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Participants Share Their Thoughts About FISI 2003

Dan Rylance, University of North Dakota, USA
Irina Haivas, University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Iasi, Romania
Maria Radeva, Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria

Pamporovo: A Place of Peace and Learning

Dan Rylance
former archivist/historian
at the University of North Dakota

Pamporovo exudes peace and serenity. It’s tall majestic green pines and soft rolling tops cast a feminine shadow to the overall landscape. It’s composite image reminds one of the voluptuous and curvaceous landscape featured in the opening scenes in the film, “The English Patient.” Words and even paintings fail to capture its essence. The sweet vapor of morning mist and the unobtrusive odor of burning fireplaces added aroma to its character. If Bulgaria possesses a body, Pamporovo captures its soul.

My first arrival in Bulgaria took place on a warm day in late July 2003. I arrived with my wife, Billie Jo Rylance, a Fulbright lecturer, who will teach at Sofia University “St. Klement Ohridshi” Department for Primary and Preschool Education during the fall
semester of 2003.

We began our Bulgarian sojourn almost immediately by entering the Rodopi Mountains at Pamporovo arriving late at night. In the morning, the landscape cast a striking contrast to the busy sidewalks of Sofia. We came to this peaceful place as participants in the Second Fulbright International Summer Institute sponsored by the Bulgarian-American Commission for Educational Exchange. (August 3-17, 2003)

The experience of the next two weeks erased any concerns or doubts about our participation. The Institute offered nine courses in addition to several outstanding guest lectures. Distinguished scholars from Bulgaria, the United Kingdom and the United
States taught the courses. The thirty-four participants from seven countries including the
Netherlands, Pakistan, Poland, Rumania, Yugoslavia, the United States and the host country Bulgaria attended.

The majority of the students, however, were Bulgarians. There were 24 Bulgarian students who represented seven schools. Collectively they reflected the very best and the brightest of Bulgaria’s new generation. All demonstrated multiple language skills and a strong bent for careers in international relations. These future leaders of Bulgaria appear
poised and eager to be their country’s future leaders in the infancy of the 21st Century.

The European students enrolled in courses dealing with United States and European topics. We took courses in Bulgarian culture and language.

Free time was spent on evening chats and long walks. The weekends were filled with excursions to fabulous caves, historic cities, noted museums and exposures to
rural life. Near Smolyan, the largest community in the southern Rodopis, we ate fresh trout and devoured fat blueberries nesting in rich, sweet yogurt while hiding under the partial shelter of a garden restaurant from a warm rain.

As we headed back to Sofia’s urban life, we reread some of the Bulgarian proverbs taught to us by one of our Bulgarian professors, Dr. Magadalena Elchinova,
Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia.

  • If the head doesn’t direct the feet, it will be hard on the head.
  • If right won’t help, wrong will never help.
  • Eat slowly, work quickly.
  • The fearless man dies but once, the coward a thousand times.
  • Stallions kick one another, donkeys carry the load.

If you want a rewarding experience, visit Bulgaria. If you are fortunate to receive an invitation to attend the next Fulbright International Summer Institute held in Pamporovo, just go. Do not miss this existential experience which the peace of Pamporovo offers or the unique cultural and intellectual environment provided by the Bulgarian-American Commission for Educational Exchange.

We, on planet earth, live in challenging and troubled times. The two week retreat at Pamporovo allowed each participant an incredible escape from the stress of daily life and a respite from world woes. It gave each and every person whether they be scholar or student, Bulgarian or American, Polish or Rumanian, a chance for a new beginning and lasting friendships. Yes, cultural exchanges and civil intellectual discussion do still occur in an atmosphere of international terrorism in Bulgaria and especially in the forest surrounding Pamporovo.

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Irina Haivas
Senior student in medicine
University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Iasi, Romania

When I began my journey to participate in the Fulbright International Summer Institute (FISI) in Pamporovo, Bulgaria, I knew it was going to be an interesting experience. Yet, I never imagined that it was going to be such a special one. Why was it special? Imagine effective courses taught by excellent professors, work and fun in an intercultural environment, and friendships, all in a wonderful setting, the Rhodopian Mountains; now you can begin to understand why it was an unforgettable two weeks.

How did it all start? Being the only medical student in the group, I was often asked why I chose to participate in FISI. Let’s just say that I am not the typical medical student. In Romania, the typical medical student does not care about gaining other skills except the clinical ones, the very “medical” ones. It is, in my opinion, a very narrow view caused by the immense amount of medical information that medical students have to learn, which then leaves little space for acquiring other information. I believe that in order to succeed in my career, I need other skills--those skills that our medical school does not teach. Therefore, I decided that FISI would assist my future development both as an individual and professional. The three courses I chose to take were “Computer Mediated Communication”, “Leadership” and “Negotiation and Conflict Resolution”; they all proved to be mind opening in numerous ways. In my opinion, every good professional in today’s world, no matter the field of work or study, should have some knowledge of the aspects taught in these three courses.

The “Computer Mediated Communication” course tackled issues of digital divide, gender, privacy and security, online identity, and also focused on certain areas such as Health, Media or Politics. We are hopeful that our final presentations will be published.

The “Leadership” course provided insight on what it means to be a good leader in the complex setting of the 21st century. I learned that leadership skills are not necessarily innate, but can be consciously developed. I have recently begun to develop these skills for my future personal development. I also became aware of the problems that my generation’s leaders will face, in the areas of power, change, motivation and discipline, and generation gaps. I have gained new insight on how these challenges can be conquered.

In the “Negotiation and Conflict Resolution” course we learned through role play. We were required to negotiate from different perspectives and positions. From conflict resolution to cross cultural negotiation, we learned about listening to our opponents, identifying common interests, building relationships, and preparing and managing a negotiation. Because we need to negotiate and solve conflicts in all aspects in our lives, I am confident this course will be of great help to me both in my professional career and everyday life.

In addition to the enriching courses, the diverse environment created by the participants greatly enhanced the experience. The participants varied in nationality and culture (Pakistan to Eastern Europe), profession (teachers to managers), studies (philosophy to business), and age (18 to 65). Each contributed their unique experiences, backgrounds, and personalities. I am sure we taught each other things that we can never learn from books. I found this international interaction exceptionally resourceful, both in and outside the classroom. In the context of globalization, it is important to feel comfortable working and living in such diverse environments, and to be able to respect, tolerate and cherish the differences. In order to succeed in the “global village”, we need to know how to overcome cultural, ethnical, and professional barriers; in this light, experiences like FISI became a real asset.

In discussing FISI, I cannot neglect to mention its wonderful setting. The Rhodopian Mountains, with their wild fascinating woods, made a great place both for study and entertainment. We had the chance to take long walks, go hiking, and visit two magnificent caves. I am sure all participants fell in love with the landscape - at least I did.

We also received a glimpse of the Bulgarian culture, from traditional dishes to song and dance. As someone who loves dancing, I greatly enjoyed learning and performing some Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian traditional dances. I found it especially enriching to discover more about the Bulgarian culture and people, considering Bulgaria and Romania are close neighbors. I am proud to say that I also managed to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, which I noticed the Bulgarians claim as a source of pride.

Upon completing FISI, I am left with more knowledge, more understanding, and more friends, more perspectives and several dear memories. There are things in my FISI experience that I will never forget, and I want it to be that way. Yet, if there is one thing I would happily get out of my mind, it is Bulgarian way of nodding my head. I have been constantly misleading my Romanian friends since my return!

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Maria Radeva
Senior student in English
Sofia University, Sofia, Bulgaria

The Fulbright International Summer Institute, often referred to as FISI, is a unique academic and cultural program. It incorporates intensive studies in a variety of fields, a well-balanced cultural program, lots of opportunities for leisure activities and social interaction, and a remarkable setting.

FISI 2003 took place from August 4 till August 17 in the famous Bulgarian mountain resort of Pamporovo. It offered courses in business, international relations, social studies, cultural studies and Bulgarian studies. All courses were conducted in English by distinguished Bulgarian, American and British scholars. The attendees – undergraduate and graduate students, Fulbright grantees, a Peace Corps volunteer, a young businessman and a high school student – came from Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Pakistan and the United States, contributing with their distinct backgrounds to a colorful multicultural experience.

The quality of the courses was outstanding. Initially, I had signed up for three of them but ended up, like most of the participants, attending five over two weeks of full day class activities. The most challenging course was by all means U.S. Foreign Policy in the Age of Globalization read by Harvard Professor Mark Kramer. Although he stayed for the first week only, Prof. Kramer managed to squeeze into the tight schedule a great part of his famous course in Theory of International Relations, too. Students with no special background in this academic field had serious difficulties following at first. However, Prof. Kramer devoted extra time throughout the day to explain in simple language the essence of the material and to relate it to major events in current history. Personally, I was greatly impressed and inspired by this incredible scholar.

No less intriguing was Dr. Kostadin Grozev’s International Security and Regional Cooperation in the Balkans – a two-week course that offered also insights into the legacy of the Cold War. Outside the classroom, Dr. Grozev was also willing to share his extensive knowledge of local history in relation to global affairs, and thus the two scholars together provided a valuable contribution to the understanding of contemporary global events.

During the second week of the seminar, the International Relations sequence was topped by a course on the future of the European Union from a legal perspective taught by a team of two UK lawyers, lecturers and scholars - Prof. Jo Carby-Hall and his assistant, Dianne Ryland. To nobody’s surprise, this course also blurred the borders between the academic and the leisurely: the EU was discussed during walks in the beautiful area and the lecturers shared their European travel experiences in class. In this sense FISI exemplified how advanced academic study can be involving and entertaining, and proved that humor, relaxation and fun are not strange to great researchers and scholars.

The Business and Social Studies modules of the seminar consisted of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and Leadership in the 21st Century. These courses featured two memorable characters, who became everyone’s favorites for their creativity and spirit – Prof. George Siedel from the University of Michigan and Dr. Tim Ilg from the University of Dayton, Ohio. Prof. Siedel’s course was first thing in the morning, and Dr. Ilg closed the parade at 5 p.m. Using the famous Michigan-Ohio rivalry as plot, they drew many connections between the two classes and made time go by fast. Challenging the rivalry, however, the two professors became friends and we often saw them strolling along the Pamporovo trails together.

Judging from the courses I attended, I suppose that the other three – Computer Mediated Communication in International and Intercultural Contexts with Dr. Noemi Marin, Cultural Traditions in Bulgaria with Dr. Tzvete Lazova and Social Psychological Issues for Public Policy with Prof. Elka Todorova were equally great.

Even though it was not possible to enroll for all courses, the rich cultural program provided opportunities to meet virtually everybody from the seminar and to get to know many of the participants really well. The wonderful Fulbright staff had organized several trips for us – to Trigrad and the Yagodina cave, to Smolyan and Plovdiv – and several warm and festive dinners in a traditional Bulgarian setting, intensified by life folklore music and dancing. A lot of dancing. For the younger participants, the dance sessions regularly continued in the hotel’s club till the early morning hours. Alternatively, dinners sometimes transformed into free-style discussions in the hotel’s lobby or improvised bike rides down the mountain hills and along the roads at night.

All in one – that is what made FISI 2003 unique.

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