Bulgaria? Why Bulgaria?

“Why read stories about Bulgaria? I don’t know anyone there.”

Yes! That’s it! Exactly! When my wife and I decided to join the Peace Corps… “We thought South America would be a good place to go. A benefit of that would be learning Spanish, a useful advantage in any number of situations. The first thing we were told was that they had plenty of volunteers who could already speak Spanish, so that was out. So, where then? We had spent plenty of time in the Far East already, when I was in the Air Force. The South Pacific and Africa seemed less attractive at our age – leave the places with the more difficult living conditions to the kids. I had heard interesting stories about working in Eastern Europe from the son of a co-worker. It wouldn’t be mud huts, yet the challenges would be worthy ones, dealing with big changes after the fall of communism in that part of the world. It sounded like an opportunity to be a part of something significant.” (A Breeze in Bulgaria, p. 5)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd significant it was! We didn’t change the course of history or alter the economic fate of a nation, but the people we met and the things we learned would change our lives forever. Friendships deeper than we could imagine, deepened while sharing meals of “long, casually prepared courses featuring sausages, cheese, sturdy bread and homegrown vegetables. Toasting was always done with eyes locked together, ‘To health!’ Nazdrave!” (p. 3)

Folk dancers at Koprivshtitsa

The customs and cultural background of the people were strange to us, eye-opening. All toward greater understanding of the world we live in.

That’s why Bulgaria.

A Breeze in Bulgaria is available as an eBook.

6 thoughts on “Bulgaria? Why Bulgaria?

  1. Bruce, this reminds me of a statement made by my brother, Edward Vajda, PhD, a linguist who has traveled extensively in Eastern Europe and throughout the world: “You may truly begin to understand yourself only after perceiving similarities with people you first regarded as strikingly different.”

    • It’s part of what the Peace Corps calls “The Third Goal.” The three goals set out in the 60s by Sargent Shriver are (I’m paraphrasing) 1. Go do stuff to help people. 2. Let them learn about Americans. 3. Let Americans learn about people in other countries. Mr. Shriver would have been well in tune with Dr. Vajda on why the second and third are important.

  2. Dear Mr. McDonald,

    When we first met, I was in high school and had no interest in studying to learn something. Studying a new language was merely a means for me “to get out, escape” my home land. As teenagers, a lot of my classmates and good friends to this day and I only saw the negatives of where and how we lived, we didn’t understand how different the “abroad” world was and how much Bulgaria offered which we will not be able to have anywhere else. I often wondered “WHY has our English teacher chosen to come here to this forgotten by God place, why Bulgaria?” We were not the best students, we were loud, some of us sometimes would skip a class and find some terrible excuse…

    So why was this man putting up with such behaviour instead of living in America, the land we all wanted to go to one day, the land of opportunity. I think it dawned on me at some stage that you actually liked Bulgaria, liked Pazardzhik, liked… us – the students. I feel this realization helped me ask myself questions – lots of them – what is it that you liked, how was it different to the world you knew, and I learnt that different didn’t mean necessarily worse. I was slowly getting more and more eager to show off and talk to you about all things Bulgarian – customs, literature and of course food. Later on, when I lived and studied overseas, I suddenly saw and understood what made Bulgaria special and unique. You as a volunteer helped me see my own life through pink glasses and actually value it and find the positives from having had a poor background. You have greatly contributed to me being able to speak and write in English which has opened my horizons and enabled me to travel to places I had never imagined… The first time I stepped in front of the Opera House in Sydney, I broke down in tears and cried with happiness because it was a dream come true.

    I miss Bulgaria every day and go back home every year. I am sometimes sad I didn’t stay and continue my education there however I have never regarded it as anything else than a “home”.

    We need more people like yourself and your wife.

    I will never forget you.

    Thank you if I never said it and take care!

    Slavka

  3. Oh my dear Glory! You have melted an old teacher’s heart. Thank you for your kind thoughts. It makes me more than glad to know you are well and happy wherever you choose to be.

    When I am feeling sad or disillusioned, I shall come back to your words and refresh my spirit.

  4. Wow, that’s what teachers live for, isn’t it? Certainly not the pay. It’s a little sad that Slavka had to leave her country to find her happiness but that’s not unique to Bulgaria. It’s good though that she got the education and skills to make her choices. Good for you for helping her, and for representing Americans in a good way by being there.

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