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Participants Share Their Thoughts About FISI 2004

Maria Nikolova, Vassar College, NY, USA
Rosarie Tucci, Fulbright Student in AY 2003-2004
Stanislav A. Kim, Westminster International University in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

FISI 2004: A Memorable Summer Experience

Maria Nikolova
Vassar College, NY

I have started to write this article way too many times to make it catchy and interesting. However, not my writing skills but the article topic is of actual importance here.

FISI 2004 is one of those summer experiences, which combines intellectual challenge with international awareness and culture appreciation. As such, it has been the highlight of my summer and has brought a lot of perspectives into my own studies and activities.

The two main aspects of FISI 2004, which made it unique for a summer seminar in Bulgaria, were the diversity of courses in the social sciences and the remarkable competency of the professors. While in Pamporovo, I was able to take seminars on foreign policy, conflict resolution, European Law, globalization, and ethnic conflict. This is a wide range of political and economic topics, many of which are not readily available in some university/liberal arts educational systems. In addition to those courses, seminars in multicultural communication and teaching strategies were taught and that provided a completely different sphere of interests for the FISI participants. The topics of the seminars allowed for a wonderful blend of perspectives on certain issues. It was fascinating to have the ethnic conflict background as a preparation for a simulation on the Cyprus conflict or discuss the prisoner’s dilemma in conflict negotiation strategies. Finally, the seminars were well balanced with the rest of the daily activities, so one could always extend class discussions in the nearby café or over a walk around the beautiful mountains.

The flexibility, professionalism, and dedication of the professors made the FISI 2004 classes more than just an academic experience. I was impressed at the number of renowned scholars who taught us over those two weeks! It was one of my reasons to choose to do FISI 2004 and it was the best aspect of the program. I had the chance to be in the classes of and talk to Prof. Jo-Carby Hall and Prof. Diane Ryland from University of Hull in London, Dr. Dinko Dinkov from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, and Prof. George Siedel from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They were all extremely approachable people and were always ready to elaborate on the issues we discussed. During my free time at Pamporovo I often had the chance to talk to them informally and that made my academic experience all the more worthwhile, since I learned a lot about out-of-class topics from our conversations.

While the courses were crucial to the success of FISI 2004, the people were the ones who really turned it into a memorable experience. In the bus on the way to Pamporovo, I had already met most people, but later, during the welcoming dinner, the outdoor activities, and the casual talks, I got to know them much better and truly enjoyed my time with them. The most amazing thing was the fact that people of all ages and backgrounds came together and appreciated their interaction with each other. My roommate, for example, was about twenty years older than me and we had almost nothing in common but we learned a lot about each other and enjoyed every minute of our time together! I also learned a lot about myself through her. My closest people on the program were all from different countries: Bulgaria, USA, India…and we spent hours talking about our own stories and expectations. FISI brought all of us together and gave us a chance to see ourselves through the others.

Of course, I couldn’t talk about FISI without pointing out the amazing conditions and free-time activities it offered. I am thinking of hikes, exploring caves, playing basketball, and swimming. I am thinking of the beautiful and comfortable rooms in hotel “Murgavets” and hotel “Prespa” and the Sky Bar. I am thinking of the delicious buffet meals. And, of course, I am thinking of the “Chewermeto” goodbye-dinner, which I could not attend but heard was the culmination of the program. I can’t really imagine FISI without those “extras.” The FISI staff is to be blamed for this success! I doubt there was a better way of putting things together for this summer seminar and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to be part of it. I am sure I will keep in touch with the people from FISI 2004 and maybe even see them again next year! Because I am definitely coming back!!

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Rosarie Tucci
Fulbright Student in AY 2003-2004

Upon my arrival in Bulgaria in September 2003 as a Fulbright Fellow, I heard numerous words of praise about FISI from incoming Fulbrighters and other participants. Some simply described it as “magical,” while others could only respond, “you just need to experience it.” I was unable to attend FISI that summer, but after hearing these comments I could not pass up the opportunity to attend the program the following summer. After attending FISI, I can only confirm these remarks of admiration and add my own expressions of praise. From the onset, I observed the thoroughness of the program including the unique composition of participants, the excellent academic and extracurricular activities, and the serene location amidst the Rhodopian Mountain Range. It lived up to all my expectations and I pass this article along with highest recommendation for others to partake in the experience.

All of the participants possessed enthusiastic and lively personalities, as if it were a mandatory part of the FISI application requirements,. The energetic character of the participants was evident on numerous occasions. Most obvious of occasions was at the welcome dinner where the dance floor spilled over its borders. As participants circled the floor to Bulgarian Folk music, their smiles extended, even despite the continuous trampling on their feet. Another notable occasion was during the daily meals, where constant chatter caused perpetual lateness to class. It was also vividly present in the classroom where participant’s questions could have easily consumed the entire seventy-five minute class. The participants shared this unique explosion of passionate character, and it truly brought the group together. Moreover, the diversity of the group provided the real opportunity for cultural exchange. Upon asking my friend, Stanislav, at least 30 question regarding his life in Uzbekistan, I remarked that this encounter was more influential and useful than any 300 page book I could have read about his country. This experience was not abnormal. In fact, this aspect of learning through interaction and exchange of experience became the quintessential value of this program. I learned about the nuclear situation in Bulgaria as I inquired more about Julie’s upcoming Fulbright project. And who knew I would discover more about my own country, as my fellow participant Gloria described to me the racial struggles within Northern America.

The stimulating classes were another indication of the success of the program. Class time began after breakfast at approximately nine and for me, continued throughout the day until seven in the evening. Although one could choose anywhere from one to three classes, I decided on all three. Enrolling in three courses per day, equating to 9 hours of class time, was a heavy load, but my decision to do so exemplified my excitement for the classes. Because the structure of the FISI program allows for flexibility in choosing classes, I was able to choose the ones I most enjoyed. However, after attending three, they were all equally challenging and it became too difficult to choose. From class to class, the time flew by as my notebook rapidly filled up with sentence after sentence of insights and analysis. These classes, Globalization, the New International Order and Transatlantic Security, Dilemmas and Conflicts within the New World Order, Legal Aspects of an Enlarged European Union, and International Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy in the Age of Globalization, included a healthy mixture of lecture, discussion, Q & A, and practical and theoretical analysis on topics including politics, law, international relations and a variety of other fields. The lectors came from various backgrounds such as Bulgarian, American, and British and each brought their own style and intrigue to the classroom. Dr. Minchev brought an invaluable Bulgarian perspective, as did Dr. Mincheva during her thorough analysis of the Balkan ethnic conflicts. Dr. Ryland and Professor Carby-Hall portrayed a certain dynamism as they presented differing views on the Enlarged European Union. Professor Kramer conveyed various rationales for past American foreign policy while invoking possible influences on future policy making. The other classes provided an introduction to Bulgarian Society to foreigners and incoming Fulbrighters including such topics as Bulgarian customs, language, and history. This was an exceptional opportunity for incoming Fulbrighters to spend a few weeks discovering some of the traditions that have come to define the Bulgarian culture.

Lastly, the destination spot, Pamporovo, provided the perfect ambience for a relaxing stay. Located in the Pamporovo Resort, I witnessed numerous individuals taking a quick dip in the pool between classes, or scheduling in an afternoon massage. For many women, receiving an algae wrap was the highlight of the day. As for myself, I indulged in a day of relaxation, taking advantage of the hot tub and sauna room, followed by a two hour pool rest. As if the resort was not enough, the signature trademark of the program became its location amidst the tranquility and beauty of the Rhodopian Mountains. Despite my full class schedule, I still managed to go on 5 jogs in 7 days simply because it was too tempting not to discover and experience the nature and beautiful view. I was certainly never alone as the pathway was filled with other spectators enjoying the splendor of the mountain range This impression of spectacular beauty was confirmed by others as I listened to them tell me of their 3 hour hikes to the tower, or their 5 am morning walks.

The combination of these three elements, the enthusiastic and diverse composition of the participants, the challenging classes and stimulating professors, and the serene and majestic location of the program, truly created this “magical” experience as once described to me. In the end, to understand FISI’s magic, I did “just need to experience it.”

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Stanislav A. Kim
Law student at Westminster International University in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

At this moment, upon completion of the 3rd Fulbright International Summer Institute (FISI) I can surely state that FISI is a unique academic and cultural program, as it includes intensive studies on politics, international relations and culture taught by distinguished American, European and Bulgarian professors and rich cultural program, which includes trips to natural and historical sites, concerts and ethnic evenings and very importantly a great opportunity for social interaction with people from all over the world.

First of all, I would mention that my Bulgarian experience started not with FISI, although it certainly was main reason of my arrival in Bulgaria, but with the 6th Fulbright Conference (Strengthening Transatlantic Cooperation and European Integration through Educational and Cultural Exchange), which was held in Pamporovo from July 31 to August 1, 2004. The Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission kindly agreed to let me attend the Conference, as I arrived in Bulgaria 4 days before the Fulbright International Summer Institute due to the only weekly flight to Bulgaria from Tashkent. Within the framework of the Conference around 50 distinguished scholars and educators discussed the role of education and academic exchanges, patterns of transatlantic interactions in the context of EU enlargement, challenges of intercultural communication, international cooperation in the Black sea region, national identity and migration, the role of the humanities and the media in the formation of cultural identities as well as many other issues related to the main theme. Apart from highly interesting and useful discussions, it was remarkable to get acquainted with scholars themselves and talk about the variety of topics. The fact that the professors demonstrated profound interest in Uzbekistan and recent developments in basically all spheres of social life was quite surprising to me, but I believe that I managed to satisfy the interest and expand their knowledge about my home country.

The 3rd Fulbright International Summer Institute, which followed the 6th Fulbright Conference was also held in the renowned mountain resort of Pamporovo, which is located in the heart of the legendary Rhodope Mountains, about a hundred miles southeast of Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia. The FISI 2004 took place from August 2 till August 14 and offered courses in international relations, law, social and cultural studies. The Fulbright grantees, university faculty, undergraduate and graduate students from 7 countries of the world (Bulgaria, USA, Poland, Russia, Georgia, UK and Uzbekistan) participated in the Institute and composed a unique combination of cultures, where every participant had a lot to share, learn and discover. It is important to note the admirable quality of FISI lectures: I attended 5 courses over two weeks, as they were extremely interesting and valuable, although initially I had signed up for 3. During the first week I attended the following courses:

  • International relations and U.S. foreign policy in the age of globalization
  • The course was delivered by Professor Mark Kramer from Harvard University, USA and provided an overview of American foreign policy and the international system in the post-Cold War era. We studied theoretical implications of international relations, cases of military intervention as well as non-intervention, the role of United Nations, North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), European Union and other organizations in the international system. The limitations on US foreign policy were covered and the role of the United States on international arena was assessed. Students were given a final examination at the end of the course and we together with Rosarie Ticci (Fulbright alumna, USA) produced a presentation on the major domestic and international constraints on US foreign policy over the past 15 years. It should be noted that Professor Kramer was always willing to answer any questions outside the classroom and many of his students, including me, gathered in the restaurant during the dinner and discussed the topic for a couple of hours. This really helped to analyze the material and expand the knowledge in the field of international relations.

  • Legal aspects of an enlarged European Union
  • Professor Jo Carby-Hall from University of Hull, UK and Dr. Diane Ryland from University of Lincoln, UK had excellently taught a very informative course on legal aspects of European Union. The lectures significantly expanded my knowledge about the European Union and particularly covered the European Union Institutions, The Founding Treaties, The Charter of Fundamental Rights of EU, provided an analysis of the significance of the European Collective Agreement and discussed potential developments within the EU structure. The course was very interactive and revealed how legal studies can be informative and at the same time entertaining.

  • Globalization, the new international order and transatlantic security
  • Dr. Ognyan Minchev, from Sofia University, Bulgaria led the course, which covered world politics, the stages of globalization, and the impact of globalization on the new international order. In addition, the role of international institutions in the world order was emphasized. It was a very interesting course, which provided a lot of information for further analysis on international relations.

  • Theories of ethnic conflict
  • The course, delivered by Dr. Lyubov Mincheva from Sofia University, Bulgaria was focused on major theories and ethnic conflicts as well as peaceful settlements in the Balkans and Central Africa. It incorporated ethnopolitical conflict, trends in conflict development in the post-Cold War era, nature and potential of conflict, international approaches to conflict management and techniques for conflict transformation.

    The Fulbright staff had organized a trip to Trigrad and the Yagodina Cave that weekend and I was fascinated by the magnificence of Rhodope Mountains and fabulous Caves. I also would like mention that it was incredible to learn Bulgarian dances and listen to unique folk music during the warm dinners.
    During the second FISI week I participated in the following courses:

  • Negotiation and conflict resolution
  • The negotiation and conflict resolution course with Prof. George Siedel from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA was very interactive, as we learnt through role plays. The topics covered negotiation strategies, a legal and ethical framework for negotiation, traps that may arise during negotiation and cross-cultural negotiation. The exercises taught us to identify common interests, build reliable relations and manage the negotiation to the benefit of both parties. I am disposed to think that this course will be of great value in my future career as a lawyer.

  • Intercultural and international communication: Challenges for global Interaction in the 21st century
  • The course was delivered by Dr. Noemi Marin from Florida Atlantic University, USA and covered the most important concepts, challenges, and strategies related to intercultural and international communication in the new contexts of the 21st century. Dr. Marin thoroughly analyzed the differences and similarities between cultures and at the same time the students with distinct cultural backgrounds contributed to the course by sharing their thoughts on the topic.

    An open and friendly atmosphere of attendees and lecturers resulted in pleasant and informative conversations after the lectures in the hotel’s restaurant, lobby as well as swimming pool. It was really enjoyable to observe people with diverse educational, social and cultural backgrounds making friends and I am convinced many of us had created long-lasting friendly ties.

    The FISI 2004 has been a very rewarding experience and I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to the Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission, the Public Affairs Section of the United States Embassy in Tashkent and the Bulgarian Embassy in Uzbekistan for rendering great assistance on my way to the Fulbright International Summer Institute.

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