Teaching Overseas #6: Bulgaria

4:00 AM Sarah Koves 0 Comments

This is #6 in a series of interviews that I have conducted with teachers that have or are teaching overseas.  This is a topic that is dear to my heart for several reasons.

There was an opportunity to student teacher in England the semester that I did my student teaching, but I didn't even apply. I now with that I had.

I was accepted to the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program in 2009. After receiving my placement, I had to withdraw because the school I was working for laid me off. 

Lastly, one of my three brothers, who you met in POST #1, is currently teaching English in Saudi Arabia. I was there when he got on that plane in the wee hours of the morning, and his messages home inspired me to seek out teachers that have or are teaching overseas to have them share their experiences with my readers.

I would like to welcome Betsy from Spark Creativity.

My name is Betsy. I currently work at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, a boarding school with many international students. I just had a baby, and I am not teaching this year, but I am still advising 9th and 10th grade students and writing curriculum online.

What is your is your background and teaching experience?

After pursuing my education at Pomona College and the Bread Loaf School of English (Middlebury), I have taught a wide range of high school English courses - every grade level, regular, honors and I.B., and several fun electives like Introduction to Blogging, Film and Literature, and Creative Literature. 

Professional Development has always been a big focus for me, and I have published and presented in many venues. You can find the article my husband and I wrote on Why Teach Abroad.

Why did you decide to teach overseas?

My husband and I decided to go abroad after we got married as a kind of extended work honeymoon. While we were there we traveled to more than fifteen other countries and shared so many incredible experiences. I had studied abroad in college but had a difficult experience, and always wanted to try life in another country again.

How did you go about getting this teaching position?

My husband and I registered with Search Associates. We attended their job fair in Boston and interviewed with a wide range of schools (locations in Dubai, Paraguay, Bulgaria, England, Austria, etc.). 

We ended up with job offers that weekend for schools in Vienna, Austria and Sofia, Bulgaria. 

It was a very difficult decision to make in twenty-four hours, since we hardly knew anything about Bulgaria, but in the end, we chose Bulgaria.

What was your favorite thing about teaching overseas?

We chose to work in Bulgaria at a school with predominantly Bulgarian students. Getting to know them and their unique culture and sharing my own was a truly powerful experience. 

I got to dance in a traditional Bulgarian dance concert, attend a St. George's day feast with Bulgarian faculty and help make them a Thanksgiving dinner, hike in the nearby mountains with my students, even be interviewed on a Bulgarian talk show. 

My students opened my eyes to more varied perspectives on international politics and gave me a new window from which to see my teaching. 

I was forced to try many new strategies to engage my students since they came from a different educational background, and I learned to see some of my favorite books differently. Teaching 1984 to students whose parents were part of a Communist revolution, for example, rocked my whole perspective on Orwell and his writing.

ravel! I went to surf camp in Morocco, visited the Cinque Terre in Italy, rang in the New Year at a Slovenian lake holding a torch as fireworks exploded overhead, celebrated Thanksgiving in Amsterdam and Prague, ate gelato in Milan, ate great Mexican food in Hamburg and Italian food in Budapest (believe it or not), learned about Gaudi firsthand in Barcelona, watched my husband run the Vienna marathon, and so much more. 

The cost of living in Bulgaria was very cheap, and flights to everywhere nearby we wanted to go were SO MUCH less expensive than if we came from the U.S.

Personal Development: Once thrown out of my comfort zone and into a new culture and educational system, I had to learn and adapt to many things. 

While abroad I learned how to blog and how to cook, began publishing my educational and travel writing, joined a Bulgarian dance group, taught many new courses, even coached the 8th grade softball team and the Bulgarian faculty in tennis just for fun. I had plenty of free time and so much to learn.

What are challenges have you faced teaching overseas?

The Bulgarian political system is extremely corrupt and the difficult history has led to some hopelessness embedded in the culture. People did not smile at me much in the street, and the bleak architecture and stray dogs everywhere got me down sometimes. We got pulled over by the police a lot and sometimes felt frustrated by the system. However, the more I got to know my students, the more I knew that there was much more to Bulgaria than the gray sheen on the surface of the capital.

It's hard to be so far away from family and friends. However, the American faculty did try very hard to support each other. We had many events like Sunday night community potlucks and shared trips abroad together that helped the new faculty adjust to being far from home. I spearheaded a new faculty orientation program in our second year that I think really helped the newcomers.

What do you believe is one thing  U.S. teachers can do to improve learning based on your overseas experience?

One thing I took away from teaching students in their second language was a focus on independent reading. I worked really hard to promote reading at my school, through book talks, book displays, book posters, reading contests, recommended reading bookmarks in the library, a student reading blog, etc. I really came to believe that the more I could engage students in reading for joy, the better students they would become. And I still believe this now that I am back in the U.S.

Be sure to check out Spark Creativity and this Warm-Up Activity.

Check out 

Week one with my brother who is teaching English in Saudi Arabia 

Week two with my sorority sister in India

Week three on teaching ESL in Asia

Week four from Scotland

Week five from England

Week six on Bulgaria

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