My Language Courses in English and Bulgarian

A part of my duties at CEP Tomelloso included delivering courses in foreign languages. It has been a challenge, but a most rewarding experience as well. A challenge because it has been my first time to step in as a trainer of teachers, and you know, teachers are quite a demanding public:) A rewarding experience because it has been a profound personal and professional exchange of thoughts, feelings and ideas through the only lingua franca we have had in common – English.

My courses A1 and B1 on acquiring oral skills in English started in February and finished in April. Actually, our last sessions were on the 12th April, the International Day of Astronautics: what a day! Most of the time we all felt as astronauts, discovering new linguistic and cultural landscapes, assisting each other on the way, gaining confidence in our own abilities and skills.

The A1 course was rather entertaining with all the games Natalie (Natividad Lara Cepeda)designed and applied so every single one, regardless of their knowledge of English, could  joyfully join in, communicating in a natural way, not raising their barriers. As one of our students put it: ‘I have never missed a session because the course for me was as a Smile Therapy one’ (Noelia). Stepping on this piece of feedback, I can conclude that the course served its main mission: to make people realize that language skills are before all communicative skills, not only rigid grammar and rich vocabulary.

Our B1 English course was much more serious with topics from Sports and the Children through Tourism, Cuisine, Customs and Entertainment, comparing Spain, Bulgaria and the world, to Education in the 21st century, Global Warming and euStereotypes and stereotyping. The atmosphere in class was more or less the same: people entertaining themselves while trying to master more complex structures and terminology to fully and in-depth revealing themselves as professionals and personalities. Apart from the usual warm-up games, we focused on preparing and commenting on ppt presentations and drafting a Europass CV in English so we could apply a more individualised approach, compatible with the trainees’ higher level in the FL

                                                   B1 students speed-dating

   Teaching English in the kindergarten: a B1 student sharing her educational experience

The Bulgarian course was rather short. We had only three sessions of 6 hours altogether. It was really difficult and challenging to explain FL basics in such a concise, packed and intense manner, moreover a foreigner to have a personal go on it. After all, Bulgarian is a Slav language, it uses another alphabet – the Cyrillic, the phonology is quite different, etc. The mini-course of four students and one trainer, however, managed to reach its main objectives; to familiarise the Spanish students with the alphabet (and the the position of Cyrillic letters on the standard keyboard: we are computer-addicted, aren’t we? :), to introduce some basic ideas about this Slav language peculiarites (the noun group, agreement between adjectives, other determiners and nouns in the three genders in the singualr and plural, Bulgarian verb conjugation in the present tense, basic everyday phrases, etc.), to give some ideas about Bulgarian history and culture.                                      Finding the letters on the keyboard is… a challenge and a mystery 🙂

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The International Teacher Community in Tomelloso and International Trainers

I do not know how the town of Tomelloso and Tomelloseros look at the mere presence and  work of the international teacher community here. Do they really appreciate the fact that teachers from America, the UK, France, Italy, Romania (in the past), Bulgaria (now) ‘spare’ at least  a year of their other national lives to come to Tomellso’s schools as ‘auxiliares’? Do Tomelloseros see us only as language teachers, supporting the efforts of the local ‘maestros’ and ‘profesores’ in developing proper language structure in student speech – naturalness  and good pronunciation in the respective languages? Can they surmise that there is more to it than just that? I cannot speak on their behalf, but I can share how it looks like from an outsider-insider’s point of view 🙂    

I have been here as a Grundtvig assistant, ‘attached’ to the In-Service Training Centre  – CEP Tomelloso. It means that I have been working mainly with teachers and their trainers.  Being an assistant to the CEP’s educational advisor in languages and EU projects, I also have  been able to visit a lot of schools, observing and/or participating in scheduled classes or extracurricular activities. This double-strand kind of work has given my work a unique focal point, based on the ‘priviledged’ position of actully being ‘in’ and ‘out’ of schools, of being an ‘insider’ (a person living and working in Tomelloso) and an ‘outsider’ (a foreigner with a different cultural and professional mindset). At times it has been quite frustrating, but as a whole – fortunate, because it has provided me with the opportunity to have a look at the bigger picture and see what the other language assistants or common Tomelloseros, immersed in their busy daily routines, cannot: the invisible but persistent work on building open-mindedness in Castila-La Mancha’s children, preparing them to be citizens of the world. This could not have happened without the commitment of local teachers, but moreover – without the foreign ‘auxiliares’ as living examples of ‘ciudadanos del mundo’ 🙂  Personally I find this undercurrent tone in the ‘melody’ of Tomelloso as the most exciting: as it has been carrying me through all the inevitable difficulties of being a foreigner to the place:) But let us go back to my main topic: the international teacher community (ITC) and the great job all these people have been doing. 

My first ‘bump’ into the ITC  has been with Kelly and Ricordo – an American couple, a family with three kids who adventured in turning back on their university careers for a year… to experience ‘Spanishness’ and what it is like to be a Language Assistant in Spain. Honestly speaking, they have been of great help to me on the way – from informal tips on dealing with Spainish classes .. to friendship exchange of… favours: looking after the kids – taking me out or on trips with them. I have also participated in their classes on oral (American) English and American culture, although in the awkward position to be both a participant and an observer, giving feedback to the organiser – the educational advisor Ms Lara Cepeda who has hired all of us for the job. I have learned a lot through them. I suppose their Spanish teacher trainees have done the same…

Kelly’s last C1 class
  
 
Ricardo’s  last B2 class
 
I have met a lot more teacher trainers at CEP. For example, the unforgettable Mireille, the French native and international teacher trainer in drama (dramatised language practice) on her short course in January. It was quite revealing to observe how she managed to make teachers forget that they are adults and start to ‘behave like children’, i.e. being spontaneous in their language practice. She is a person of that rare giftted race of people who can create a really magic atmospehere, helping to  lowering the barriers and… being one’s ‘imaginative’ true Self.
 

 
Mireille with her back to the audience but still working with ‘students’ 🙂  
 
I have also met an amazing ‘indigenous’ Spanish teacher who is more than fluent in French –  Miguel-Angel. At present he teaches in Airen High School, but sometimes he also works as a teacher trainer, passing his experience and methodological insights on to his colleagues.  However, Miguel-Angel is not exactly a methodologist, he is more of an innovator, trying new approaches and ideas. Here you can see him designing and implementing the ‘Global Village’ project in practice with teacher trainees to see how it works and later do it with students…
 

Pontagne-sur-la-mer and his mentor at work:)
 
I have also got to know Gianni and Elena from Italy, Margaux from France, Alice (Alicia) from the UK, Stephanie, Adriana and Aaron from the USA. I have met even more language teachers on a shorter or longer visit to the region of Tomelloso. Unfortunately, these have been occasional meetings as all of us have our daily duties to attend to:) However, we all enjoyed them a lot: being strangers to the place, we relished in our ‘strangeness’, exchanging insights on cultural differences, cultural clashes and their resolution, on the strategies of surviving in a foreign environment. An example of our ‘togetherness’: the ‘workshop’ on tailoring our T-shirts Ciudadanos del mundo.  
 
Soon we all will be leaving for our own countries. Some of us will return for another school year, others – will not. But all of us will take away this spirit of internationality and joyful togetherness which we have experienced here, in our host town – Tomelloso 🙂
 

“Ciudadanos del mundo’… in deed. Right to left: Aaron, Adrina, me, Stephanie, Gianni, Alice and Margaux.

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CEP Tomelloso and my Assistantship

When drafting the Assistantship Provisional Program with Ms Natividad Lara-Cepeda, we had two strands in mind:

– how my previous work and project experience could be made of use, meeting the general and annual objectives of CEP Tomelloso;

– how the Assistantship program with its planned activities could draw on  my professional practice and give me insights on a different educational system in view of its organisation, teacher training, school teaching, project initiation, etc.

The overall idea behind it all was the intercultural and professional exchange for the benefit of the two parties – the host Center as representing the Spanish educational system and me as a representative of the Bulgarian one. Needless to say that both Natidad and me are believers in United Europe and the necessity of building bridges between the European countries on all levels, but before all in education as it is the field of developing new mindsets and changing old patterns and attitudes. Schools are the centers where new Europeans are being taught and trained to live a life of peace in cooperation with others without prejudice and ungrounded discrimination. European citizenship starts from school and we strongly believe that teachers are supposed to be its champions and everyday agents. For this reason, teachers themselves need to be further trained and involved in intercultural exchanges: before teaching or leading others one should have their own trial-error experiences so they can have insights about what will work with larger groups when the time comes to enthuse them.

From the very beginning of our cooperation with Natividad (Ms Lara-Cepeda), we have been very ambitious. We set an overarching programme for my stay in the town of Tomelloso and my work in its In-Service Training Center. The initial plan included:

delivering courses in languages – language training in English, Bulgarian and Russian.

Speaking foreign languages and plurilinguism are among the priorities of the Regional government of Castilla-La Mancha. Judging by the number and variety of compulsory language courses at school, as well as by the number of running or currently developed bilingual school projects, language learning is in full swing in the region, the Ciudad Real province and Tomelloso itself. However, as expected, the most appealing language to master is the English language. It is understandable: English is the modern lingua franca, a must for any educated  contemporary. As I am an English teacher, it was natural to be involved in the process of teaching English. Yet before coming I had not imagined that I would be the ‘deliverer’, the main trainer of the scheduled A1-2 and B1 English courses. In a way it was a surprise and an honour for me to be trusted with the responsibility of developing (compiling) materials for the needs of the particular groups of teachers. Natividad just took the role of assisting me in class dynamics: she is at her best in designing warm-up, breaking-the-ice games, looking after the balance between hard language work and students’ psychological comfort. I appreciate a lot this kind of team work. It is more like project-based, having nothing to do with the usual class routine of one-teacher-doing-it-all. I’d like to see and participate in more classrooms of this kind. It gives perspective and broadband experiences for both teachers and students regardless of their age. Our students have been teachers and judging by their responses and final evaluation, they loved it 🙂

Some of our language-oriented plans have had to be cancelled. It happened so with our idea about Russian language and culture crush course. For the complex time-funds-number-of-students reason, i.e. efficiency and effectiveness, it went down the drain.  The pre-planned Bulgarian language and culture course has had to be reduced to 6 hours of attendance and a semi-distant part of doing homework with feedback on the proper use of basic Bulgarian grammar and vocabulary. Yet it works, at least as sensitizing teachers on the issue of cultural and linguistic otherness which might be later used as orientation in dealing with students and parents from Bulgarian emigrant background.

the teaching job – Teaching is usually associated with school – primary and secondary. It has always been challenging, even more today with the contemporary requirements for both student and teacher involvement in the class process as learning partners on friendly terms and equal footing. This challenge is made all the more intense when it comes for a foreigner to step in as a language and intercultural assistant in a predominantly monolingual classes. I have had an experience with international classes back in the 1990s and the turn of this century (East-West and P.E.E.P projects), where every participant – teacher or student – knew exactly their job on pre-set topics with plenty of time to prepare and develop materials. However, it has not helped me a lot 🙂 Here, as I have had to be once a week in some classes of some schools, it is more on the move – from week to week. You have to focus your efforts to suit the particular class and teacher’s programme. It demands a good teamwork with the teachers or at least with the head of the language departments if we want to to reap some good results. Speaking from experience, my first attempt as a visiting teacher, a foreigner supposed to interact with teachers and students in their natural surroundings, was a disaster. As I was just asked to prepare ‘something’ about my country – probably some historical background and culture – I did it by my own ideas about what was important or interesting to remember about Bulgaria. Actually I overdid it: too complex and too in-depth, and as a whole – inadequate for the language level of students’ English. The student level, although supposed to be ‘advanced’ in the bachillerato, did not turned up to be so 😦 The teachers were not much of helpers: they were disinterested. This was a lesson to be learnt: do not pre-suppose, look for more preliminary information and cooperation with teachers, even if they did not show much willingness in doing so!

My second cooperation – the long-lasting one – has been a success story, more or less. I just love Santo Tomas de Aquino School, this semi-private, semi-public catholic school, for being open and cooperative. Still they have a long way to go in mastering the English language and interculturalness in the wider world. I do not think it would be too strong to say that they represent the New School, that of 21st century.  Just an image of the enticing school and classroom environment:

14th February – celebrating the patrons of Europe SS Cyril and Metodius and the Day of Love: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.1764686109373.2098961.1005749765

My third cooperation – with the primary school Virgen de las Vinas has been even better. Probably because of the age – up to 10-11 – they have been more willing to learn… by their own mistakes.

project drafting –  Actually this was my first job here. It took almost three months: from mid-November to mid-February – parallelly to everything else, – as drafting projects is a long process. I have had the chance to share its trials with Natividad, going through different proposals, prioritizing and selecting the manageable ones, corresponding, persuading people, editing drafts, etc. My contribution was in two aspects mainly: promoting a new Bulgarian partner in a Grundtvig partnership project (assisting in the correspondence with it), and editing the final project darft in English. I have also been a witness of how Natividad has been consulting school teachers, guiding them in project drafting and proper compiling of project documentation. I have been very impressed by the zeal with which she does it. I admire her drive in promoting European projects and project work. I think more people like her are needed everywhere across Europe in the so-called ‘grassroot’ organisations of the type CEP Tomelloso here in Spain is.

visiting schools and provincial coordination meetings (job shadowing) –  The good thing about being an assitsnt to an educational advisor in an In-Service Teacher Training Center (in Spain) is… that you can have an access to various schools and meetings on various levels of the educational system. Natividad has brought me with her to two provincial meetings so far – one on EU project promotion and coordination (December 2010, Valdepenas) and a general provincial education steering meeting of CEP advisors (February, Alcazar de San Juan). Both of them were very revealing about how the state of the arts in these fields are in Spain. I have been quite impressed by the cordiality, in-depth concerns and considerations with which they have been dealing with their pending tasks and new development. I liked the constructive way in which they state their achievements, their problems and new challenges. I respect this approach of involvement of everyone who has something constructive to say and be heard by the others, including the higher levels of government or coordination.  On the other hand, I have accompanied Natividad to tens of her visits to schools – primary and secondary. Mostly in Tomelloso, but also to three different schools in Socuellamos. The picture is more or less the same: talks with teachers, turning an ear to the problems they are facing in the ongoing  bilingual programmes or European project drafting, persuasion for and urging negotiation in more active participation. Unfailingly on friendly terms… with a lot of laughter and jokes 🙂 I Love Natividad for showing and sharing with me all that 🙂

the Bulgarian event – this is still pending. We have planned it for April. Finally it will take place on 23rd May. The idea is to make Bulgarian culture more vivid as one of the cultures of immigrants here in Tomelloso.  I have already met a few Bulgarians who have had their place and position as ‘teachers’ here. Strange, isn’t it? One of them, Ilia Angelov, is a Spanish citizen and a teacher in mainstream school system (in a vocational school); the other one is a yoga teacher, Kostadin Andreev. I have met other Bulgarians, too. But they are somehow ‘off-board’, in the servicing sector, not appreciated much by … the Spanish, if we are to ‘spill’ the truth 😦 The ‘Bulgarian event’ is seen as a promotion of ‘otherness’ that enriches the local community. We hope it will have a success in strengthening the bridges, the multi-level connections between the true/idigenous Tomelloseros and the ‘newcomers’ 🙂

the library job –   Strange as it is, this was the initial kernel around which we developed the current Assistanship project. At the time (March 2010) it seemed the most solid 🙂 Now, with the fund cuts, it is almost fading. Yet we – Natividad and me – will do our best to arrange the resources in a library-friendly access and compile a list of books needed for the Bilingual Language and Intercultural Section. Who knows? We might be lucky to find additional sources of funding. Hope dies hard 🙂

Here I’ll stop again to take a breath of the overwhelming experiences in this land of richness and splendor, of high achievemnets and dire controversy. Tomelloseros think that they are nothing much compared to other parts of Spain and the world. Yet… through the eyes of a foreigner, as I am, I can see how much they care about being or at least striving to be at the top! I respect and admire their efforts. I think they are doing a great job. They should be encouraged in doing so 🙂 I also think that the brilliant Ms Lara-Cepeda is doing even a greater job by ‘seducing’ and bringing to the place various trainers and specialists to broden the horizons of the Tomelloseros. In my view, this is the only Way to move ahead! My job here is to support her in all her ‘invisible’, everyday efforts, meant for the greater public. I know, I believe that future is being seeded by such kind of a ‘weird’ race of enthusiasts who rarely think about themselves. Tomelloso, in the face of the teacher community, is definitely indebted to her and her service. I hope people will realize it ….one day.

I am a foreigner. I speak of myself. Yet a foreigner can ‘see’ things better than people immersed in and used to their own ways and routines.

Next time I’ll probably speak about the unforgettable meetings with teaches and trainers from all over  the world who happened to cast their light and insight for shorter or longer to Tomelloso and Tomellosero teachers. The hub of spinning otherness around is acually….  CEP Tomelloso.

Life is amazing on the fast educational lane.  Even more, when you live it as… cultural clashes 🙂

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Why Tomelloso?

I had never heard about Tomelloso before receiving that fateful call from my co-student in the European and Social Studies. It was 17th March 2010 and on the spur of time: less than two weeks’ time to the deadline for submitting an application and entering the competition for the European grant under the Grundtvig Programme.

Probably it would never have worked were it not for a handful of very strong circumstances:

– the people who granted me with the opportunity – Denitsa Topchyiska from BalkanPlan Ltd, Bulgaria and Natividad Lara Cepeda from CEP Tomelloso, Spain;

– my longlasting commitment to educational projects and the inner urge that actions should be taken regardless of the not very strong support for profound reforms in the educational field in Bulgaria (The truth is that a lot of reforms have been enforced on BG education system, but most of them are either inconsistent or targetting financial discipline which is not exactly at the core of classroom teaching-learning process and is far from innovation in delivering contents);

– my inner feeling that I was stuck and I should go out of it somehow. Perhaps going abroad was the best option for clearing my head from old stale patterns and finding out new approaches to broaden my professional outlook.

Writing the application was an adventure in itself. I had never met Ms Lara Cepeda in person, similarly I knew next to nothing about Tomelloso and its In-service Teacher Training Center. However, over the intense exchange of emails – mainly at night – a picture started to take shape in my mind. And so the application form. It ended up being 30 pages 🙂

Why did Tomelloso seemed so attractive to me? For several reasons. They’ll be enlisted here but don’t look for some hierarchy in importance or otherwise. Rather it was a subconscious choice at the time, blending different perspectives:

Tomelloso is in Spain, isn’t it? For many Bulgarians Spain is their ‘second’, adopted homeland. It means a lot: Spanish people are similar in temperament to Bulgarians, although we differ, of course:) I knew I would meet some expats and could count on them. It was a good base for a start….

 

Map Credit: Europe According to Bulgaria, art design Yanko Tsvetkov (Bulgarian, living in UK), art project: Mapping Stereotypes – The Geography of Prejudice,  http://alphadesigner.com/project-mapping-stereotypes.html

Spain has been in the EU for 35 years. It gained a lot from the membership, developing its democracy, infrastructure, educational system, you name it. Its path into the European matters and their effective translation into Spanish society seemed worth exploring because of another parallel between Spain and Bulgaria: both countries entered the Union after long historical periods of dictatorship – Franco’s (Spain)  and communist (Bulgaria). Bulgaria is only at the beginning of its full membership (2007). It has to learn and catch up a lot: Spanish experience could serve as a guide in adopting good practices and overcoming weaknesses and shortcomings.

the autonomous region Castilla-La Mancha is at the heart of Spain. Its territory is a little less than the territory of Bulgaria – another good measure of comparison. Especially in the field of teacher education and training and educational system as a whole which was one of the focuses of my assistantship-to-be.

CEP Tomelloso – the In-Service Teacher Training Center that makes a difference.

For me, to speak about CEP Tomelloso means to speak about Ms Lara-Cepeda and her non-stop activity of service. In communist times we were taught that there were no indispensable people; my later life has taught me otherwise. There are always a few people who are in the right place at the right time to make all the difference for their communities. Natividad, as I started calling her shortly after our virtual meeting, is one of this rare race of people.

Ms Lara-Cepeda is the Language and European project advisor to the Center. Before entering the office, she had quite a few years of experience in the private sector. Probably this is the reason for her multi-tasking organisational abilities, her result-oriented approach to all her tasks and duties, her tough grip on managing projects. Besides, all this goes in a combination with deep sensitivity, open-mindedness and enthusiasm for intercultural interaction. The perfect match to the job!

Our personal-professional relationship has undergone three rounds:

– In the initial stage she filled me in with all the details about the center, its geographical and contents scope of work, the methodology and approaches of teaching in the area of Tomelloso, the European projects they have been involved in, etc. She assisted me in developing my individual project-programme, suggesting or supporting me in the tossing-ideas phase of writing the application. She worked overtime to supply me with all the documents in the nick of time:) She seemed gorgeously enthusiastic!

– In the second stage of negotiations (after I was summoned to resume my project commitment out of the blue by our NA), she was the person to dispell my doubts, to persuade and recharge me anew, to readjust the assistantship project to the already started school year, to organise my accommodation and schedule. Everything she did with ardent passion for the job and not to miss the possibility of bringing variety to ‘her’ teachers’ community. As everything in her reach is marked by her personal touch. And it is a trademark for quality!

Meanwhile, before my coming to Spain, I learned more about the latest then EU Grundtvig project under Ms Lara-Cepeda’s coordination. A project that had made a deep impression on Bruxell and on me because it dealt in a thorough way with something which still seems neglected: the non academic teacher competences – Towards a European Teacher Prtfolio  For Non Academic Competences (2008-2010). I said to myself: “Wow! This is something worth seeing in practice!”  

 – The third stage: my assistantship in effect. It started from the first day that I landed in Spain. I met Ms Lara-Cepeda a few hours after my arrival and after a cordial conversation over late lunch she asked me if I was willing to come to the Center with her because she had some activities going on. I was eager to see what this center was in reality. So I was immediately immersed in its bustling atmosphere, I had my first meeting with the colleagues working there and I got acquainted with Kelly (McCloskey-Romero), one of the American Language Assistants in Tomelloso and her class of C1 language teachers. It was hard work, but fun. I liked it a lot!

This is why I put the motto to this blog: Work and play, learn it in Spain! Because ‘All work and no play’ is no good for one’s personality and innovative drive. I have had enough of it over the recent years in Bulgaria. Now I wanted to see how it could be differently!    

 

 

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Myself

Hi all,

My name is Svoboda Gagarova and I am an English teacher. Or it might be better said that ‘I am a teacher of English’ as I am born and bred Bulgarian 🙂 Yet teaching English has been both my passion and professional occupation for more than 20 years now.

I found myself in Tomelloso, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain quite unexpectedly. Probably it is a strange thing to say, especially after having applied for the Grundtvig Assistant position with Centro de profesores, Tomelloso in the last spring call (31 March 2010) under the EU Lifelong Learning Programme  – Grundtvig. But as I was ‘the second best’ in the Bulgarian National Agency selection list, which in plain terms meant ‘failed’, I wrote it off and forgot all about it.

However, on 13th October 2010, just a day after the annual celebrations commemorating the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1492), I received a call from the NA BG, urging me to make a decision in case I still wanted to take the assitsnt position in Tomelloso. At that time I was rather confused and with mixed feelings both towards our (BG) NA  and the whole endeavour. Finally I took the plunge and entered the contract procedures with the hrdc.bg parallel to a second round of negotiating the terms of my stay and work with CEP Tomelloso.

Actually I had only one month to sort out everything – all the loose ends I was to leave behind, concerning my family of 4 (my husband, my younger son and my mother) and my professional commitments (luckily I had been a freelance for years:)  + the new duties and responsibilities I was to face in Spain + all the money issues, accommodation, travel details, etc. At the end of this month I thought I was going to die … yet the devil was not so black after all:)

I landed in Spain on the 15th of November 2010. And since then I have been on a very fast train I am going to share about in my next posts.

But before that I’d like to tell you more about me, revisiting the journey to Tomelloso from the very beginning… because the Traveller is actually the Travel itself J

I was born in Varna, a city on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, in the distant 1964. I was born into a family which ‘marked’ me for good. At the time of my birth my father was a former convict from the Labour Camps (Belene, BG), while my mother was a medical student in her first year. My mother’s parents came to Varna to help with my upbringing and that of my brother, who appeared about 3 years later. So my first years actually passed under their doting cares – an agronomist-teacher and a housewife obsessed with the family well-being and children’s protection under the ‘unfavourable’ circumstances. (Remember that in those years to have a father branded as ‘a people’s enemy’ meant a lot of trouble and close family surveillance by the authorities). My grandparents were our first teachers of love and unconditional caregiving. They were our role-models of how to stand against and unite in the face of hardship and trial. Our parents taught us the lessons of standing for our ideas (our father) and of lifelong learning (our mother, the doctor, a neurologist, an acupuncturist and a homeopath).  On the other hand, my brother and I were apt kids, excellent students and active souls, involving everybody who happened to be around us into various activities. This must have been the reason both of us were elected for leaders within the formal ‘activist’ structures of the Pioneer Organisation (10-14 years of age) and Komsomol (over 16 years of age), which were branches of the then Communist Party for youngsters, although we were born ‘stigmatised’ and thus –potentially ineligible. These years of voluntary work taught us a lot about organizing and leading peers and younger children. Now my brother is a CEO in an established Bulgarian company, ‘pioneering’ in the introduction of plastic money (credit cards) and me – I am a freelance teacher of English for international purposes. Who says that communist times were all ‘rubbish’ and ‘waste of time’ 🙂  ?

My later development was guided by the schools and school communities I was a member of. Until 7th grade I was a student at a primary and lower secondary school which was affiliated with an Institute of further/postgraduate teachers’ qualification. They experimented on us new methodologies and approaches which was fortunate for us: we thrived on it, developing our talents. From 1979 to 1983 I was a student at one of the best bilingual schools in Bulgaria – the English Language School (Varna). My teachers and co-students were among the most brilliant people in the city as to be a member of this school and the like one had to pass a rather heavy exam selection procedure (sitting exams both in Bulgarian language and Maths) and be among the best of the best. The school community was known for its rebellious spirit and during my time there were a few clashes between ‘the Communist Party local authorities’ and the student self-managing body. Quite a few of my then co-schoolers (classmates, older or younger students) are now political figures of international, national or local prominence. All of them though, regardless of their living home or abroad,  are among the best professionals in their spheres. Who says that schools are ‘brick factories’ of little to no importance for a person’s holistic development 🙂 ?  

My Sofia-years (I’ve been living in Sofia since 1983) coincide with the greatest turmoil in Bulgaria and the profound changes in the Bulgarian society.

  • During the years of my first studentship (1983-1988/90) I had the privilege to be again among the brightest of my peers: we learnt from each other probably more than from our professors, some of whom were really unique and the only ones of their kind! After all my major was Bulgarian language and Literature and the best place to master it was at Sofia University ‘St. Kliment Ohridski’. This was the time of my obsession with languages and the Bulgarian folklore. For seven years as a member of the students’ club for Bulgarian folklore my colleagues and I were touring the country in field expeditions collecting the last remains of the authentic oral folklore tradition. I also started a few friendships at the time which have turned with the years into a vital source of inspiration and a tug for my professional development: not to lag behind, always to go with the tide:). Who says that it is not important who your friends are:)  ?
  • Then, in 1988, I started my career as a teacher. To be honest, it was not my childhood’s dream. Being a teacher in Bulgaria has often been connoted as ‘low’ and ‘degrading’. Over the past 30 years or so the Bulgarian public eye has viewed teachers as ‘failures’: to become a teacher and stay in the profession has meant almost invariably just one thing They are good for nothing else”, ‘They are no good’. This popular opinion has been reinforced through negative images of teaching and teachers in the media, a series of unsuccessful educational reforms and policies for which teachers were to take the blame and ill-conceived propaganda and low payment  resulting in ageing, demotivated and shrinking corps of teachers across the country. All this was subconsciously driving me to leave the profession as fast as I could. And so I did – not once, but several times, to understand at last that it was not me who chose to be a teacher rather it was the teaching profession which picked me up and took me on board:)
  • I love teaching and I love people, but I hate the condescending attitude towards me, stereotypically springing up in my everyday relationships in BG whenever I mention my job.  So in turn I developed some kind of ‘love-hate’ attitude towards the teaching profession and me being in it, which I have used ever since as an instigator and ‘panic’ generator to make me move ahead. I have periodically changed my workplaces: I’ve been a teacher in English ‘of all ages’ – from first-graders to 60-year-old adults and beyond; I’ve been a teacher in formal settings – state schools and a university (MU, Sofia), as well as a teacher of English in private language schools.  I have also been a trainer in non-formal settings – a series of projects in which I have participated since 1997. I have tried other professions and occupations, too.
  • All my experience has led me to the basic conclusion that being a teacher is great even under most unfavourable circumstances but only on the condition that the teacher is being granted the freedom of passing on all their knowledge and skills acquired and gathered throughout their lifetime.  This idea of mine has taken shape gradually, fine-tuning with the more general ideas of formal, non-formal and informal education and their cross-sections. On the other hand, the same belief has been reinforced by my participation in international and/or intercultural projects in which it is easier to see issues that otherwise stay hidden, especially when you are immersed in your own culture: intergeneration and peer learning, direct and indirect transfer of knowledge and skills, etc.  Since 1995 I have been also involved in a series of trainings in acupuncture and massage (following my mother’s dream to share some of her professional path) which validated the idea that the human being – be they  patients or  students – should be addressed as whole beings and approached holistically. Last but not least, my second studentship in European and Social studies with Sofia University (2004-) has taught me to look systematically for the bigger picture and see how the separate pieces of life phenomena fit together making the puzzle of learning and being or in other words – how they make the jigsaw of life.
  • My so scattered personal and professional pursuits and beliefs made me break free and I became a freelance in 2007. From a financial point of view it was not the best decision to make yet it gave me the so needed swallow of breath.  Then things went down the drain: the financial crisis exacerbated the growing hostility among the members of the Bulgarian society who have been emotionally, mentally and financially exhausted in the 20-year-long transition period leading to the middle of nowhere. I also started waning, losing hope… Nothing seemed fresh or challenging, matching my dreams for personal or societal development. And at that low point a co-student from the European studies called to offer me the opportunity to apply for Assistantship under the Grundtvig programme. This opportunity had a name: Natavidad Lara Cepeda – a linguistic and European Project advisor with In-service teacher training center in Tomelloso, Ciudad Real, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain…     

Here I’ll put a stop to my verbosity… only to give you a break before coming back in a while 🙂

Thank you for the patience to read the concise description of my 47-year life. I think it’ll pay off in the next pages, giving you a clue why I have come in Tomelloso and why I passionately do the things I am doing here.  

Best regards

Svoboda,

which means ‘Liberty’ in English or  ‘Libertad’ – in Spanish: )         

 Enclosed:  CV_Eng_Svoboda_GAgarova_08

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