The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of Elon University, the U.S. government, or the Peace Corps.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Quick Guide on How to Meet Your Bulgarian Neighboors:

With the anticipation of living in your Soviet-Style Block apartment for the 2 years, it makes sense that you would want to befriend those living closest to you, especially since you are probably the only person in the entire building (or neighborhood/city/country) with an up to date fire extinguisher. Let's be honest, if anyone in the building has a cooking mishap, they are bringing you all down with them... and potentially quite literally.

Practically aside, it would also just be nice to have a few friendly faces in a world that sometimes seems to spin without you...

After only living in country for a mere 4 months (what? When did that happen?), its not a surprise that your Bulgarian language skills are sufficient for juvenile requests and modest introductions only.

Here are a few handy dandy tips on creating situations in which it is possible to meet your floor neighbors:

1. On a particularly cold evening, start by plugging in the electric heater that is without a doubt, older than you are. Most likely, within the following hour, it will make slight, but still rather substantially nerve wracking exploding sounds that will alert your next door neighbor there is a problem. Probably out of initial concern for the wall that separates your place from his, he will come to the rescue - providing the perfect situation for you to introduce himself for the first time... and giving you the opportunity to alert him that you come complete with a fire extinguisher should he need its services.

2. Bake good old fashion American cookies, then very awkwardly knock on the door of each neighbor. If you are lucky, one door might be answered, providing a great opportunity for you to get really nervous and forget the first things you learned in Bulgarian language training - how to introduce yourself. They will probably laugh at you just enough that you calm down a little and start over with your introduction. If they understand you the second time, they will skeptically accept the offering of cookies, and introduce themselves to you. In English. Chances are, you will probably develop a love/hate relationship with the occasional English response when you lease expect it. But learn to love it... especially when you learn that it is in fact true that if you bring someone a plate of something homemade, culture says they are supposed to RETURN the plate with something yummy on it!! Just when you think you may never see them ever again, just wait for a knock on your door with a huge piece of deliciousness on it. THEN you may never see them again.

3. Start freezing to death and get the bright idea that maybe the bigger heater of your two might just work if you try it ONE more time. In this situation, you will most likely blow a fuse... If odds are in your favor, when you walk out in the corridor to turn the hall light on so you can see the scary old fuse box that you have absolutely no idea what to do with it, the last neighbor you hadn't met will just be closing the door thinking she escaped you. Here is where confidence in your awkwardness comes in handy... lunge towards her in a way where she might get too startled to close her door, and thrust your hand towards her by way of introduction. This would be a good opportunity to wow her with your well practiced, mechanical introduction (Аз съм новата доброволка от Корпъс На Мира... Аз съм Американка... Аз съм yadda yadda yadda), and she will reply with a rapid fire response in Bulgarian explaining all about her son that is about your age, speaks English, is single, and probably coming for a visit soon. Really, you only caught the gist of that because it has gotten to be a pretty standard response from anyone who could be old enough to have a son your age and they realize you are single and living by yourself. The safest thing to do here is smile and nod, and right before she tries to say goodnight and close the door, don your most pathetically helpless expression and show her your handful full of fuses. Not only have you introduced yourself and gotten your problem fixed, but she also probably now thinks you are incapable of taking care of yourself and will hopefully follow up the introduction with lots of free food and advice.

Now, there are many other ways to create awkward situations in which meeting your neighboors can be facilitated, but most Peace Corps Volunteers would agree that bribery and mild explosions are the most fool-proof way to "integrate" (Peace Corps buzz word!!).

Comments containing feedback and further advice are always welcome.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Soviet-Style Block Apartment? or Bomb Shelter?

At least not even the boogie man can get into my apartment!!

I am, however, foreseeing a problem if I need to get out of my block in a hurry... but I guess we'll cross that bridge when we need to.

**Please note the chunk of plaster they removed on the right side of the bar... :)

О Боже...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yet again, just what The Doctor ordered...

I'm just going to come out and be honest (something I haven't been doing a whole lot with myself lately)... this was not a very good week.

It may even have been a bad week.

Instead of allowing myself to be encouraged by my friends, family... heavenly Father, I ignored it (or tried) and hoped my feelings of impatience, confusion, and loneliness would go away. As you would expect, they didn't. I look a lot of walks out to the river behind the Blocks to try and "process," (or not process) and pretty sure I found myself in tears every night this week out of sheer frustration.

Here's the thing - even before I left for Bulgaria and the Peace Corps, I would have told you that my heart is in the U.S.. Right before I received my invitation to Bulgaria from the PC, I almost decided to call and give up my spot. I mean, I was doing a job I loved, had a couple opportunities to STAY doing jobs I loved, in a city I was passionate about, with people who will always have a place in my heart.

But as people keep reminding me, the city WILL be there in two years.

I would give anything to have more time investing in the relationships I was building with people like Danny, Stevie Ray, and Maximus... especially with so much going on with economic stability in the US -

My mom sometimes laughs at me (all out of love - I know :)), but I tend to put my heart into every job and experience I find myself in. Even when I thought things couldn't get much worse at Camp last summer, I knew I was where I needed to be and fought hard for those kids. Each job has been something "I could do forever." I often wrestle with where I see myself headed career wise, but I could see myself joining the Police force with friends in Burlington, taking a job with Boys and Girls Clubs or Boys Town, or hitting the streets again in New York. Its never been hard to fight through the struggles and pour my heart and soul into something - its how I'm wired... and my best friend wasn't the first person to tell me the other day that that is one of the things she she loves about me. :)

The Peace Corps has been my dream for a long time.

But what do you do if you are living your dream, and you're not sure its your dream anymore? I expected things to be hard here - I chose PC because I WANTED to be pushed, pulled, pressured... I'm so used to working for things, but I've never felt as disconnected and constantly frustrated as I am here. I miss the passion... Its non existent (for the first time since I can remember), and it scares me.

Yesterday, though, I had the opportunity to be surrounded by fellow Believers for the first time since I left the US.

I got to sit and be a part of a family for the first time in months.

I got to talk to people who in this country fighting for some of the same things I am.

And it felt right.

These next two years are not going to be easy, and two years is already starting to feel a lot longer than I anticipated, but I am reminded again why I left the people I love most in the world, and why I left what I do believe to be my life's calling for 27 months: to see and experience LOVE in a whole new way.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I really just want you to think about this for a minute... that is a NORMAL sized egg... with a kiwi, a peach, and the biggest apple I've ever seen...
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Before I left for the Peace Corps, I had decided that I wanted to have access to the internet, but I didn't want to actually have it… then I got here and realized how much I value my support network back home (and how cheap it is for me to have internet in my apartment!).

The other day I got to talk to one of my CSM directors from my job in New York City, and it was so incredible. Noelle reminded me how awesome it was (and still is) to watch God orchestrate the entire journey that got me here to Bulgaria. My coworkers only knew me for about 3 months, but they watched as I wrestled with my desire to stay on with CSM or take an internship with another ministry in the City and give up on my dream of Peace Corps altogether, or hold my breath and trust that He had something even more incredible headed my way. Don't get me wrong, there are still days where I look back on the direction I was headed in the states and wonder if I chose the wrong path, but I do also know my heart is back in inner-city America, AND that it will be there ready for me in two years. J

It's so awesome to look back at how everything from my first day at Elon kind of morphed into what got me here to Samokov – from my freshman summer experience with Pre-Serve where I worked at the Boys and Girls Club for the first time, to my first service-learning course which lead to others, which lead to my job with LINCS, which ignited this passion to help my peers dig deeper in the service and see the true, and relatively often hidden at first, resonation of their service. All of that lead me to starting my application with Peace Corps, and a life-changing stop in New York City with CSM where yet again I got to create relationships that really pushed the envelope on reality and the need for SHOWING our love to people who need it the most.

And now here I am, dreaming about what's next.

I know I just started this journey (I'm really only a week in!!), but I've always been a dreamer (not to be confused with a planner J).

In my language proficiency interview, I was asked what I wanted to do after my two years in Peace Corps. The funny thing was that I didn't even know how to answer that question in English! I heard myself saying (in Bulgaria – how strange) that I was definitely going to travel some, and then probably head back to New York or Washington DC. Then I heard myself saying… "and maybe graduate school."

Really? Come on Katie…

That has always been I thought I've immediately removed from the thought sequence as soon as it enters.

And then I realized, that if I found an undergraduate program to meet my needs (you know, one that kept me out of the classroom as much as possible and into the field… haha), then there might just be graduate programs out there that do the same. I also know that there are tons of fellowships available for returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

Including… one at University of Maryland - Baltimore County working on inner city reform and youth development.

And oh yeah, they don't require GRE scores (taking the test is really enough to keep me out of grad school altogether… seriously.)

Cool. J

So here I am, sitting on my comfy little chair in my apartment in Bulgaria, dreaming about what's next.

I know, I know, PATIENCE KATIE.

Cause if He could orchestrate my journey thus far so incredibly, I am soooo excited about what comes next.

Doesn't hurt to dream a little, does it? J

Friday, October 17, 2008

It's strange, I have the ENTIRE city of Samokov beckoning for me outside of my apartment, and yet, I don't know where to begin or what to do with myself.

Per usual, my brain is in constant overdrive about how much work there is to do here, and yet, here I sit - constantly thinking about how I don't have the contacts for this, or the language for that, or the guts for ANYTHING.

During training they were constantly warning us about how difficult a transition it would be from being overprotected and over managed, to entirely on your own at site. I think for some reason I thought I was an exception – that's how much I couldn't wait to get here and start working.

And now I'm here, sitting at my computer – busying myself with a project Kevin (the volunteer I replaced) asked me to work on.

My colleagues are so worried about overstressing me, that they aren't really letting me work, so I'm trying to entertain myself, and hoping on Monday I find a way to just put myself out there…

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My apartment!!

I am officially "settled" into my little one room apartment in Samokov!

Here is my cozy bedroom/living room.

Who know my very first apartment would be in a Former-Soviet Block Building? In BULGARIA!?!?!?

Hehe, I love life... and my perfect view of people watching from my balcony!

There are about 40,000 people in Samokov... I want to say about 20,000 of those live here in the Blocks with me...

My itty bitty little kitchen! Complete with a bed and washing machine... obviously.

Bit enough to feed 6 people on one of my first nights here! A bit tight though... :)

Even though the washing machine is a hot commodity for volunteers here, it doesn't work. But that's necessarily a bad thing - because otherwise I would have washed an ENTIRE load of laundry in bleach, instead of just handwashing a couple pairs of jeans in it... Even though I can't read in Bulgarian, word to the wise: the little pictures on detergent bottles are VERY helpful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008: „Добре Дошла В Самоков!”

Passage of time in Bulgaria baffles me…

In one way, I feel like I just got on a plane this past week, in another, I can't believe I've only been in this beautiful country for barely 2 and a half months.

My biggest fear in coming here has turned out to be one of wasted energy – I did really well on my Language Proficiency Interview! I scored a level higher than the requirement, and in the highest group of trainees (there are many better speakers than me, but they will only score you so high so you have plenty of room to see the improvement as we retest throughout the next two years). God has been reminding me through so many people that this should have been one of my last worries ("it WILL come Katie! How can it not?") but I still managed to stress continually. Another lesson in listening when He's trying to tell me something, huh? I've been getting a lot of those lately… ;P Now I've got 2 whole more years to keep learning!

And yesterday I swore-in under the US Ambassador to Bulgaria as an official United States Peace Corps Volunteer.

Just a few hours later, I was on a bus to my new home: Samokov, Bulgaria!!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008


It's fair to say that every transferable skill from America to Bulgaria to takes a little bit more time; and a little more effort to be successful. This is true for that game that sparked kid's interests every single time at the Boys and Girls Club, and the batch of cookies I have been making (and eating) since I had baby teeth.

After 2 months of three delicious (and substantial) meals a day, I wanted to thank my host parents with a little "taste" of home. The night before last I completely botched a batch of mom's famous Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies so the much anticipated (on my part, mostly) Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole was a bit of a daunting task…

Little shops in small Bulgarian villages don't exactly sell Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup and Ritz Crackers, but the creativity was pretty fun.

My concern was not necessarily making a meal, but making one that my host parents would eat and, more importantly, enjoy.

My casserole came beautifully out of the oven (smelling fantastic), we managed to locate a few extra tomatoes (I know, I had already said my goodbyes!!), and all was going well and good until, well….

There was a fight.

Out in front of the house.


An all out brawl.

Between the goats.

{Logically – who else?}

Actually, a stranger goat instigated the fight.

One we'd never seen before.

So Kiril kept him hostage until his owner came to claim him.

It's funny how fast word about lost goats travels in villages as small as this one, but next thing we know, my host mom is leading the psycho goat down the street with a very bewildered Baba scolding her "bully" goat the entire way home.

I've always thought it's amazing how all of the village goats know exactly where they live – usually their owners wait on the benches in front of their houses for them or jump up to let them in the gates when they hear the bells, but apparently every once in awhile there is a goat who feels like testing the system…

Only in Bulgaria…



Saturday, October 4, 2008

My host parents - Kiril and Svetla!!

Svetla fed me and did my laundry at the crack of dawn every week.

Kiril (check out that jumpsuit) taught me how to milk a goat and make Rakia (mmmm, Bulgarian moonshine).

The two of them laughed as my confidence in the Bulgarian language grew (and so did the number of mistakes I made), and I tried my best to be as little culturally awkward as possible.

For two months, they were my first look into Bulgarian culture, and a big part of the reason why I absolutely love this country.

I can't wait to come back to my little "Celo" and speak to them for real, and really get to know them on a whole new level. :)
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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Today is the day I have been mourning since I stepped foot on Bulgarian soil.

The day I eat my LAST garden fresh tomato until Spring.

The day I eat my LAST homemade Shopska Salad.

Twice a day - EVERY day for almost 2 and a half months.

Its kind of like saying goodbye to a really good friend.....

Please - a moment of silence.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008