Much more importantly, the orientation allowed me to meet the other Americans here with the Fulbright program. There is only one other Fulbright Scholar lecturing in Bulgaria this semester. She is a journalist and journalism teacher from Seattle, and she is teaching in the mass communications department at the American University in Bulgaria located in Blagoevgrad. There are four Fulbright graduate student researchers here right now, and about twenty-five English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) who have just completed their undergraduate degrees. It seems like a nice group. Of the entire group, only four or five of us are here in Sofia. Most of the ETAs are in other cities around the country. So, I will not likely have regular contact with this group, but it was still nice to make the connections for the few occasions like this when we are all gathered.
Talking with the director, it sounds like there will be several opportunities to give lectures and participate in programs that the Commission is involved with. I was glad to hear this, as it will provide a chance to connect with people beyond my university and to contribute more to the Fulbright mission.
We had lunch at a nearby restaurant and then took a bus to the National Museum of History. Our tour provided a nice overview of the cultural and political history of Bulgaria. I learned, among other things, that the first gold to be worked by humans was discovered in Bulgaria, and is estimated to be 7,000 years old. The building itself was interesting as it was a former communist party residence and sits on a hill overlooking the city with mountains rising behind.
In the evening the Commission hosted a welcome reception at the Crystal Palace Hotel near the university. In addition to visiting more with the other Fulbrighters, I met the head of my department at Sofia University and a geology professor who, quite immediately, associated Iowa with loess. After the reception we went to the National Palace of Culture for a documentary and jazz concert hosted by the embassy. I only stayed for a bit, though, in anticipation of our Saturday trip to Plovdiv. After finding out that the cabs on the street were “private taxis” that wanted to charge 15 Lev for the trip to the city center (about 5x the usual) my journalism colleague and I opted to try out Sofia’s Metro system. It is cheap (1 Lev), new (one line is a couple of years old and the other just opened this year), and fast. I’m glad to have had a reason to try it out.