It was July, the summer of 2009. Summers in Bulgaria were always hot. This one was no exception. It was particularly hot in Pazardzhik today. Music was pouring out of open car windows. Public swimming pools had opened for business; people had switched to cold beer.
The school year was over, and the city had emptied out. There were no more long lines for döner kebabs. The cafes were less crowded. The trolleys were rumbling through the city with less human cargo. Lots of students from the nearby towns and villages came to Pazardzhik to study in the local high schools. The two most reputable schools were the math high school and the foreign language high school. These two high schools were the two “elite” schools in the city.
For all the people who had left Pazardzhik in the summer, there were two out-of-towners pouring in to temporarily take their place: Derek and William.
Recently attended a Welcome to Rotary Orientation Party and met a Rotarian from the country of Georgia. She told me UNICEF approached Together for Real Changes, an organization created to bring services for people with disabilities and their families in rural and mountainous areas of Georgia, to develop the first state-of-the-art day center for children with disabilities.
The Center serves up to 30 children with disabilities and 10
adults in a social-therapy workshop in Borjomi, and the Embassy of Bulgaria through UNICEF funded renovation, training and equipment. She was so grateful.
Here’s a video of the day center in Borjomi:
I auditioned for a Commencement / Baccalaureate speaker at my graduation ceremony.
Even though I was not selected, writing this speech was an opportunity to reflect on m years in college. When I wrote this speech, I wanted it to apply to all my peers whether they grew up in Worcester, Bulgaria, or somewhere else.
I looked back at the text of my speech today and wanted to share it as a blog post. Took a lot of courage to want to give this speech!
WPI Class of 2013,
Suddenly classes are over. Can you believe that our lives are about to change? Next up is 40-hour work weeks, retirement benefits, and the scariest thought of all: not being able to roll out of bed in sweatpants and hoodies and start our days! And mom and dad now have one more quite strong reason to tell you, “Now you’re on your own.”
We’re ready for the next chapter in our lives. The last four years have prepared us. We’re standing here today as quite different people than the 19-year-olds that came to WPI our freshman year. We’re 16 terms smarter. Many of us are world-travelers. We are more culturally and socially experienced, a bit older and wiser too. But one thing that I have learned is that no matter how different we all are, there is a place at WPI for everyone.
Today, May 11th, 2013, is a day to be proud of. Along with all of you, I also celebrate with my parents who are watching the live webcast. They are not understanding a word of what I am saying.
I grew up in a very small town in Southern Bulgaria called Septemvri. I will always remember sitting in our yard with family and friends, the smell of my grandmother’s homemade bread, the fresh vegetables from our garden, and our dog’s soft barking. I had a good childhood and could find many reasons to stay but knew I would have to look beyond my small town to fulfill my ambitions. I remember a cold November day when my grandfather took me for an interview with the Fulbright Commission’s United States Achievement Program. This was the first time I was interviewed in English. Little did I know that this experience would be one of the reasons I stand here today.
And so I began the hard process of applying to a U.S. college. I had to master a language, take the entrance examinations, and learn to navigate a foreign application process. This was the easy part, though. I had to convince my family that applying to U.S. colleges was the best option for me. They had always instilled in me the importance of hard work but moving 4,000 miles across the ocean was a big step. However, I specifically remember my father spending his weekly wages to register me to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). All my parents wanted for me was to see me realize my dream and reach my full potential.
Four years ago, the night before I left Bulgaria, I had dinner with my family and my best friends. The people I loved were all grouped together saying goodbye to their son, brother, grandchild, and a friend that they would not see for four years. I remember my grandmother smiling at me while we all ate the bread that she had made. It is a typical Bulgarian tradition to make this special bread when there is something to celebrate. All my grandmother wanted was to see our happiness that we experienced from what she had laboriously prepared. And the big smiles on our faces were enough for her to know that she had achieved her goal successfully.
That night, four years ago, was special for me and my family. Throughout the next 4 years, I would often go back to this amazing evening to re-energize myself. To inspire myself. I sacrificed a lot to be here, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
WPI taught us how important it was to think of new, unique solutions to problems. WPI sharpened our desires to understand complex ideas and expanded our minds to better understand today’s society. It provided us with the opportunity to identify with people whether they are from Bulgaria, the EU, the United States, Asia, Latin America, Africa, or anywhere in between. On the verge of adulthood, we have started to perceive the world in a way markedly different from the carefree days of our adolescent lives. With a project-based curriculum, now we strive to better not only ourselves, but also the world, keeping in mind that the more successful we become, the more we will be able to give. I know that my family, and friends are waiting for me to come back home someday, to see them, and to taste my grandmother’s wonderful bread again.
I would like to show gratitude to those who supported me during this journey and give thanks for the fortune I have had in being able to come and study in the United States. In Bulgarian…
„Мамо, татко, бабo, дядо. Въпреки че не сте днес тук с мен, можете да видите къде съм прекарал последните 4 години от живота си. Въпреки трудностите и лишенията, успях да постигна мечтаната си цел. Благодаря ви за подкрепата през тези години!“
I have always believed that if there is a will, there is a way. Accordingly, I reached out to people who were able to lend me a hand. I would like to thank the “Dimitar Berbatov” Foundation and “Communitas” Foundation for believing in me.
Next, I would like to acknowledge my guardian angel Valentine Callahan, the members of Worcester Rotary Club, and Westborough Rotary Club for reasons I could not explain in words.
To my colleagues from the Academic Technology Center and Undergraduate Admissions Office for being my American family for the past four years.
To my cousin and my American family for cheering for me in the crowd today, thank you.
To Frank Hoy and Sharon Wulf for inspiring me to follow my inner voice. To all the professors, thank you.
Lastly, to all of you sitting here today. Class of 2013, thank you! Be proud because you deserve it, stay humble because there is more to accomplish tomorrow, and be grateful because today would not have been possible without the love of the people who are important to us. Congratulations! Salute!
Photo Credit: Coni Gadjokova
Wrote this piece a while ago for an “International Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Dialogue” series event.
Show interest in your student’s country of origin: Ask about their country’s heritage and what it’s like living there. Showing even the slightest interest goes a long way. Every time someone would ask me about Bulgaria (1) it takes me back virtually to my homeland; (2) it makes me smile that someone is interested to learn about my home country; and (3) it turns to be the highlight of my day. You can ask just a simple question such as: Tell me more about Bulgaria and the town where you grow up in.
Try to understand the student’s desire to study abroad: Why did they choose this specific school? Why did they decide to study in the United States?
Consider inviting them for the holidays: I have been fortunate to have spent Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas with U.S. families (thanks, Michelle Carrara, Ellen Lincourt). This helped me feel home away from home in moments when I felt home-sick and lonely. It provided me a loving heart when I needed it most.
Encourage shy international students to participate in class: Part of my culture shock experience was the amount of in-classroom activities. As an international student, I was not used to speaking up and quietly stood on my desk. I didn’t want to speak mostly because of my accent, but I also thought I didn’t have anything meaningful to say.
I spoke with a professor of mine who encouraged me to raise my hand when I wanted to add something to the discussion, whether it was valuable or not. She listened to me, which helped me open up, get out of my comfort zone, and make my voice heard instead of keeping it all to myself (thanks, Sharon Wulf, Ph.D.)
Image Source: https://web.facebook.com/pg/wpi.edu/photos/