To Be Bulgarian was the Capstone Project of Kennedy-Lugar YES Abroad student Margaret Gleason for her 2017-18 year in Sofia, Bulgaria. YES Abroad is a scholarship offered by the U.S. State Department to 65 American high school students annually in an effort to improve relations with certain countries and create a more globally-aware American populous. For their final project, students investigate a relevant topic of their choosing and then share their findings with their communities, both at home and abroad.
This project is a glimpse into the psyche of a nation in transformation. Throughout her year in Bulgaria, Ms. Gleason noticed stark contrasts in perspective between different generations within her host community. Though understandable, considering the significant changes Bulgaria has undergone in recent years, this observation inspired her to do a deeper dive into what makes a Bulgarian, Bulgarian. How do they view their country? What do they wish others knew about their homeland? Through conducting interviews with members of her host community of varying ages, combined with observations over the course of her time in Sofia, Ms. Gleason was able to better understand the land she lived in for 10 months and gain a stronger appreciation for the Bulgarian culture and spirit.
All interviewees are residents of Sofia and its suburbs, as that was where Ms. Gleason was hosted. Being Bulgaria’s capital and largest city, the perspectives shared here are not representative of the rest of the country and this project does not claim they are such. The aim of To Be Bulgarian is to provide a resource for those wishing to know more about this small Balkan country, not to serve as an end-all, be-all definition of it. In addition, as a foreigner, Ms. Gleason may have gotten different responses than a native Bulgarian would have with the same questions. This should be kept in mind when reading the articles. If you want to know more, come to explore this beautiful land for yourself! They would love to have you.