Thursday, August 30, 2007

VT to Sofia

I just got back from a three hour bus drive, west from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia, in a half asleep state. It seems weird to leave Veliko Tarnovo, where I have met all these people and taken all these classes in Bulgarian. I’m going to miss Bulgaria, especially, the Bulgarian language. I don’t know if I am going to miss the people; although they tended to be nice, often the language barrier really made it too difficult to understand each other, and I would get in arguments that really had no point, especially with my friend Borislav. I want to learn the language more completely so I can have discussions and not have too leave out main points that are too difficult to explain to a non-English speaker. It is really frustrating when you cannot express yourself fully...
I’ve been surprised with how much my language ability has improved within the last few days. Throughout the seminar, I only saw small improvements. I would remember a few vocab words, but I would always be with my friends from the States, or other program members who would revert to English before Bulgarian. But without the kids from BC, or my friend Marjan, I have more and more opportunities to practice Bulgarian. I realized that I can easily get tickets to go from one part of Bulgaria to the other, and I am able to answer the receptionist in Bulgarian. Of course, there are still innumerable faults in my language skill, but I think that if I lived here for another 3 months, I would have excellent Bulgarian.
In this aspect, I strike a great contrast with other English speakers in Veliko Tarnovo. For example, there is an English speaking bar owned by a man from the UK, and all the patrons know very few words in Bulgarian. I’ve been here for just a couple of weeks, and I could speak better than them. Some of them have lived here for some 5 years. It shocked me, but they have created these communities of English speakers. There are even some towns in Bulgaria that have more English speakers than Bulgarians (many English people have bought summer homes in Bulgaria). I understand why these communities are needed to create a sense of solidarity within foreigners, but they also cut themselves off from learning about the culture and the language. It seems rather pig-headed, and rather American, for these ex-Pats to not pick up enough of the language to have a conversation with another Bulgarian. I’m guilty as well; I spent last night playing scrabble, in English, with an American, two Brits and three Bulgarians. Surprisingly, one of the Bulgarians tended to win. They can beat us at our own language, and we are struggling to understand snippets of theirs. It especially upsets me because as English speakers, we tend to come from richer countries, and have the ability and the resources to take classes in a foreign language and try to assimilate to this aspect of their culture. If they want to be accepted as legitimate members of the Veliko Tarnovo community, I think it is nigh time they pick up a grammar supplement.
Sofia seems like an exciting, albeit somewhat depressingly Communistic, capital. The buildings don’t offer a good impression, but there is a lot to do and to see. Tomorrow morning, I have to wake up early to catch a bus back to Prague, but before then I hope that I can see some of the biggest Bulgarian city.

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