My name is Amanda Onken and I am an interior designer in Chicago, Illinois. Wait!! Stop!! That was my old life, let me fast forward and shove you into my new life. My name is Amanda Onken and I teach English as a foreign language in Teteven, Bulgaria. This is my assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer. Did they choose the right assignment? Well, I've been teaching for four weeks now and let's just say my interior design days are over and I am now known as 'Ms. Onken', 'Ms. Amanda', or just plain, 'teacher!!'
I teach 5th -10th grade English. Since I'm new to the school and I'm a foreigner my responsibilities are very light. Most of my classes are 'conversational', which really means, 'play with the American' hour.
My 5th and 6th graders twirl in their chairs through class (who puts swivel chairs in a classroom?!) and like to ask me random questions through my lesson. 'Ms. Amanda, do you have a pet?' 'Ms. Amanda are you from Sweden?' What? How random, at least they're practicing asking questions.
My 7th and 8th graders don't speak at all. In fact, they look scared to death. I try to be lighthearted, I dance around, I smile. Nothing. It's like I am their warden and they are my prisoners.
I teach geography in English to my 9th and 10th graders. Did I mention I was an interior designer in my old life? Let's just say in these classes we are learning together. The textbooks are horrible. Some of these explanations would stun Einstein.
My colleagues are great and very supportive. I only wish I could understand half of what they are saying. I've only been here six months, I am not yet fluent in Bulgarian. Mozhe li copy? No, I don't need the toilet. Thanks. The director is a wonderful woman and my goal is to have fluent conversations with her. Right now it's staggered Bulgarian between us and then she pinches my cheeks.
Did I also mention that I'm 25 and half of the students in the school look like they're 30? It's Bulgaria, so they start smoking and drinking coffee by the time they're 13. My village is great. The people are very kind and hospitable. Although, it took me half of the summer to convince the townspeople that I was going to be a teacher at Georgi Benkovski and not a foreign exchange student. They laughed and said 'da, razbira se' (yes, of course) in a sarcastic tone.
The Bulgarian school system is much different from the American system. Students are split in two, the young ones go during the day and the older ones at night. I come in around noon and don't leave until 7pm. My day is shot and I don't get a chance to eat lunch. There is also no discipline, because after communism rules were rebelled against. I can't give my students detention, give them a bad grade, or kick them out of my classroom if they are misbehaving. I go on with my lesson usually shouting at the tops of my lungs and ignoring the obnoxious students. Occasionally I say, 'shut up!', which they understand, and the comment back is usually some explicit words they learned in a rap song, which they don't understand.
There are days I want to give up. I'm across the world away from my family and friends. I don't understand what people are saying. But then I get my students stopping me on the road to talk, 'Hi Miss, how are you?' The student who never reads in class talks to me and it puts a smile on her face when I say, 'that was great.' My 7th graders are ecstatic because I'm letting them each teach a lesson about topics they want to talk about. The 10th class is proud to help the local museum translate labels into English, and so on.
Good bye old life! I live in Bulgaria and I am... a teacher.