When I decided to move to Bulgaria for a year of teaching English, I had quite a few assumptions and only a vague idea of what my role as a foreign teacher would actually be. Now, having lived and worked in the city of Ruse, Bulgaria since September, I am still struggling to fully realize my responsibilities both as a foreigner and a teacher, but in doing so, I’m learning to embrace many of the challenges that come with cultural adjustment.
Ruse is a beautiful town on the Danube river to the north of Bulgaria, situated just on the Romanian border. When I arrived, I felt comforted by its resemblance to New Orleans, with vibrant green parks and fruit and vegetable markets that line the Danube paralleling those along the Mississippi. With the winter snow setting in now (an aspect of life completely new to me, having been born and raised in southern Louisiana) I feel comforted by the new sense of home I experience when I walk to school, converse (in broken Bulgarian) with locals at the market near my apartment, or engage my students in exciting discussions.
The breadth of my liberal arts education at Tulane has deeply enhanced my acclimation to Bulgaria. As an anthropology major, I had the opportunity to focus on cross-cultural similarities we share as humans as well as unique attributes of different societies, ultimately proving how invaluable cultural exchange truly is. However, due to my unfamiliarity with the Bulgarian language, customs, and even typical Bulgarian food, my cultural adjustment has been greatly eased along by the openness and amiability of the people with whom I interact day to day. My students and colleagues have not been shy in introducing me to delicious Bulgarian cooking, patiently guiding me through the intricate footwork of Bulgarian folk dances, and helping me with even the most mundane of tasks, like going to the bank. Their friendless rivals that of New Orleans locals, which makes living and working so far from home all the more enjoyable. My only hope now, as I embark on the second half of my short time abroad, is to cultivate as much of this experience as possible to share with those back home. Hopefully one day banitsa, a deliciously flaky pastry filled with cirene, a type of bitter white cheese found only in Bulgaria, will make its way to the United States and, with it, Bulgarians’ sense of warmth and conviviality.