Thursday, 27 February 2014

Interculturarl learning and communication

On friday the 21th of Feburary
By Natalie Jivkova

We, the volunteers from the Sofia City Library, and the guys from the SMART  foundation had a great day, when we were participating in the workshop of "Intercultural learning and communication".
Our cool coach was the ex-volunteer Natalie Jikova, who for more than 10 years have been "working" with EVS volunteers as trainer, coordinator, supervisor, mentor and of curse as friend, because she believes in EVS as a great life changing experience.
She had prepared a whole day of creative activities and there were not one minute to sit still and get bored at all.
We were presenting and talking about the pictures we had to make of ourself and our collegs in witch we would show our strenghts, skills or just something we would like to share with the others. It turned out to be very informative and funny, both to learn new things about the others and to learn how others are seeing you.
We talked a lot about culture. What culture is, what defines culture and the most important thing, that culture is more than just one thing. That culture is a lot of different factores; religion, country, family, friends, society etc., and that these factors are the ones which defines who you are, how you see yourself, how you see others and how others sees you.

It can lead to problems and misunderstandings, if you are not open minded and not tries to understand others culture and not want to understand why it might be very different from yours.We made a play, in order to show some of the difficulties it could bring, with a Japanese businessman who want to sell some of his business but the cultural greetings gets in the way. He as a Japanese is of curse bowing but the Tibetans is showing their tongue in order to greet someone which would be offencive in most other cultures and a sign of bad behavior, even though it is very respectful and normal for Tibetans.
With the Bulgarian buyer is the problem and the misunderstandings caused by the opposite way of showing yes or no with the movement of the head. The Bulgarian buyer is understanding the nodding as "no" and is also signaling a "no" with a nod and understand the shaking of the head as a yes and is also himself signaling a "yes" by shaking his head. The Japanese businessman is, like most others would, understanding it conversely.
The last buyer is a very passionate Georgian buyer who wants to pay more than the Japanese businessman wants, in order to show how generous he is and how much he wants to buy. The Japanese businessman think it is weird and and asks the Georgian buyer if his mother never taught him how to calculate?
The Georgian  guy takes it very personal and as a great offence that the Japanese first of all is talking about his mother and secondly dose not seem to be welcoming the generous offer. The result of this last meeting, even though it is not the solution, is that the Georgian guy ends up beating the Japanese businessman.
The easiest way to have avoided this, would have been for the businessman or the buyers, to ask in order to understand in stead of just judging the other person,  feel offended and so on. They, and even more important we, should always remember that the person we are talking to or with is interpreting what we are saying diffrent from what we understand that we are telling him. At the same time should we also always keep in mind that we just as much will understand what the person is giving as respond different from what the person that send it does.

It was a very productive day with a lot of fun, new perspectives, new information to reflect on and new things to take with us to use in or projects and in our future.
 All in all just a great day!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Bulgarian Lessons

Здравейте! Това е първът път, че пиша в български на компютъра. Уф, е много трудно с друга клавиатура...

One of the great things about EVS is that it gives you the opportunity to have proper classes for learning the language of your host country. For us, this means at least 120 study hours over a period of a few months, and right now we've done exactly half of that.

We have lessons on Monday and Thursday mornings in Zazy Language Centre, which is located on Vitosha Blvd right next to the Palace of Justice. Quite a central place to have lessons, right?


This is the entrance to the building - okay okay, I know what you're thinking, but, if you get down to it, it's nothing more than a photograph of a public place! The relevant jokes one can come up with from the fact that the entrance to a fetish club is the same as the entrance to where we have our language classes are rather obvious and I'll leave them to your own sick imagination!

 This is the place where we get our капучино (cappuccino) during our почивки (breaks). Did you notice that the shop is called "Kinky"? Are you noticing a mysterious pattern here? It's not just me, right?

On a completely unrelated note, in the class itself I'm always sitting opposite this map.


I'm sorry, this has very little to do with our Bulgarian, but I just have to get it off my chest. What is this map? I'm a big geography and map nerd so bare with me, but what's that... peninsula jutting out from the East of Finland towards Svalbard? What's that island to the East of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, like a hydrocephalic Puerto Rico? Oh! Maybe MacMillan accidentally revealed the true location of Atlantis, what mapmakers, satellites, Google Maps etc. have been meticulously hiding for millennia. Thank you, MacMillan! The truth is out there.

Sorry for that. I just wanted to share with this little thing that continually catches my attention during the Bulgarian class.

From left to right: Oles, Hanna, Zanda, Maria,
Zlatko (our teacher), Vicente and Jeroen.
Maria from Spain was absent that day but I really
wanted to take the picture exactly then.
Don't worry Maria, I haven't forgot about you!

Now, this is our class. That's us, the Library volunteers and the guys from Smart Foundation. This is the place where the magic happens. We hope that in the following half of our 120 hours we'll learn just as much, if not more, than what we have learned already, and some day soon we'll be ready to walk up to any baba or dyado and ask them for directions, order properly at the underground cantina next to the library with the handwritten menu with the green marker (have you seen handwritten Bulgarian??), understand what they ask us at the supermarket after we say the predictable things, which usually leaves us like deer in headlights... maybe even read some Bulgarian books! Yes, that'd be great indeed.

So, until the next attempts to actually write a post in Bulgarian, довиждане! (dovizhdane)

Monday, 17 February 2014

Free Sofia Tour

We'd heard plenty about the Free Sofia Tour, and my personal experience from similar free tours in other European cities had made me excited to see what this one could offer and whether or not it compared to the excellent standard I had come to find abroad.

We joined the 11am group yesterday with Jeroen with Vicente. Within 2.5 hours or so, we found out about the secret of Sveta Nedela's dome and the most important terrorist attack in the history of Bulgaria; we visited the hot mountain springs next to the old public bath house; we discovered the secret of the controversial statue of Sveta Sofia and how the name of the city doesn't actually go back to her - a story that deserves its own post; we witnessed the traces of the clash between Bulgaria's secular socialist past and its Orthodox Christian tradition, and the list goes on.

It's a free tour, but when donation time arrives at the end you'll most definitely feel like supporting 365 Association and its efforts, like we and everyone else in the group did. Don't miss it if you're visiting Sofia, even if it's only for a weekend - perhaps especially then.

Many thanks to Yana for being our excellent guide.

Can you spot us?
The imposing building in the background is the ex-communist party HQ,
now occasionally used by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Want more ways to discover the city? This post written by the previous library volunteers is exactly what you're looking for: Getting to Know Sofia, the Host City of your EVS

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Valentine's Day

Warning! If you're single and/or hate Valentine's Day, skip this post and allow me to redirect you to the Wikipedia article on the appropriately named Singles Awareness Day - S.A.D.

Now, for the rest of us healthy people with perfect social lives: how did you celebrate your February 14th this year? If you are Bulgarian, you either had the typical romantic date, gifting your significant other one of the heart-shaped balloons which were being sold everywhere in the centre of Sofia as well as maybe some Bulgarian roses (the national flower), or you followed the more traditional national Bulgarian Tryphon Zarezan day: a celebration in the name of the patron saint of wine which consists of trying the new year's fresh vintage.

There is also a thrid option: if you were an EVS volunteer like us, you prepared for this day by helping cut out little hearts and animal shapes for the children to glue together and create greeting cards for eachother as part of the festivities in the American Corner. You don't know cute if you haven't seen an owl made of hearts with an "I'll owl-ways be your friend!" written on it.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Course in Project Management

Established by the SMART foundation
Carried out by Alexander from the 42-foundation

We had a great day where we learned all the aspects of making a project, from having the idea  to adhering to the deadlines in the last seconds, to figuring out the right location and sponsors; how to actually find them and make them support YOUR project and in the end  make all of your project come true and function in the real world. The short version: how to get the project from your head carried over to the real world.

In order to show that we had understod everything we had been told, we were put together in groups of 3 to make our own fictional project and go through all the steps. In my, Zanda's and Hanna's group, we established a soupkitchen/homeless center, the other group with Maria, Jeroen and Olles (the volunteers from the SMART foundation including Hanna) thought out a weekly film festival, and the last group consisting of Vicente, Dimitris and Boris (our mentor) planned a tandem languages homepage with real-life happenings.

Alexander also told us the funny story about why his foundation is caled 42. Anybody who can guess why? Because 42 is the answer to the meaning of life! Or at least it is according to "the hitch-hikers guide to galaxy". But as he explained us, the answer is not always the most important part, but asking the right questions. If the people in "the hitch-hikers guide to galaxy" had asked: "what is 6x7?" the answer would have been more right than any other. So at some point is it more important to ask the right questions -that make you think and wonder- than expect some great answers from others that will change your life without you lifting a finger.

It was a really informative day, and we learned a lot. We have taken it with us and will now use it, though in smaller amounts, when we are doing our own projects at the library.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Veliko Tarnovo

The first time I heard about Veliko Tarnovo was a few months ago at a Youth in Action exchange in Greece. Two Croatian girls, Lily and Iva, were talking about this Bulgarian city, "the old Bulgarian capital", in which they had done their Erasmus. I knew even then, before I knew whether or not I'd be coming to Sofia for certain, that if I did, Veliko Tarnovo would not be a place I'd want to miss. The pictures sealed the deal.

And so it happened. Two EVS projects, ours and that of Smart Foundation, the people of which, incidentally, we have our Bulgarian classes together with, we decided all together to head out to Veliko (Bulgarian for great) Tarnovo for the weekend - 4 hours from Sofia by train and 25lv each for the return ticket.

Everybody was sleeping and missed the fantastic winter view
outside the train window. Well, not exactly everyone...
It's very difficult to describe this city's beauty. Imagine a river having created a canyon, and that canyon having its ridges built with fortresses, walls, churches and other old buildings generally accepted to be impressive and grand.

The problem with these stunning locations is that it's almost impossible to convey with pictures the feelings of awe they inspire you with their multiple layers, bridges connecting their sides, how impressive the fact seems that they even exist. The above picture might look good, but the view to other side looked just as good, not to mention what there was to the side of that and even directly behind me. All I'm trying to say is that I could definitely see why someone would want to build on this spot in particular and then call it his castle and capital. It awoke something ancestral in me, something like the pride of being king of the hill, master of my domain and watcher of all.

We spent Saturday night in Hostel Mostel which turned out to be a fantastic choice: 20lv each for a shared bedroom + light dinner (a kind of curry rice) + a free beer and breakfast. But that's not all. What really made it stand out for us was the very cheap local beers they had in the fridge in the common area, free for all to pick at will and pay for at check-out for the very low price of 1,30lv per bottle. Let me just say that some of us took better advantage of this deal than others.

Hostel Mostel. Innocent enough during the day...

...but a haven for evil drinking games at night!

Ralitza's baba's surprise pickled vegetables -
great for beer munchies.
In the hostel we met other travellers from around the world who happened to be in Veliko Tarnovo at the same time as us. If we were a multinational group before, all of a sudden we became truly intercontinental: our group of three Spaniards, a Greek, a Latvian, a Dane, an Italian, a German and two Bulgarians was joined by two Argentinians (who had met earlier in their travels and decided to stick together) and an American from New York. We spent the rest of the night together, went out together and didn't separate until when we had to say goodbye the next day, probably never to see eachother again. Those are the bittersweet moments of the world of travelling by staying in hostels, but also doing youth work and being involved in youth projects, I would add...

The highlights of our two days and a night in Veliko Tarnovo would be:

• Visiting the City Library, home to many old publications and books and staffed by people really keen to show us around:

April 1st, 1933

Our mentor and trip manager Boris with
the kind and helpful employee of the library.

The library doubles as a museum.
•The train from Sofia doesn't stop directly inside the city so you have to take either a bus or a taxi from the station of Gorna Oriahovitsa for about a 10-minute ride to reach Veliko (the railroad going through the city connects Plovdiv to Ruse and is a different line from the Sofia - Varna one). In the station we saw something no-one else in our group had ever seen before but which all of us found very amusing: a free call-a-taxi service embedded into a coffee vending machine. We're living in the future!

•Visiting a restaurant recommended to us by the very sweet people of Hostel Mostel, a spot called The Artchitects' Club. While in summer it might be nice and cozy sitting in the terrace outside as advertised in that embedded link, visiting it at this time of year made it necessary to order more rakiya than we would have otherwise. We filled our grumbling traveller bellies with Chiushi biurek (stuffed peppers pané), parzhieni kartofel c kashkaval (french fries/chips with grated cheese), various forms of meat in giuvetsh, kavarma and kebab forms and other if we left freezing our socks off, at least we left satisfied! The greatest moment of the afternoon? The ringtone of the owner/waitress that served us was The Imperial March.

Tsarevets, the old fortress of Veliko Tarnovo and probably its most iconic symbol.

 Again, the pictures don't do the place justice, so here's my suggestion: you go there as soon as possible and experience "the city of Tsars" for yourself. We know we will; just imagine all the above in brilliant green!

A truly international party.