Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Year in Review

This year felt like two different experiences. Pre Bulgaria and Post Bulgaria. I had to think hard about the first half of the year. It feels like another year in itself. Pre was all about State College, finishing up Elements, navigating relational insanity, needing a grounding point and feeling lost. It was also a semester of team work and art making, seeing CommonPlace open and hosting WHY Workshops. And Bulgaria... it was all about learning basic living all over again. It was my new start. And it the old me came too but there has been a lot more to show the cracks and weak spots... and growth. I still feel a general "epic fail" emotion as December closes. It is being countered with a reminder that I am not my hope. And I need hope.

What did you do in 2013 that you've never done before? 
Lived in another country
Pre champ standard
Opened a local art gallery coffee shop place. Hello event planning!

Did you keep your New Year's resolution and will you make one for this year? 
2012: Just do it. Stop waiting.
2013: Yeah... about that..
2014: wear more dresses.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Some people got pregnant!

Did anyone close to you die?

Did anyone close to you get hitched?
Emma Tingle and Matt Payne
Mooney and Foxy
Kent and his girl
Lindsey and Isaac
Greer and Nathan
Jon and Jillian
Kaitlin and Greg
Maggie and Dan

What countries did you visit? 
Dominican Republic

What date(s) from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory?
May 13ish
May 27
July 17

What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

What's your biggest achievement this year? 
CommonPlace in State College
WHY Workshops.
Living abroad
The small language victories
Final showcase

Biggest failure?
Evading repentance for too long.

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
Various stomach issues in Bulgaria
Mental... low points.

What was the last thing you bought?
My checked luggage to Sweden for Christmas.

Whose behavior merited celebration?
Anyone who wrote me a letter.

Where did most of your money go?
Travel. Food. New starts.

What did you really get excited about? 
Getting a Fulbright
Glen Workshop
Dating Robbie Fraleigh
Opening CommonPlace

What song will remind you of 2013?
"This is Not the End" by Gungor

Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder? 

What do you wish you'd done more of?
Being genuine.

What do you wish you'd done less of?

What was your favorite TV show?
Parenthood. No other competitor comes close.

What were the best books you read? 
Anna Karenina

What was your best musical discovery?

What did you want and got? 
A Fulbright to Bulgaria
Dating Fraleigh
A new start
What movies did you see in cinema? 
Catching Fire
Ender's Game

What did you do on your birthday? How old did you turn?
24. BBQ and Sangria night at the Haven. Shared with Fraleigh.

What one thing would have made this year more satisfying? 
A way to track teaching. More new friends. Attending the weddings I missed.

How would you describe your personal fashion?
I can pack it in a backpack and go. Mascara if I am lucky. Introduction of H&M.

What kept you sane?
Elements team: Steve Erica Josh Kristen
The Browns. Gary's office on day long loans. 
Phone calls home
The Calvary Prayer team
My team of 6 women who pray for me daily
The small victories 

Who was the best new person you met?

What was a valuable lesson you've learned?
Admit you were wrong. 
Accept the things that can't be helped. Don't give up on the things that can. 


Friday, December 27, 2013

What to Do [Guest Post: Peter Eckert]

It's two days after Christmas and I am in SWEDEN with my lovely Swedish "Family". I'm so grateful for their care. On the note of international travels and heading towards New Years Reflections, I'm sharing with you the last piece in my correspondance with Peter Eckert. In this final piece, he talks about bridging the gap between how we talk about and describe cultural transition and what we can actually do in the midst of it.

It may not be advice you want to hear [see previous posts], or that I want to live, but embrace the struggle. Live it fully and deeply. Don’t try to rush the process, and don’t become resentful of it. I’ve tried both, and neither is helpful. Let the change happen in its own time, and have grace upon yourself while you wait. God uses your imperfections as quiet blessings, so don’t embrace them, but be okay with feeling the imperfection. Your joys aren’t what mold you as a person, your struggles are, and as crummy as they are, they’re also a priceless gift.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas! Весела колада! God jul!

This year, I am in Sweden for Christmas. Jönköping with my mother's Swedish sister, Marie, and her family. In high school, Marie lived with my mom down in Georgia. They've stayed in contact and close friends over the years.

It is my first Christmas away from my family. A first of mixed feelings. Sweden is incredible. Not seeing my family is hard. The family here has taken me in as their own. It is still not "my" family. 

Me and Marie
Sweden is a marvelous place. It is ordered and polite. Shining and clean. Progressive and stubbornly traditional. Short winter days and long, sleep filled nights. And a terrifying amount of Christmas Food that needs to be eaten! I'm helping with that task.

Traditional ginger bread in the shape of pigs. Guess which tray is mine?
Yesterday, we went to Marie's parents house. It was a day of feasting, opening presents, playing games, and talking. Lots of talking. I have not gotten the chance for such good dinner conversation in ages. We sit at the table and talk politics and history and stories from Marie's time in the USA and my vague memories of my first visit to this city 20 years ago.

900 year old church for Midnight Mass
One of the interesting pieces of Christmas abroad is hearing all the terrible music the USA has exported for this time of year. Even in Bulgaria, I hear "Santa Baby" but my students do not know words to "Away in the Manger". Last night, I got to rectify this problem by attending a Midnight Mass. I got to hear my favorite hymns in Swedish and learn a few more. We took communion, a reminder of the story that actually runs through this whole day. Then a man played "Oh Holy Night" on a trumpet. I let the words run through my mind:

Long lay the world/
in sin and error, pining/
till He appeared/
and the soul felt/
its worth/...
the weary world rejoices/
for yonder breaks /
a new and glorious hope.

That is a Christmas song. 

Floorball. My "Cousin" Victor's team.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Bulgarian Forensics League

December 14-15 was the first forensics tournament! I had never been to a tournament before. Heck, just a few months ago, I did not know what forensics even was. Now, I coach the first speech and debate (aka forensics) team at Dobrichs Geo Milev high school!

The whole project has been delightful. The students on the team are dedicated and creative folks, bringing their unique personalities and talents to the table. And we definitely have personalities. They are each stubborn in their own ways and high energy... did I mention stubborn? Our meetings are a ruckus combination of witty asides, confusing tangents, and sharp rebuttals. They have also shown themselves to be gracious people, willing to learn even when they lose, willing to accept change and the unexpected, up for adventures and new challenges.

In forensics, there are 5 events students can choose to participate in.

Oratory: composing a speech on a chosen topic.
Prose: dramatic interpretation of a piece of published prose.
Poetry: dramatic interpretation of a published poem.
Duo: dramatic interpretation of text with two people.
Karl Popper Debate: 3 person teams debating a value proposition in a timed speech-crossexamination-rebuttal style.

I am not known for my logic skills. I can get passionate but argumentation has been a new skill for me to learn. It has been a lot of fun. Robbie helped get that process started when he helped coach the team for a day. Before the tournament, we even had a 4 vs Dana debate in my living room. Fun times! I made the greatest first speech about how the internet actively disentigrates human culture. Not that I really believed what I was saying...

We are definitely learning as a team! I am excited for our second tournament in February. Lots of preparation to do! I think we will bring home some trophies this time. :-)

Hannah (past Fulbrighter) and I catching up!

Students thinking hard!

New friends! These ladies were judges at the competition. The one on the left is my Bulgarian instructor!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Identity Re-Formation [Guest Post: Peter Eckert]

This is the second in a series by Peter Eckert on Cultural Transition. I would share more about my own revelations but I haven't found my own words for this process yet in a way that will help others. For the other Fulbrighters out there or other going through a parallel renegotiation, may these words encourage.

We all hate uncertainty. The grey parts of life are uncomfortable, so we establish ourselves around the “certainties” of our lives - for some it’s family, or intellect, or beauty, or community, etc. And in a way, we all know that. What we don’t always acknowledge is that our culture is no different. It’s the silent pillar upon which we construct our world. It gives us clear rules for self-expression and quietly chisels out the shape of our identity. For example, in my case, as I mentioned in the last letter, being friendly was culturally encouraged and a safe way to express myself. When I got to America, that was no longer true, and something that I’d rested my sense of self upon disappeared. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Will You Teach Me English?"

Exhibit A
Around 3am, during our overnight drive to Sofia, I grumpily tried to answer my driver's questions. He talked and talked and I only occassionally woke up enough to answer. "You know why I invite you?" he asked. He didn't wait for an answer, "Because I need to practice my English. This is the only reason."
Exhibit B
It was towards the end of a hard week. In fact, the end of a hard month. The kind of month with lots of grey rain and sleet and snow. The kind where the emptiness of an empty apartment seems a little too accusatory. The kind where...

You get the idea.

I hadn't been to salsa in a month. But last time I was in Varna, I saw one of the ladies from the class. She passed me and Robbie as I was childishly pointing towards the full moon that had risen above the busy Varna center. We had said hello and she said she wanted to talk to me more. I was excited. A friend!

After salsa, she asked to talk to me again. We chatted as we changed out of dance clothes and back into street clothes for the icy trip home. "My husband needs to learn English good for his job. Can you teach him?"

The Friendship Game
I get it. I do. My native tongue is a money maker. It's a strong need and it's everywhere. That's why I'm here on Fulbright at all: share my language, share my culture, find a love for theirs. I wouldn't get to do what I do if people didn't need my language.

But I've been here six months. And at the end of it, I have one good friend in Dobrich, and she works too much to call me consistently for a coffee date. One. This isn't for lack of trying. I've gotten numbers from people at salsa. I've tried to befriend teachers. I talk to people in stores. Nothing. Zilch nada. So when me hope rises with the thought Aha! Someone wants to be around me! and I find out they just want what I can do without trying, this skill I have that almost doesn't feel like a skill...

It is kind of like being rejected. Or wanted for my money. Or wanted for my looks. Or something else, some small piece of me. Of course English is part of me, part of my identity.

However, now, on nights where I walk back to my apartment for an early bedtime, I wish someone would stop long enough to wonder if I'd like to be their friend.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Transitioner vs Adaptor [Guest Post: Peter Eckert]

One of the unexpected pleasures of being abroad and blogging is the sudden communication opening it offers. One acquaintance of mine from high school contacted me through a letter to let me know he had been reading my blog and had found it encouraging. I met Peter when he and his family were in Hershey, PA "on furlough" from Niger.  He had, for all intents and purposes, grown up there. During that year (ninth grade for me), the Eckert family was part of our home schooling community based in the Hershey EFree church. I was surprised to hear from him about a month after moving into my new Dobrich home.

I'll be honest: I didn't "get" the Eckerts when they lived in Hershey. They were a family that functioned along completely different cultural lines. I was in ninth grade. I didn't have the maturity to even imagine what it was like for them and acted accordingly: with distancing and no small amount of my own awkwardness. Ironic and humbling, then, that this "strangeness" is exactly what has enabled Peter to speak to my current experience 10 years later. His wisdom and insight on the Bulgaria process have been invaluable.

He gave me permission to share some with you. I have constructed several posts out of his letters and emails. They hold together as a short treatise on the beauty and struggle of Cultural Transition. It will appear on the blog in several pieces.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

So This Teaching Thing...

"How do you see the world?" using pictures
 I came to Bulgaria as  Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. It's the thing that consumes my thoughts and my time. It's what changes a good week into a bad week and a bad week into a Great week. It hasn't been easy. It's the harder and happier things, the mix of both, that I find the most difficult to blog about. Oh, if you've been within ear shot of me since September, you've heard all about the ups and downs. Blogging was a different animal all together. Here is my attempt:

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


After such a fantastic spring of posting through October, I've dallied. I've run around the country, spent time with The Boy who came to visit. All in all, I've been distracted, disoriented, etc. etc. etc.

One gem from this past month:

I'm in love with youtube poetry.

Mostly Sarah Kay.

I must share her with you.

I got hungry for poetry words, for Mary Oliver and Jane Hirschfield, for Susannah Childress and Billy Collins. Hungry to read. Then I found youtube poetry.

Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire
If I should have a daughter
When Love Arrives
The Type

Food for my weary soul. Food.