Alumna and Fulbright scholar, Erika Sanders ’13, is spending a year teaching English at a foreign language high school in the Bulgarian town of Ruse, near the Danube River. She dropped us a note about her experiences as a teacher, myth buster and what her students have taught her.
Often I feel like my conversations with students about the United States are more like an episode of myth busters than an academic discussion. “Yes, there are nice beaches in Orange County. No, not everyone there has had plastic surgery.” Most of what my students know about the U.S. is based on what they see on American TV shows like Two and a Half Men or Desperate Housewives. Having the opportunity to share pictures and stories from my life with my students has been a great way to both build relationships with them and to give them a sense of what daily life is like for many Americans.
In addition to getting to tell my students about my country, I have the privilege of them sharing their experiences and their favorite aspects of Bulgarian culture with me. My initial impression of Bulgaria was that there was a sense of despair that seemed to permeate all areas of life. Through interacting with my students I have learned that this outward pessimism is really a shell that protects fragile hopes and dreams. The hope that Bulgaria will once again be a prosperous cultural and economic hub. The hope that attending university abroad will become a reality.
My students have such a love for their country and they light up when they have an opportunity to talk to me about it. I can see in their eyes how hungry they are for someone to listen to them and ask them questions about their experiences. As one of my 9th graders told me, “When people like you, foreigners, come here it is like a ray of light. No one ever asks us about what is happening. No one knows what is happening. We never get to tell people the truth about what our country is like.” I came to Bulgaria to teach English but many days I feel like I am the student. My teachers are 206 bright, passionate Bulgarian teenagers.