Sat, May 25 2013
AFTER having spent his life so far in the same neighbourhood in smalltown, USA and leading a "fairly sheltered" existence, Adam Elling has come to Bulgaria as a Peace Corps volunteer with an open mind and an open heart. Born and raised outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota, Adam experienced the true Midwest American Dream: a house in the suburbs, two parents, two brothers, grandparents that visited once a month; the general feel-good lifestyle that all the credit card and car commercials market.
After graduating from Minnesota State University with a degree in Mass Communication and Political Science, Adam decided he wanted to "do something to make a difference" and to share his knowledge and gifts in order to "change the world." This romantic ideal that so many can identify with led Adam to cancel his plans for law school and instead join the Peace Corps as a volunteer: "I wanted to experience the world before I got stuck with three more years of school and then a job that could possibly go nowhere," he explains.
With this idealism in mind, Adam came to Bulgaria one year and three months ago, moving to the small village of Svoge just north of Sofia. Coming with no expectations, he says he hasn't experienced any letdowns yet either. He says it's "fun to know I'm the only American living there," and has attained a bit of a celebrity status that sometimes makes him feel that, "I can't fart without someone telling me the next day that it smelled."
He teaches English at the high school in Svoge, and says that the students are very eager to learn. He started the school newspaper and also accompanied his students on a trip to Austria and Italy, a first-time vacation outside of the country for most of the students. Austria had "the most gorgeous countryside I have ever seen in my life" he said. Seeing all the "Babas" send the kids off with packed lunches was a very touching sight for him, as eating in restaurants was too expensive, and he said, "We were probably the only people who went to Vienna and drank Zagorka beer and ate banitsa."
Adam says he "basically lives in the Balkan Mountains, in a tiny apartment the size of this table". Settled in the basin of a river gorge, he describes Svoge as "picturesque". Though he only speaks English with his students, Adam interacts with the other villagers, making friends and improving his Bulgarian in this "community-based culture." He finds that expats who live in Sofia have "more difficulty being integrated into Bulgarian society". He on the other hand has made a close acquaintance in his village with his neighbour, an older woman whose only companion, her dog, just died. Everyday they go on walks together in the woods like she did with Baron, speaking in Bulgarian on the way. They then go to her house for cookies and rakia, and he teaches her English. One of Adam's other Bulgarian friends is the "sandwich-shop guy", Ivo. He makes a new sandwich called the "Adam Special" whenever Adam comes into the shop, and they jam out to music together and talk about ways of changing the world and "making it". Good friends can be found anywhere.
There are many things to love about the country, and he cites interacting with people, the "cafe atmosphere", the Bulgarian women, and the nature here as some of the most amazing and unique things about Bulgaria. He says, "My experience here is like breathing. I breathe in and take in the culture and the life, and I'm exhaling my own culture onto other people." He finds this is most true when he's in the classroom. He likes to teach his students that "learning can be fun", and he's even come up with a great way to deal with begging children. Like most foreigners it pulls at his heart, but if he can get them to say a sentence in English, then he'll give them 50 stotinki. For a Peace Corps volunteer who makes very little money, this gesture of kindness is moving. Adam finds it difficult to live so close to Sofia, because this city is full of temptations, especially his desire for new and interesting music. "I'm like a bug to light."
He's unsure of where to go in the future. When compared to his American friends working 9-5 jobs selling cars and insurance, he finds that right now he's in "paradise", if you put filters on of course. He's thinking about remaining in the Peace Corps for an extra year, but possibly reapplying to another country. Ideally, his goal is to find a job and stay in the country for a couple more years, fulfilling his goal of "tasting all the variations of rakia." He's still drawn to the United States and may one day pursue his political goals, one of which is to become governor of Minnesota. As a "compulsive socialiser", Adam is great at communicating with people and enjoys passing the time sitting at a cafe, drinking beer, and talking with people for hours on end; a perfect characteristic trait for either politics or just Bulgaria.
Thabang Makwetla, South Africa’s deputy defence minister who was hosted in exile in Bulgaria in the early 1980s, interviewed by The Sofia Echo Editor-in-Chief Clive Leviev-Sawyer.
The lauded Czech novelist talks about history, biography and what really matters to him.
Davy Jones was 66 years old when he died. Thanks to television and hit singles, however, fans will forever remember him as a cute 21-year-old pop star.
Rebel thespian Kenneth Griffith found a kindred spirit in Bulgaria's favourite foreigner James Bourchier.
Austrian ambassador Gerhard Reiweger in an interview with The Sofia Echo.