Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fulbright Orientation

Woke up for the first time before 10 AM on Friday. Yeah, I know, I'm a spoiled little brat. But I don't intend to wake up early for a while. However, I had to get up early to attend an orientation program for the Fulbrighters in Bulgaria. It was mostly an uneventful orientation, but they did give us some handy tips. Like how to call an ambulance and where the best clinic in Sofia is. I hope I don't need to use this information.
Afterward, we had a lunch at Happy Bar and Grill. The food was pretty delicious, and the conversation was excellent. I had the chance to meet some of the other scholars, including Kathryn, who is a professor studying women in journalism in Bulgaria. We chatted about what we are up to in Sofia, as well as our travels abroad. She is VERY well traveled. Somehow we got into discussing how much football coaches make at universities, and the huge discrepancy between money allotted for sports and academics. The best-paid coaches make five million dollars; this is pretty shocking, but I guess they do help bring in a lot of money for the universities.
Afterward, we all headed to the national history museum. It was once the home of the late Todor Zhivkov: the head of the communist party in Bulgaria for 35 years. The architecture from the outside was not impressive, but inside was a different story.

The museum had tons of artifacts from various stages of Bulgarian history. There was particularly a huge collection of gold, discovered in ancient Thracian burial grounds. Apparently, only a handful of the tombs have been excavated, but I found it hard to believe when we were told that there is up to 20,000 of these tombs in Bulgaria. I did agree with her that it is unfortunate that the government hasn't allotted enough money to find and dig up these tombs, and I would assume there must be some problems with treasure hunters stealing from the Bulgarian state. The tour guide was very smart, and very knowledgeable, but the tour was not interactive, and Laura Yount and I ended up chatting and practicing our Bulgarian throughout the trip. Although it was interesting to see some of the remnants of Bulgarian history, I am personally much more interested in contemporary politics and recent history. Nonetheless, I did like the main hall of the museum and its stunning view of the Vitosha mountains.

After the tour, we headed back into town and Laura, Kate and I went shopping for some gloves at the Mall of Sofia. It is getting cold, but apparently the stores don't know this yet. They were all still selling autumn clothing. Sad. After finally procuring some gloves for the girls at a store for children, we ate a quick snack. Palacinkas, mmmm. These are crepes, but with some Bulgarian twists. I had chicken with kashkaval (Bulgarian yellow cheese).
The orientation ended on Friday with a dinner at the Crystal Palace Hotel. Once again, it was a perfect moment for networking, but something I was not really in the mood for. I tried to meet some people that might be useful for my project, and after some forced conversations ended up sitting with Ellen and Elana (a new fellow studying the trash system in Sofia) and eating a delicious meal. Elana and I have been chatting a lot since we both found out we were awarded with the Fulbright, and hopefully we will be seeing each other a lot. We wanted to go out afterward, and went to Essence, but since I had woken up so uncharacteristically early, I called it an early night, and headed home by midnight.

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