Fulbright International Summer Institute Miscellany

To whet your appetite for more pictures, here's Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in downtown Sofia. When I flew in, I saw the gold of the domes glinting in the sun from the plane. 

First, a little more about the Fulbright International Summer Institute (and please note the disclaimer at the bottom of this blog). This summer institute is a unique project run by the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission, in partnership with Sofia University. This was the 13th year for FISI. The Bulgarian Fulbright Commision received a Fulbright Innovator Award for FISI in 2010. It's kind of a big deal.

So the question I've been hearing lately is "Were all the participants Fulbright scholars?" 

No. In order to answer the question, I have to explain about Fulbright scholars in Bulgaria. There are Fulbright Senior Scholars (I'm one) who do research and/or teach for five months.There are graduate student Fulbrighters, who do research and/or teach for ten months. There are English Teaching Assistants, who spend ten months teaching in Bulgarian high schools.

Nine of us at FISI fit these categories. The other 100+ FISI participants were American, Bulgarian, Dutch, German, Russian, Pakistani, Indian, Azerbaijani, Greek, Italian, Kosovan and Slovakian. Included were PhD. students at Sofia University, undergraduates from the US, people just interested in the course offerings. The classes were taught in English, by instructors from several countries. It was a wonderful mix of cultures, rich and satisfying.

Now let's move on to pictures. 

We stayed at this incredible hotel out in the country, RIU Pravets, about 50 minutes from Sofia. On the other side of the hotel was this small lake. 

The hills reminded me of Vermont. The hotel was a short walk from the town of Pravets, best known as the hometown of Todor Zhivkov, who had the distinction of being the longest-ruling dictator in the Eastern Bloc. There's a statue of him in town still.

On one of our walks to town we came across this candy stand on the street, with an orange awning that tinted all the wares. This is mostly Turkish Delight.

And lest you think that it was all candy, here's a picture of breakfast on the last day. Yoghurt with muesli, cucumbers, feta, roasted tomato with cheese, dates and a chunk of honeycomb. This was the only day when honeycomb was available, hung on a frame right at the breakfast bar. Delicious! Just out of the picture is my cup of double espresso.

And did we do nothing but eat and lounge by the lake? In fact, I had five hours of class each day. I took Bulgaria in Literature and Film, Peace and Conflict Resolution, Project Writing and Project Management. I took part of a class on negotiation and part of a class on globalization, education and cultural diplomacy. The classes were interesting, of course, but I learned quite a lot from sitting at the dining room table or walking into town or hanging out during break time, chatting with the other participants and instructors.

And was this worthwhile for my larger Fulbright? YES! I got to know the wonderful people at the Fulbright Commission and the other Fulbrighters, got answers to some of my pressing visa questions, talked about strategies for finding apartments, buying phones and other practical matters. I made friends with participants who live in Sofia, so I won't feel completely alone when I arrive in February. As I mentioned in the last post, I've already said yes to several performances. I'm also thinking about starting a writing group when I'm there. 

Here is Dr. Julia Stefanova, the Director of the Bulgarian Fulbright Commission, kicking us out of the FISI Garden of Eden with a wink and a smile at the final ceremony. We went on to the farewell party, which included plenty of dancing.

It was a gray morning as we rode the bus back to Sofia, having had a sparklingly wonderful time at FISI.

More Bulgaria pictures in the next blog post. 


Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.