As I sat in English classes at George Mason University, I didn't realize that the door to a dream was beginning to creak open. Last year, it opened all the way, and I went to Bulgaria to teach English as a Peace Corps volunteer.
In the spring, my town of Stara Zagora will be decorated with lovely lime and almond trees that overhang the wide pedestrian streets and scent the air with a delicate, pleasing fragrance. In a nearby valley, fields of roses will bloom, and in the summer, giant sunflowers will blossom along the passage to Sofia.
Of course, there is a down side. The economy accounts for much of that. When communism disappeared from this small, Balkan country, security went with it. Suddenly, people were faced with a new system for which they were not prepared. It was a little like leaving home with no money, and then realizing there are no telephones or banks. Nevertheless, the people prevailed with peaceful determination, as they have done for centuries in the face of overwhelming challenges, and they are succeeding. The Peace Corps was invited to come to Bulgaria in 1991. Today, there are nearly 100 volunteer teachers, businessmen and -women, and ecologists.
I teach English in a Russian language school. Most of the students and teachers have never met a native English speaker, much less one from the United States, so conversation is always very interesting. Here, grades are everything. Students compete, via grades, for placement in the secondary school of their choice. Language schools, which stress the learning of various languages, are considered to be the most prestigious since they require the highest scores. My students are proficient in at least three languages, and in many cases, it's easy to forget that English is not the first¬or even second¬but third. Few students take the SAT, but those who do rarely score lower than 1300. These accomplishments are achieved without the benefit of computers or science labs since few schools have either. The sciences are taught using textbooks, with no hands-on experience.
There are so many opportunities here to be of service! When I asked my ninth graders how they could help their community, they instantly named a dozen or more ideas and were eager to begin. They formed a Teen Volunteer Club and have collected and distributed used clothing for an orphanage. This summer, they're going to paint the benches in the central park, where many pensioners spend the warm days.
I would love to receive mail from my fellow alumni! Please write to me via e-mail at email@example.com or send your letters to Judy Knop, c/o Peace Corps, P.O. Box 259, Sofia 1000, Bulgaria.