Thursday, August 12, 2010

Beautiful Bansko

Bansko is a very charming little town. It's become something of a world-class ski resort recently and with the festival in town there's obviously a big draw for tourism. I think that most people who come here are from Bulgaria but I've overheard some conversations in English and other languages while walking around the cobblestone streets. The hotel I'm staying in is really nice and I actually have my own room because my roommate hasn't shown up yet. Yesterday one of the professors scheduled to lecture finally arrived (he was delayed in Pakistan due to flooding) so I've been attending another course on peace and conflict resolution. I'm enjoying taking classes, although it means waking up early after staying out late at night.

We've already established a couple of bars we go to regularly, and most nights there's a big group of us Americans and usually some Bulgarians that go out in a huge group. It's a lot of fun getting to know everyone here and I hope I can keep in touch with them after the conference is over.We had a big meeting with all of the Fulbright researchers, scholars and teachers in the country earlier tonight. It was cool to see what other people are doing here. Hopefully I can make it into Sofia often to go to some of the events the Fulbright Commission and the US Embassy organize throughout the year.

Today in our Bulgarian culture class we learned about ethnic minorities and social exclusion, specifically focusing on the Roma minority here. Bulgaria is not only one of the poorest countries in the EU but it also has one of the largest populations of Roma, or gypsies, apart from Romania. The socioeconomic status of minority groups has gotten worse after 1989 and now with the financial crisis. All of the statistics we read about unemployment, crime, access to services and other problems were shocking and difficult to accept as the reality here. It's an issue that I hope to educate myself on more, especially because the marginalization of Roma in the educational system is extreme. The professor suggested that we as foreign teachers might try to integrate multiculturalism into our lesson plans. I definitely plan on working on that as well as learning more about Roma culture and history.

I had a little incident with my camera and had to buy a new one so I will belatedly put up some photos on Picasa/Facebook soon. The store I went to was sort of like a Best Buy, and they actually had a lot of different cameras that all had displays in English, though the descriptions were all in Bulgarian. Me speaking  the language would have helped, again! But I got everything figured out and the camera wasn't too expensive. Definitely an upgrade from my old AA battery-operated one. I'm excited to get to take pictures of things here again. This weekend there are two organized trips we're taking: one to Blagoevgrad and another small village and one to a mountain lake near here. I want to try and explore some of the mountains and natural scenery available while I'm here. My town isn't too far from the mountains (also Romania!) so that will be good. I can't wait to go to the Black Sea the week after next. We still need to get tickets but everything I've heard about Sozopol sounds amazing.

Pictures and more stuff coming soon! 

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