Bulgarian Life. I also hope to improve my writing: to be more straightforward and to balance my cheesy, jovial sense of humor with readable stories. The afore mentioned cheeseburger metaphor approach might not have been my best attempt. I'M TRYING, OKAY.
  • Listening to country music. Now, I am quite the bluegrass fan, but country is not a genre I ever thought I'd take delight in. There's something so American about the music, though, and I just couldn't help sharing it with students and listening to some of the older artists when I found myself missing home. Result: I think I might actually like it. OH NO. I want to sincerely apologize to my childhood friend Emmy, who always shared a bond with me over our mutual hatred of country songs. I'm going to gear some musical efforts toward learning more about the old stuff this year.
  • Teaching wacky lessons. The most important thing I learned over the course of last year was what type of activities most engaged the young people I spent time with each week. Toward the end of the year, I started bringing in ridiculously comical blog posts and zany games, outlandish news articles and simply interesting reads about our world. I think we were all bored by the "important" things I tried to teach them, and I realized FINALLY that no one wants to talk if they're not excited or moved in some way. I want to really, really strive to bring interesting, unique, and relatable topics to class this year, and to find ways to help my more shy students feel comfortable practicing English with me. I like having fun, and I'm pretty sure Bulgarians do, too.
  • I made a stupid parody youtube video of Robin Thicke's sad Blurred Lines at one point when I got tired of grading essays, just because I basically would give my right foot to be the female version of Weird Al and it was late and I hadn't eaten supper yet and sometimes, I get a little excited. People loved it, I had a blast making it, and I feel like I will be supremely disappointed in myself if I don't take my talents to the wider YouTube audience with more frequency. Friends, hold me to this!
So yeah, that's my list. My mind is open, and my journal is waiting to be filled with anecdotes. Being home with my family these past two months has been so nice, and I have loved every second that I spent reunited with my wonderful friends. Summer was quiet and largely uneventful, but then I guess that's the joy of being home again-- finding joy in silly little things like salsa in the cupboard, pandora working flawlessly, free water, and having my friends within a couple hours' driving distance. 

One last week home!