Wednesday, April 17, 2013


End of February....

You have Big Bad VooDoo Daddy to thank for this post.  My serious craving for some good swing music dragged me down to the computer lab around midnight and so here I am.  Why am I craving swing music?  Tonight was the culmination of International Week here at AUBG with the International Taste Fest.  Different groups from different countries get together to cook up traditional meals for everyone and at the end perform traditional dances.  I guess to work off all the food we just ate.
You're probably wondering what on earth this has to do with me sitting downstairs at nearly one in the morning listening to swing music.  I'm getting there I promise.  The International Taste Fest was to put it simply, AMAZING.  I am so glad that I didn't talk myself out of going since I haven't been feeling so great all day.  So many different smells and foods.  I honestly didn't know where to start other than I knew I had to try Kazakstan since two of my roommates were working there.  I also had some food from Macedonia, Spain, and the US (yes I ate US food at an international event deal with it).  From Kazakstan I had what resembled won ton wrappers stuffed with pork (I think, it was a substitute for horsemeat) and beans and several spices along with fried bread strips with a dusting of sugar.  Both of these were really good.  My roommate told me the name of the meat things, but I honestly couldn't tell you to save my life.  From Macedonia I had a kind of -for lack of a better comparison-cross between poundcake and cornbread with dried pork on top.  At first I was not expecting the things on top to be pork.  It surprised me to discover that it was meat and not fruit like I originally thought.  It was actually really good.  From Spain I had some kind of meatballs and a Spanish Omelete, once again both were delicious.  Finally from the good ol' USofA I had apple crumble which was completely amazing and cornbread, which as much as I hate to say it was not cornbread, at least not how it's made in the south.  Sorry guys, but cornbread is not sweet or moist.  Anyways I digress. 
It was complete pandemonium trying to get to the tables.  I'm still amazed that I didn't drop my food as many times as people bumped me or ran into me.  It was first come, first service.  My Russian roommmate told me that their table ran out of food within 15 minutes. I have no doubt about this since I couldn't even SEE the table for Russia through all the people.  After I had had my fill of food I wondered around the room looking at everyone in their traditional dress with their food and flags. Macedonia by far had the most colorful layout by far, with their brightly colored tableclothes, food spread, and their red and yellow sunburst flag could be seen from all corners of the room. 
A girl in traditional garb from Macedonia with the flag displayed behind her
Some of the other countries being represented were Ukraine, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico, Japan, China, Netherlands....  There were so many, it's hard to remember who all was there nearly a month later. Here are photos of a few of them. 
The US team in their t-shirts, jeans, and tennis shoes; the American wardrobe staples
Kazakstan (That's my Roommate in the stripes)
Ukraine (I thought the wig was a nice touch)
When all the food was consumed or nearly consumed, it was time to move on to the dancing portion of the evening.  This is where the whole swing music thing comes in.  We'd been treated to traditional food and traditional dress, now it was time for traditional dance.  Everyone cleared the middle of the room for a dancefloor and each country took the stage to perform. Each country except the US, because let's face it, when it comes to dress and dance we are severely lacking in the traditional department.  It was fascinating to watch some of the dances being performed.  I believe my favorite was Georgia (the country, not the state).  It was so energetic and astonishing in it's movement.  Well, I'll just let you see for yourself as I have video of it.  I can't really figure out how to explain it.

    Georgian students perform some traditional dances
It was while watching these dances that I thought about how lacking the US is in traditions.  This whole week was kind of a reminder of that.  It's kind of depressing when you want to proudly represent your country and you can't really do that.  Of course, I can understand why we don't really have any kind of traditional dance or anything seeing as how we are made up of so many different cultures and ethnicities.  It is impossible to derive any one common demoninator from this equation that can represent who we are.   Some people may say, well what about square dancing or bluegrass?  Both were derived from traditional English music and dance.  Technically macaroni and cheese isn't even American.   The only thing I could think of that might be even remotely considered as music native to the states was jazz and swing.  Hence my craving for swing music and something that might be slightly traditional.  Of course, not everyone (myself included) knows how to dance jazz or swing, so we were still pretty well out of the running.  It was a nice thought though.
Taste Fest and International Week in general were both a smashing success here at AUBG and it's always one of the most anticipated events of the year.  While the Americans were a traditionless lot, I still loved every minute of the experience and getting to see my fellow students displaying their national pride. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Midterms and Life and College Oh My!

*cowers behind some form of notebook or other shield-like material* I'm sorry!  I know, I know, I'm a terrible blogger.  I honestly don't deserve all of you wonderful readers with your saint worthy amounts of patience.  I'm not promising anything about other blog posts, but I figured you all at least deserved something to let you all know that I have not, in fact, fallen off the face of the planet, knocked off by a 10 ton meterorite.  I am slowly working my way through some of the more detailed blogposts, particularly the one that explains those tantalizing photos that I teased you all with a couple of weeks ago and then promptly abandoned you.  Again.  I'm sorry!  Also, just to warn you ahead of time, this may be a really rambling post as I only got an hour's worth of sleep last night.  you have been warned.

It's crazy to think that it's already been over a month since I got here.  A whole month!  How is that even possible?  It still seems like I've only just got here.  So much has happened in that month.  I've met so many wonderful new friends, I've been to Greece, I've been in the middle of one of the craziest events of my entire life,  I've planned a trip to Scotland and London for Spring Break, heck, I've even had a midterm already!  I've even seen the resignation of an entire government just this morning. 

I've met so many friends here at AUBG.  I've met most, if not all, of the American student population.  Apparently there's only somewhere around 12-13 of us all told.  I find it interesting that when I was talking to them the other night that for almost all of them, AUBG was their third choice on their ISEP application, which I found interesting.  I met fellow WHOVIANS!  So excited I have people here who I can fangirl with.  I have made friends with more students from Kazakstan and Russia.  Oddly enough they know my room mates.  I've met a handful of students from the Netherlands.  I've met so may new people.  I've met a couple of Bulgarians, including Kristina who's quickly becoming one of my closest friends here.  We swap traditions and cultural information about our two countries and she's helping me with my Bulgarian.  Once you get the hang of the Cyrillic alphabet it's actually pretty easy to figure out, kind of like Arabic.  It's also lovely in the fact that it's phonetic, so spelling it and reading it is much simpler than the complicated mess that is the English lanuage.  Unfortunately, while I'm now able to read the labels, I still have no earthly idea as to what I'm actually ordering.  I have learned the words for the chicken filets in the cafeteria so at least I can order that without causing too much confusion.  Oh and in other exciting news, I FINALLY figured out what those cheese pastries things are that I've been eating for breakfast.  It's called Panitza bread, and apparenlty the Panitza cheese is very popular here in Bulgaria. 

Rambling, I know, bear with me.  I really started meeting everybody when I went to Greece.  I knew absolutely no body on the trip, except for the journalism professor I was sitting next to on the bus who I made friends with on the 2 1/2-3 hour drive from Blago (what I shall be calling Blagoevgrad from now on) to Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city.  She was one of the few of the group who was there to get her visa straightened out though so I was left on my own again, which for anyone who knows me, you know that this is ot exactly my favorite situation to be in, especially in a foreign city where I still can't make heads or tails of the signs.  I'm not much of one for just going up to people and introducing myself.  Networking functions terrify me.  As you can see I was not really all that happy with the situation and my first smog and mist impressions of Thessaloniki did little to improve my mood.  I'm not going to go on ad nauseum about Greece here though, you can read about it later once I actually get around to posting the piece I started.  Anways, the first part of the trip was a bus tour of the city seeing some of the main points of interest and taking some rather harrowing roads that needless to say were NOT made for large tour buses.  Once we got out and were able to see things, Thessaloniki began to show its more appealing, historical side that made it more interesting.  Around noon we were given free reign of the city for food and our own endeavours with instructions to be back at the bus in three hours and to stay in groups of five or more.  This was what I had been dreading.  Taking a complete leap out of my comfort zone, I introduced myself to a group of American and Dutch students and I have never been so rewarded in my life.  These are some of the most amazing people you could ever hope to meet.  The lunch we had (after walking in circles for an hour) will forever be one of my favorite memories from this trip. Altogether there were three Americans, three Dutch, and one Latvian student sitting in a heated patio in Greece laughing and talking over Greek Soulvlaki and Gyros (which were amazing by the way).  It was from there that I met so many other people.

Life at AUBG is about what you would expect normal college life to be.  Late nights, early mornings, noisy neighbors who enjoy slamming their doors just a little too much at 3 am when you're trying to sleep.  Classes, homework, papers, camp-outs in the library.  There are some slight differences from back home though.  I'm still amazed at the slack attitude about alcohol here.  I get email from the Student Government all the time about different drinking events and parties and such, some of which are even sponsored by various university organizations.  This would never happen back home and it's still a little bit of a culture shock from back home.  Another variation is all the languages, there are so many.  Back home at Queens you might here the five or six Brazillian guys speaking Pourteguese or the Korean students speaking Korean, but here I can be sitting in a classroom and not understand a single word of what's being said around me.  It's both amazing and a little isolating.  It kind of makes me feel a little inferior in a way in that I know enough of Spanish and Arabic to be conversational and enough Danish to introduce myself and get to the bathroom, but here are these students who are not only fluent in their native tongue, but they are profficient enough in English (one of the hardest languages to learn) to take university level classes in it.  Wow.

College life has certainly caught up with me as you can tell from my lack of postings.  Although with my rather severe case of insomnia lately I really don't have an excuse since I might as well be productive when I can't sleep.  I had my first midterm this morning.  To be honest, having a Microeconomics midterm at 9am on an hour's worth of sleep is an interesting experience.  I'm still amazed that I remembered everything, even some of the things that I hadn't studied for!  All of my classes seem to be going well so far, although we're moving into the barbed-wire No Man's Land of the semester where anything goes.  I've got two papers coming up in March and April and a midterm for my History of Islam of class on Monday!  I still can't believe Spring Break is only a little over a week away already.  I can't wait!  Myself and my friend Austin, another American exchange student from Iowa, are traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland for six days and then to London, England for two days.  I am beyond ecstatic.  I have been dying to go to Scotland for the last two years now.  That was where I really wanted to study abroad, but alas, the only ISEP university was a technical science school that wasn't what I needed.  That's alright though, I'm quite enjoying my time here at AUBG. 

Now about that government resignation thing I mentioned earlier.  Here in Bulgaria all the electricity companies are foreign based and operated, meaning they pretty much hold a monopoly on the prices and such.  (My microeconomics class is paying off!)  Recently all of them raised their prices and there have been mass protests throughout Bulgaria.  We have had a few around the main campus here.  Apparently, according to both national and international media sources, they recently shifted to being more about the right wing government in general.  This morning while I was eating breakfast in the canteen I saw a government official from the Cabinet giving a press statemet.  I didn't know what it was until one of my friends posted a news story on Facebook later.  Apparently disgusted with the allowance of the increase in prices and when police and protesters turned violent in Sofia the Prime Minister and the entire Bulgarian government resigned saying that they have failed the people with the power granted to them by them and now they were giving it back to the people.  The result of this is that the elections which had been scheduled for July are now taking place very soon.  We shall see what the next Ministerial Regime holds in store for Bulgaria. 

So with all these words I feel as if I've said everything, yet nothing.  I'm not even sure if any of it made a lick of sense, but right now I'm just glad to have something written.  So until next time!


Saturday, February 2, 2013

What Have I Been Up To?

Hello everyone,

  I know, I know, I haven't posted in a while.  I figured to appease you somewhat I would leave you with a teaser of what I did today.  *crossing my fingers* Hopefully I might have something for all you patient readers tomorrow.  In the meantime enjoy!.

I know, you're probably wondering what on earth is this?  Just a little way to keep you hanging on. Until next time!


Friday, January 25, 2013

One Week Since I Looked at You

Yes, the title is a very thinly veiled reference to the song by Barenaked Ladies.  It's fitting though since it's been one week since I first laid eyes on Bulgaria.  I still can't believe that one week has already gone by.  It seems impossible.  Paperback's Qoute of the Day perfectly mirrors my feelings on this matter. 

     "Methinks I see the wanton hours flee, and as they pass, turn back and laugh at me"
~George Villiers

   It's already 2 pm here and I've had both my classes of the day.  The hours really are fleeing.  It's been raining and absolutely freezing cold here today.  I'm writing this post while I thaw out some before I make a run to the grocery store.  Apparently red coats are not very common in Blagoevgrad since everywhere I go, I get stared at...especially today since it was so gray and dreary and I was also carrying a green and white and black umbrella.  It was kind of disturbing.  I'm not one to want to be the center of attention.  Although being brightly colored definitely helps for crossing the street.
    Speaking of crossing the street, I can now say that I feel more comfortable just stepping out into traffic.  I no longer try to dash to the crosswalk when a group of people get there so I can make it across.  It helps that apparently last year they passed a law that if drivers don't stop for pedestrians they will be fined.  I was thinking the other day that when I get home, I'm going to be on a first name basis with the police because I'll be jaywalking everywhere!  It's still strange to just cross the street where ever you feel like it. 

    One day later....

   I am actually finishing this post one day after I started it, since by the time I started it, I was falling asleep at the computer, so here's the rest.

    The shopping trip was a success.  It turns out that the store, called Kaufland, is just down the river and around the corner from the Skapto campus.  It's maybe a five minute walk.  When you walk in, it's like an Ikea in the layout in that you have one place where you enter and one place that you exit and there are plenty of little side markets just after where you pay.  Other than that, the interior reminds me a bit of a K-mart, just in Bulgarian.  Just like in the canteen in the dorm, it was pretty much a crapshoot when it came to buy packaged food since I still can't read a word of Bulgarian.  The towels weren't so hard to figure out, oddly enough.  A towel, is a towel, is a towel where ever you go.  They call Band-Aids Citoplasts here.  It reminded me of when I went to Ireland where they call them plasters.  I remember my Grandfather had cut himself on something and one of the cashiers had asked him if he wanted a plaster and it took us a minute to figure what she was talking about.  It was really interesting just to look at all the labels and people watch there. 

  I was kind of nervous when it came time to check out since the cashier greeted me in Bulgarian and I was just like, smile and nod, smile and nod.  I got to use my Leva for the first time.  I got the towel, Citoplasts, a bag of wafer things, and some breakfast bars for about 14 leva which is about $8 USD.  I'm still amazed at how cheap everything is here. 

   I feel completely at home here now.  I'm starting to meet new people, which will be in the next blog post, and becoming pretty comfortable with the city.  When I traveled out of the city earlier, there was one point where I thought, I just want to go back to nice, quiet, Blagoevgrad.  I still miss my home back in the States, but it's just like going back to school in the US for me, just in a foreign country halfway around the world.  That's all for today.  Stay tuned later for some more of my adventures.



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Some Things Never Change, Until You Cross the Street

Hello Everyone,

                It’s hard to believe I’ve already been here five days.  Wow.  Tomorrow starts my first full-week of classes.  I learned Friday that I did finally get the Intro to Bulgarian class that I had been hoping for.  Maybe now, I’ll actually be able to order what I want in the canteen.  I confused the poor lady behind the counter when I tried to buy a pack of crackers earlier today.  It took a couple of tries before everything was figured out. 

                I’ve been having a challenge getting over this whole time difference thing.  I’m used to going to sleep around midnight or so back home, but that’s around 7 or 8 am here.  Kind of a problem, although I’m making progress on this.  Friday I didn’t surface until around 2, yesterday it was 1, today it was noon.  I’m getting there. 

                I can’t believe how at home I feel here.  Somehow, it doesn’t matter where am I in the world, it always seems like I’ve been there my whole life after the first few days.  It really felt like that yesterday when I was sitting on a bench outside by the river that runs behind the Skapto campus, enjoying some of the nice afternoon sunshine.  Apparently all the locals are like the locals back home and when the weather turns nice they all enjoy a walk along the river.  It made for some good people watching.

                The old people sat on the benches gossiping in Bulgarian.  Even in a different country and a different language some things never change.  There were a lot of families out walking as well and the gleeful screams and laughter of children was an almost constant sound filling the air.  It was interesting to see that there almost as many men pushing strollers as there were women here.  Many of the other AUBG students came out as well. Four guys had set up a pick-up game of soccer, the universal get-together game, on the lawn next to the library.  Couples held hands or linked arms as they strolled along the sidewalk.  Some of the building security guards swapped small-talk as they took a smoke break.  At one point I saw the hilarious sight of a little puffy Pomeranian chasing off a German Shepherd looking mutt, one of the few strays that seem to enjoy hanging out around campus.  The snow-capped peaks of the Rila Mountains, some of the tallest in Bulgaria, rise above the town in the distance.  There was even a little taste of home in that one of the many saplings planted along the walk looked to be a magnolia tree!

                One thing that never ceases to amaze me is that the sun and the stars and the wind never seem to change wherever you are.  It’s still the same sky that you see back home in North Carolina.  The breeze felt just as cool and refreshing as it does back home and the sun just as warm.  The moon still rises and sets just the same.  No matter where you go some things just never change.

                On Friday, I received an e-mail about becoming a Writing Tutor in the Writing Center here.  I decided that sounded like fun.  Be a good way to spend some of my spare time and meet some of my fellow students.  I have a meeting with the Writing Center coordinator tomorrow afternoon between classes.  Tomorrow will also be my first shopping expedition since I got here.  Should be interesting.  I also joined a chapter of the SCA that operates here.  For those of you who don’t know this is the Society for Creative Anachronism, which re-creates 17th century Europe.  This sounds completely amazing as I’m a big medieval history fan.  Turns out my Advisor is a member of the group and we got on the subject of it when I commented on her screensaver of medieval photos. 

                Crossing the streets here is a rather risky business.  They have crosswalks here, but no crossing signs like back home.  They have a couple of police officers at the main crossing by the Skapto campus, but for the most part you basically just have to pick what looks like a good opened to cross and start walking, trusting that the oncoming cars will actually stop rather than run you over.  It’s definitely a new experience. 

                Well, that’s about all I have for this post.  Keep checking back for more of my adventures in Bulgaria.  Until next time!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

First Impressions

An account of the first day where I have classes and get lost...again.

Day 2


              Today was the first day of classes.  Not even a day to recover from all the adventures.  I woke up at 7 am this morning the first time.  Apparently when you’re from a different time zone that’s the time you usually wake up here when you first arrive as my roommates told me.  They all wake up at 7 when they return from home.  Not long after however, I was dead to the world until 9 when I really did have to get up.  I probably laid there for a good fifteen minutes before I convinced my body that it was indeed a good idea to get up and moving, when it was 2 am back home.  I slowly got out of bed and dressed, heading down to the canteen to see what I could scrounge for breakfast.  I got lost again in the building. Well not really lost, I took a stairwell down to the basement and I got to where I needed to go, just on the opposite side.  I got some kind of giant cheese pastry about size of a small sheet of paper and a bottle of water, which I took back to my room figuring out which staircase it was I really needed.  Turns out you have to take the staircase on my floor down to the ground floor, walk across the lobby and then take the stair case on that side down to the basement and it will put you out right next to the canteen.  Confusing I know.  I only ate about half saving the rest for later, which turned out to be dinner.  At last it was time to head out for classes. 

                I honestly didn’t remember any part of the route from last night so I stopped in at the front desk to ask directions and it turns out that the girl, Tata, was on her way to class in about 10 minutes and she could show me.  We headed out and she showed me some of the places around town on our way, asking about what I was studying and how I liked it so far.  She was also from Russia.  I seem to have a thing about Russians here.  She was friendly and showed me where my class room was when we got there.  I didn’t really think about security at the door since Queens doesn’t have any, but we had to pass through a metal detector and swipe our ID cards on a turnstile to get in after you get in the door.  Inside the main building is impressive.  It was the Communist headquarters  back when they ran the country still.  It was kind of cool knowing that you were sitting there where some serious history had happened listening to a lecture about Balkan Literature. 

                The main hall of the building consists of a massive granite staircase with flags of each country represented at the university hanging above it.  It’s quite an impressive sight.  My first class was just off to the left of it, History of Islam.  My body was revolting against me, going “What class at three, almost four in the morning?  Are you on drugs?”  It took all my willpower just to stay awake in class.  It was really interesting.  There were a fair number of students in the class.  We talked about the empires and systems in place in the times before Islam in that region.  Things like Mesopotamia, the Romans, the Ottomans, and the Persians and how they fought with each other.  I was interested to learn about how some of them adopted traits of the others, particularly the Romans from the Persians.  I was glad when class was over though so that way I could get up and move around and wake myself back up.  My next class was in half an hour in the same building so I used the time to find it, which took all of about five minutes, and then I found an empty spot on one of the couches and sat down to write some more in my travel journal while I waited for class to start.

                Apparently the class had grown considerably since this week is Add/Drop week and classes are constantly shifting.  The professor had quite a few names missing on the roster.  We are reading a book called The Three Arches Bridge?  It’s something similar to that, by an Albanian Arthur.  From talking about it this morning it seems like a pretty interesting book.  I really enjoyed this class, when I wasn’t valiantly fighting off sleep.  I’m thinking this is going to be a pretty good semester so far. 

                My next step was to find the OCC or computer services office so that I could get my user account and ID to access the computers around campus.  I had to ask for directions to that one since I didn’t even have a clue as to where to begin for that one.  Turns out it was tucked way in the back of the second floor.  I was shown how to access my account and get into my school e-mail which is Outlook which is kind of disappointing.  I’m not a big fan of Outlook.  I already had about 20 unread messages, which was surprising.  Most were about classes and registration.  You can also look it up online via the AUBG website.  I left there and prepared for the moment of truth, can I find my way back?

                This was the ultimate testament to the power of having a semi-photographic brain.  It turns out that I could find my way back on my own the first time around, which was a really awesome feeling.  My only moment of doubt was remember which building exactly was my dorm.  I couldn’t go by numbers since III comes first then I then II.  I remembered it was next to the library which was down at the end of everything.  I was right.  I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself.  I still had a few more things before I could be done and go rest.  First I took my laptop over to the Ballanski Academic Center next door to see about getting it connected to the network, where I was promptly lost and wandered all four floors of the building before finally spotting a professor that I asked for directions.  I had walked right past it.  Then I was told that I had to go online and print out an application and bring it back to them filled out and signed to be able to be approved to use the network, which still doesn’t work yet.  So I came back to the dorm and took a stab at finding the computer lab which was off the main lobby, down a hallway and around two corners.  They don’t make anything easy here for new students.  I got the application and went back over giving it to them, before heading on two other errands.

                Luckily they were both in my dorm meaning I didn’t have to trek much farther.  I went down to see about the waitlist for the Introductory Bulgarian course at the Dean’s Office and I went to drop off my 35 Leva for a trip organized by the International Students Office to go to Thessaloniki, Greece for a day on January 25.  I’m pretty excited about it.  When that was done I could finally go up to my room and work on these blog entries as I know people back home are ravenous for more detailed updates other than, I’m fine and not dead.  Going to post these and since I don’t have any classes tomorrow, I’m going to take two Benadryl and SLEEP.  Until next time!

In a Land Where Yes Means No and No Means Yes, Your Roommates Speak Russian, and the Toilet Paper is Orange

An account of what seems like one day, but is really two. 



The long awaited day has arrived.  I am now a student at the American University in Bulgaria!  Not that I’m really aware of it yet since I’m still getting over some pretty severe jetlag.  Having classes at what is usually midnight or one in the morning back home can do that to you.  Time changes suck.  Just to let you know, I’m not entirely sure how much sense this is going to make, but I’ll give it a go.  So on with the Great Bulgarian Adventure.

                6 am came much too early for my liking as we got up to go to IHOP for breakfast and get to the airport around 9 for my flight from Atlanta to DC which departed at 11:45.  It was especially early as it was cold and raining much like it had been for the last three days.  Check-in was extremely easy seeing as how I had done a majority of it the night before.  I was extremely appreciative of the fact that they caught that my passport wasn’t signed since at the gate for my flight from DC to Munich they checked passports and cheerfully informed us that if they weren’t signed there would be a fee of 200 Euros. 

                After that, my parents gave me the option of hanging out with them for another hour or going through security to my flight.  I chose to go through security since I knew that staying with them would just make it harder to say goodbye to them.   As it was it was hard enough.  I fought to not just completely break down in the middle of the security lines, knowing I wouldn’t be seeing them until May.  You’re probably wondering how it’s any different from going to school back home.  There’s a big difference in knowing that instead of being a five hour car ride away, they’re now a twelve-hour plane ride away halfway around the world. 

                The flight from Atlanta to DC was pretty average other than some minor turbulence but that’s to be expected when you’re flying at the exact same time as the entire eastern seaboard seems to be going through the Second Great Flood.  I lucked out and got a window seat, even if it was all the way in the back.  It was really cool when we took off because it was so foggy that almost as soon as the wheels lifted off the tarmac, the visibility went to absolutely zero until we got over the cloud ceiling.  It was wild.  I also lucked out in that I got a friendly and pleasant seat mate who was from Mexico traveling to Frankfurt.  We swapped travel stories for part of the nearly two hour flight. 

                When we arrived in DC it was even wetter and colder.  I was glad I had brought my thick winter coat on the plane with me, especially since we didn’t get one of those boarding tunnels (don’t know the technical name for them).  They just offloaded us down the plane stairs directly onto the tarmac.  The stairs were so steep I was sincerely hoping that I would just tumble down them face first.  It’s been known to happen.  It didn’t really help matters that I had a 24 pound backpack on.  The cold air did feel good though after being on the plane, which had gotten rather warm. 

                I had a very unexciting four hour layover in Dulles.  During this time I discovered that Dulles is HUGE.  My gate for my connection to Munich was all the way at the end of Concourse C.  I walked the entire concourse (all 28 gates of it) and part of Concourse D looking for lunch.  I probably covered a good mile or so round trip.  It was definitely worth it though since I was about to be on an eight and half hour plane ride. 

                The flight between DC and Munich was probably the most interesting of the three, starting before we even boarded the plane.  The plane was supposed to start board about 4:30.  4:30 came and it was “We will begin boarding in a few minutes.”  4:45 came, “We will be boarding in another five or six minutes.”  Finally around 5 we were actually allowed to board the plane.  Then we learned what the hold up was.  The co-pilot had been walking around the exterior of the plane doing an inspection and found some debris in one of the engines.  They didn’t know what it was or where it came from and it was going to take at least an hour for them to identify what it was and fix it.  I had a dilemma with this.  My layover in Munich was exactly one hour before I caught my flight to Sofia, meaning that there was a strong possibility that I was going to miss my flight.  The problem was quickly resolved and an hour later we were taking off for Munich.  The flight was rough with some pretty good turbulence as we flew up the east coast then over the North Atlantic.  I lucked out again with an aisle seat this time and another pleasant and friendly seatmate who was from Peru this time, although he lives in New Jersey.  He was on his way to visit a cousin in Genoa, Italy.  We talked for a majority of the flight when he wasn’t sleeping.  Unfortunately I didn’t get as much sleep as I had wanted to on this flight, only managing to snatch an hour just before they served breakfast at about 6:45.  Breakfast consisted of six pieces of melon (I discovered that I am not a melon person) and one very flat croissant.  Not the most heartening of meals.  When we flew over the UK at around 37,000 ft, the skies were so clear that we could see the lights of Manchester.  It looked like a lava flow.  When we flew into Germany the sun was just starting to rise and was pretty well up when reached Munich.  When we flew in, the view was gorgeous since everything was covered in about 2-3 inches of snow.  I had never flown over snow before and at first I thought it was a large lake with islands before I realized what it was. In my defense, I was running on one hour of sleep in the past 24 hours.  We touched down in Munich at 8:05 am local time, only running twenty minutes late, giving me 40 minutes to spare for my last and final connection to Sofia.  It was one in the morning back home.  I was so exhausted.  As I got off the plane I had a random thought that the pilot’s announcement was going to be one of the last American voices I would hear for a while.

                Munich airport is really nice being very clean and modern.  It was easy to navigate once my jetlagged brain realized the signs were, in fact, in English if you continued to read further down.  My gate for the flight to Sofia was fairly close being only about six down from where I came in.  I had never heard so many different languages in one place before.  The man sitting across from me was reading a newspaper in German.  It was hard to believe that at that time the day before I had been going through security in Atlanta and now I was sitting in an airport in Munich, Germany.  I just sat there and watched everything for the next forty minutes as I fought to stay awake.

                They delayed the flight to Sofia for about ten minutes to allow everyone to make it since apparently my flight wasn’t the only one running late.  When we did board I was surprised that you didn’t have to show your boarding pass to a gate attendant.  You just scan it yourself at a couple of turnstiles before heading downstairs to board the plane.  Let me tell you, the Germans know how to board a plane.  We had only been on the plane for about twenty minutes when the announcement was made that boarding was complete and not three minutes later we were being wheeled away from the terminal.  Munich airport is interesting in that as planes come in and out from the terminal they pass over a six-lane highway that runs under the runway.  They Germans are probably used to, but I think it would be kind of nerve-wracking to have a giant Boeing 767 rolling over your head.  We sat on the runway for about 20 minutes before we took off for my final flight to Bulgaria.  I was out almost as soon as we were in the air and stayed that way for the entire flight, gaining me another two hours of sleep. 

                I woke up about 20 minutes before we landed and laid eyes on Bulgaria for the first time (I got another window seat this time and no seatmate).  It was gorgeous with snow-dusted mountains and rolling hills as far as you could see in any direction.  They looked like something you would get if you crossed the Appalachian Mountains with the Rockies.  They have the height and majesty of the Rockies, but they have a more rounded shape like the Applachians.  Either way it was beautiful and the best thing about it was that there was SUN!  Had to fly halfway around the world just to see sun for the first time in weeks.

                The landing in Sofia was rather frightening as the cross-winds pitched the plane about like it was a small toy.  My heart was in my throat.  I was prepared for a really rough landing, but the pilot really knew her stuff and the wheels kissed the tarmac pretty as you please.  As soon as the wheels of the plane hit the ground my first thought was “Holy cow, I’m actually here.  I am actually in Bulgaria.”  My journey was almost over.  Sofia airport was as easy to navigate as Munich had been.  Although the sign for baggage claim read “baggage reclaim” which threw me off for a minute since in Atlanta when you fly into the international terminal you have to reclaim your bags and then check them again.  That wasn’t the case here, it was just strange wording.  Not being able to read a letter of Cyrillic, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the rest of the sign.  What really told me that I was Bulgaria was when the Border Security Officer (don’t know the Bulgarian name for them) finally stamped my visa and welcomed me to Bulgaria.  That sound is just globally significant as the sound meaning that you’re in.  Once I collected my bags everything was a breeze.  I was out of the terminal in about thirty minutes, which I was amazed by.  In Atlanta all that would’ve taken me two hours. 

                Once I headed into the arrivals area I met up with the driver sent by AUBG to pick me and another student up.  The other student was flying in from London about an hour and a half behind me.  I killed the time, by writing in my travel journal, watching and listening to everything around me, exchanging my USD for Bulgarian Leva (BGN), and trying desperately not to go sleep.  Around 1:35 I met the other student, Olivia who is a Sophomore Photography major from Missouri State and we headed out on the last leg of our journey to Blagoevgrad, our home away from home for the next few months. 

                The drive was just as gorgeous as the flight as we drove either through or around the mountains the entire time.  It stayed sunny for the most part with some spritzes of rain here and there.  There was plenty of snow at the higher elevations, which was something else I hadn’t seen in a while.  The drive over should have been downright frightening, but I was so jetlagged that I didn’t care.  The Bulgarians are apparently very bad about tailgating and playing chicken with oncoming traffic as they pass a line of five or more cars.  We did this several times.  Olivia and I talked for about the first half hour or so before she finally succumbed to jetlag.  Her flight was twice as long as mine at 28 hours.  I dozed off a couple of times, but forced myself to stay awake so I would sleep that night.  It was worth it too just to see more of the country side. 

                Bulgaria definitely shows its days of Communism in the architecture.  The post-Soviet buildings combined with the old ones, and often painted bright colors make for an interesting mix in the cities.  Everyone here seems to have a grapevine or two in the yard if they have the space for it which I thought was interesting.  At one point we passed a group of horses that were just standing in a pasture that had posts for fencing, but no fence.  One was grazing right by the road.  It kind of reminded me of a more modernized Nicaragua really. 

                About an hour and half after we left Sofia, we arrived at the main building of the American University in Blagoevgrad.  We pulled into an underground parking garage that looked like somewhere you could easily film a horror movie in.  It was small and twisting and dark seeing as how there were very few lights in there.  From there we were thrown right into the middle of things.  We were taken straight to the Registrar’s office to get our classes and then turned right around to go to the security office to get our ID cards, then back to the Registrar’s office to get our classes.  I currently have History of Islam, Principles of Microeconomics, and Balkan Literature.  I’m looking to add Introductory Bulgarian as a fourth so that I will be full time and can actually qualify for all my benefits like housing and meals.  Once we had all that sorted out, we got back into the van and headed for the other part of campus that was about a half-mile or so away.  This is where the residence halls, the libraries, and another academic building are located.  We off-loaded our bags and then checked in to find out where we would be living this semester.  Everyone was staring at the two American girls with bags under their eyes, disheveled hair, and dragging our suitcases behind us.  The residence hall coordinators directed us to go down one more building to Skaptopara II, which is where we would be staying.  Skaptopara is the name they gave to all the residence halls.  Don’t ask me what that means, because I have no idea. 

                When we arrived we checked in with the front desk and showed them our IDs and Passports to be registered.  I was on the second floor and told where the elevator was.  I have discovered that the elevators are not worth it here.  You can press down and it’ll be going up.  You can press down again and it’ll be going up again.  Sometimes it takes forever to actually come.  To get to the second floor you actually have to press 1 because there is something called a parter.  And they are about the size of a wardrobe.  The other thing about the dorms is that they are unbelievably warm, I was sweating by the time I got to the second floor. 

                I got to what I thought was my room and tried my key, but it wouldn’t work.  I tried it a few more times and headed to go back downstairs to see what was going on.  There was a guy on the elevator when I tried to wrestle my suitcases on and he asked me where I was going.  When I explained the situation to him, he offered to help me out.  Turns out I had been trying to get into the wrong room!  I hadn’t realized that even numbers were on one side of the hall and odds were on the other.  I was really tired by now.  I thanked him and opened the door to my new room, which was not what I was expecting. 

                There were two sets of bunkbeds with a common area in the middle and a single bathroom for just that room.  I was thinking more of the suite-style with two rooms and one shared bathroom.  This was where I met my first two roommates.  One is from Russian and the other is from Kazakhstan.  They are really cool and I knew within minutes that we would get along just fine since as I looked around the room I saw a Hobbit screen saver from the movie, The Hunger Games Series and some Doctor Who books on the bookshelf, a Game of Thrones google search, and a Harry Potter bookmark.  I didn’t have much time to talk beyond initial introductions since there was still plenty more I had to do before I could collapse. 

                I headed down to the basement of my residence hall to the Dean of Students Office to meet with my advisor to discuss the schedule and learn about all the things they forgot to tell me when I got here.  She was really nice and explained things in a simple way that made it easy for my jetlagged brain to understand.  It was also around this time that I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since the croissant that morning around 11 hours ago.  Not only was I exhausted, I was starving.  Olivia showed up downstairs as well, and we got everything settled there then headed to the International Student Services office to introduce ourselves and talk about everything that was going on.  We also got a chance to send emails back home to let people know that we were alive and not dead in a plane crash or ditch somewhere.  I also was finally able to put faces to the two women who had been very helpful in getting me through the whole visa application process.  They looked nothing like what I imagined them to look like, mainly because they were both younger when I thought they would be older.  They were very friendly, everyone here has been so far. 

                Once we finally got everything settled there, both of us were starving so we found our way to the canteen without getting lost and we ordered some soup that consisted of beef pieces in rice and I think peppers maybe in a broth, which was good and I finally got the water I had been craving all day.  Halfway through eating it started to feel like a lot of food, I made myself keep eating though since I knew I would need it later.  When we walked in the TV in there was on a music channel and of all things Justin Bieber was on.  You can’t escape him, even halfway around the world.  It was kind of depressing.  I’ve actually heard a surprising amount of American music here. 

                When we had eaten enough, we headed back up to our rooms she on the elevator and I took the stairs.  This is where I discovered that you can get lost at the drop of a hat in the building.  I didn’t realize that the building had different blocks of rooms and they weren’t connected.  So the stairwell I was in took me to a completely different place than I wanted to end up.  It took me two tries walking down the halls before I figured  it out.  I made my way back to the ground floor and found the right staircase this time and got back to my room.

                I was finally able to unpack my bags and put everything away, I didn’t have as much as I thought I did, managing to fit everything into one skinny drawer and half of a narrow closet.  When I went into the bathroom, I was pleasantly surprised to find a shower that was bigger than your average cabinet.  I was also surprised to see that the toilet paper was a rusty orange color.  That threw me off for a moment, I had never seen toilet paper that color before.  You also can’t drink the water out of the faucets here, but you can brush your teeth with it.  Luckily they sell massive bottles of water down in the canteen.  Once I was all unpacked I just sat in bed and worked on my travel journal some more.

  All I really wanted to do was sleep at that point, but my roommates and one of their friends (who was also from Russia) wanted to take me out with them instead.  So around 7 we donned our coats and jackets and headed out into Blagoevgrad.  I’m thinking that the Bulgarians have something against keeping things well lit since there were some places that had hardly any streetlights at all.  It was really neat though.  They took me the route to the Main Building from the Skaptopara campus despite the fact that I knew I wouldn’t remember it the next day when I started classes.  We ended up at an Italian restaurant called Napoli which was pretty nice and the food looked and smelled delicious.  My stomach was still adjusting to the time change and having just eaten I wasn’t the least bit interested in food.  So I kept them company and told them about why I picked AUBG, about back home, and we compared universities. They informed me of all the quirks and things of AUBG and your basic words.  This is a backwards place where they shake their heads from left to right to indicate “yes” and up and down to indicate “no”, which is going to be completely confusing at first.  They say “Merci” for thank you, despite the fact they aren’t French or anywhere near France.  “Dobradeh” is the word for good afternoon.  They use the same word for please and you’re welcome and something else that I can’t remember.  I learned they are going to make me a club and nightlife person, I’ll give it a go, but I wish them luck on that.  I also learned which professors are the good ones and that it’s not uncommon to find them in a favorite student hangout discussing the students.  It was fun and really nice to get to know some people here.  We headed out after about another hour to head back to the dorms.  I talked with them as we walked but for the most part I just listened to them shout at each other in Russian, which was entertaining in and of itself.  Another language I can pick up while I’m here in addition to Bulgarian. 

                We got back to the dorms and headed up to the room.  I immediately changed into my pajamas and climbed into my bed (literally since I have a top bunk) set my alarm clock for 9 the next morning and wrote in my travel journal until I just completely crashed shortly after 10 on my sheetless bed.  Not that it really mattered since it was too hot for them anyways.  It had been some long last couple of days.