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In 1991, a year after peaceful public protest led to changes in Bulgaria's political structure and direction, the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Bulgaria to partner with the people and government of Bulgaria. These first Volunteers focused on teaching English. Since the late 1990s, Bulgaria has made exceptional progress in its transition to a decentralized, market-oriented economic system.
This rapid development, however, has also exacerbated a host of socioeconomic problems. Positive news about the economy is tempered by extremely high unemployment, particularly in rural areas of the country and gripping poverty among the elderly, minorities, and other groups. Environmental degradation is prevalent, as concern for economic recovery and growth outpaced efforts to protect and restore the environment.
In March 2004, Bulgaria became a member state of the NATO alliance and on January 1, 2007 Bulgaria joined the European Union. Although, many observers question whether Bulgaria will achieve all of the steps required within this timeframe. The development of civil society institutions such as NGOs, rule of law, and a shared sense of economic justice remain important challenges for Bulgaria to overcome as it pursues further integration into Europe.
In response to Bulgaria's expressed needs, Peace Corps Volunteers work in the areas of English language education, youth development, and community and organizational development. As Bulgaria and local capacity have evolved, Peace Corps/Bulgaria has responded by focusing on grassroots community development, particularly in underserved and remote communities.
All Peace Corps Volunteers in Bulgaria serve as community development workers. All are highly encouraged to help youth learn life skills. Most Volunteers who are not focused on English language education still actively help community members improve their English language skills.
Bulgaria is at a stage in its rapid development where Peace Corps Volunteers can have a significant and rewarding impact, as many local organizations and youth are eager for new ideas. Peace Corps Volunteers are excellent role models for Bulgarian youth and catalysts for organizational change. As Bulgaria prepares to accede to the European Union, Peace Corps/Bulgaria continues to evolve and respond to Bulgaria's rapid social and economic change.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in Bulgaria
In 1991, a year after peaceful public protest led to changes in Bulgaria’s political structure and direction, the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Bulgaria to teach English at secondary schools and universities. The first group of economic development Volunteers arrived the following year. Environmental Volunteers started assignments throughout the country in September 1995, and in 2003, the youth development program (YD) was initiated. In 2004, the community and economic development (CED) and environmental programs were merged to create a community and organizational development program (COD), with the goal of providing a comprehensive approach to assisting with community development at the local level.
As of November 2006, almost 800 Volunteers have served in Bulgaria. Currently, 165 Volunteers are in-country; approximately half of them teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) in primary and secondary schools, the other half are in the COD and YD programs.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
Main article: Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Bulgaria
Housing is generally provided by a Volunteer’s sponsoring organization. Most Volunteers live in a modest studio or one-bedroom apartment with plumbing, heating, and electricity. The range of available housing may vary greatly between Volunteers and sites. If you live in a town or city, you will likely live in an apartment in a communist-style housing “block,” that, from the exterior, resembles the high-rises in public housing projects in U.S. cities.
Volunteers assigned to smaller communities should be prepared for the possibility that they may live in a private room in the home of a Bulgarian family. This can offer huge advantages in terms of being accepted into a local family and being “taken care of.” Note that Bulgarian standards of privacy differ from those in the U.S. It is also common that landlords may leave some of their personal items in an apartment that they are renting out.
Your heat source could be either one or more portable heaters, central heat, or wood-burning stoves in some rural areas. Heat and electricity are very expensive, and Bulgarians usually only heat the room they are currently in. They usually only turn on their hot water boiler when they are planning to take a shower. Expect for it to be cold inside during the winter, and for it to be very hot during the summer. Indoor climate control concepts differ from what you are likely used to in the U.S.
Main article: Training in Bulgaria
Prior to being sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will participate in an intensive 11-week training program. The training is conducted in Bulgaria and is based on adult learning principles. The training focuses on Bulgarian language study, cross-cultural adjustment and adaptation, health and personal safety, and development of technical skills.
Training will take place in a small community, where you will live with a host family and study the Bulgarian language with four or five other trainees. This community-based training involves a lot of experiential learning in which community members are called upon to cooperate in the training process. Periodically, you will join other trainees from your group at a hub site, where you will receive training in administrative, technical, medical, and safety matters.
Health Care and Safety
Main article: Health care and safety in Bulgaria
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. The Peace Corps in Bulgaria maintains a health unit with three full-time medical officers (Bulgarian physicians), a medical assistant, and a medical secretary. The medical staff takes care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs as a team.
Additional medical services, such as laboratory testing, imaging diagnostics, and evaluation by specialists are also available in Bulgaria at local facilities. Usually the complete medical evaluation and treatment is done in country by the medical officers. If you become seriously ill or injured, you will be transported either to the closest regional medical facility or to the capital for emergency care and treatment. If your condition requires further evaluation or treatment that is unavailable in Bulgaria, then the Office of Medical Services (OMS), Peace Corps, Washington, D.C., approves medevac to a country with better medical standards in the Europe, Mediterranean, and Asia (EMA) region (regional medevac) or to the United States (most frequently to your home of record). If your condition requires more than 45 days for complete resolution or has a long-term effect on your health, OMS will determine whether you are able to complete your Peace Corps service.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
Main article: Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Bulgaria
In Bulgaria, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Bulgaria.
Outside of Bulgaria’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Bulgaria are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
- Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
- Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
- Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Frequently Asked Questions
Main article: FAQs about Peace Corps in Bulgaria
- How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Bulgaria?
- What is the electric current in Bulgaria?
- How much money should I bring?
- When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
- Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
- Do I need an international driver’s license?
- What should I bring as gifts for Bulgarian friends and my host family?
- Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
- How can my family contact me in an emergency?
- Can I call home from Bulgaria?
- Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Main article: Packing list for Bulgaria
The following recommendations are based on the experiences of Volunteers who have served in Bulgaria. Use them as an informal guide, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything that is mentioned, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. Many past and current Volunteers wish they had not brought so many clothes and toiletries and had instead focused on specialty items. You should not hesitate to bring items of sentimental value that will help you feel content at your site, but you can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have a 100-pound weight limit on checked luggage; you will be responsible for any fees for overweight baggage. Except where otherwise indicated, all the following items are available in Bulgaria; they are listed here as items to bring because the quality of the items may be inferior, their price may be significantly higher, or they may not be regularly available in Bulgaria.
- General Clothing
- Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
Peace Corps News
- Lisle volunteers say Peace Corps changed them - Chicago Daily Herald
[?]Lisle volunteers say Peace Corps changed them
Chicago Daily Herald
Living in Lisle during his teen years, Daniel Wan, who now lives in Alexandria, Va., joined the Peace Corps believing everyone should be a world citizen. He served in Bulgaria from 2010 to 2012 as a community development volunteer. "Confining our ...
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- Volunteers who served in Bulgaria
- Friends of Bulgaria
- List of resources for Bulgaria
- Pre-Departure Checklist
- Inspector General Reports