Patrick Harchik 18 – Fulbrighter in Bulgaria

Patrick Harchik graduated from Dickinson in 2018 with a double major in Russian and International Studies. At Dickinson he played football, studied abroad for the fall semester (Moscow) and the summer (Estonia), and was a cadet in the ROTC program. He is now a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. During the 2018-2019 academic year, Patrick worked as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bulgaria. Here he tells us a bit about the rewards and challenges of his year as a Fulbrighter:

1. Where in Bulgaria were you based? What were your town and school like?

I was based in Yambol, Bulgaria. It’s an average-sized town with a long history spanning different civilizations such as the Slavs, Thracians, and Ancient Bulgarians. I taught English at a language high school where I worked with students from 13-18 years of age.

2. What was the most difficult part about serving as a Fulbright English teacher?

Encouraging students to get involved in after-school activities. My role as an ETA was to begin clubs and engage students outside of the classroom. The students weren’t accustomed to staying after-school after a long day of classes, so I invited them to participate in fun activities like sports and games in English. I tried to impress upon them that language learning isn’t confined to textbook assignments, but can be explored through unorthodox methods like songs, media, and sports.

3. What was one memorable experience from your time as a teacher?

I have a few ones here! Number one, my first experience working at a local kindergarten with children of Roma ethnicity. I was inspired by the bright young faces of eager children who were excited to learn. I invited my high school students to come along next time and teach the children English, and eventually my high school students were designing lessons of their own. We eventually founded “Project Together,” a community outreach program that brings together Bulgarians, Roma, and Americans in the same classroom.

Another memorable experience was having my students call hotels and restaurants in America, a lesson I took right from Prof. DeBlasio’s Russian courses at Dickinson! What started with short and direct interactions over the phone evolved to the more confident students calling upscale properties asking about the a Central Park view from the Presidential Suite. The students really enjoyed this creative real-world experience.

4. Did your time abroad in Russia help prepare you for your year in Bulgaria? Was there anything that you were not prepared to do and that you felt you had to learn on the spot?

My year in Russia absolutely prepared me for Bulgaria. After having already spent a semester abroad in Russia, I was accustomed to dealing with cultural differences. I loved learning Bulgarian too. Being surrounded by a new language as I had been in Russia was a welcomed challenge, and I saw every new word or construction I learned as a tool that would help me better express my ideas in the real world.

Even though we had a thorough orientation about what to expect at our high schools, learning how to operate as a teacher in a new culture was new. For the first time I was now the authority figure in my environment. The students looked to me not as a recent college graduate, but as a professional.

5. Did you learn anything about yourself in the process?

I learned that I speak really loudly when I teach. I also learned that through teaching different topics about history and literature, I myself became more intrigued about them. It was my job to teach them to my students, so naturally I had to be the subject expert of the curriculum. In preparation I researched Beowulf, Shakespeare, and other famous English works in advance. The same goes for anything relating to America too – my students eagerly asked me questions on any topic ranging from the Electoral College and gun violence to the Met Gala event and Post Malone.

6. How do you think your year as a teacher will impact your future as a military leader?

I had an incredible experience of being a leader in the classroom. As the teacher, I learned how to organize lessons and activities in advance, and always having a backup plan. I also learned how to balance discipline and fun while learning, and the importance of keeping your audience engaged. In my opinion learning and leading should be an active process that both empowers your subordinates and encourages them to ask questions.

7. What would you say to students considering applying to the Fulbright ETA program?

The Fulbright Program is a once in a lifetime experience. It marked a transitional period in my life – the program asked me, a young, inexperienced college graduate to become a professional educator all while living in a foreign land speaking a foreign language. In May I was studying for my final exams and in September I was creating lesson plans in an unfamiliar language. No other program can compare to the amount of responsibility and freedom the Fulbright entrusts you with.

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