Review of the teacher’s meeting in Sofia

Last week, Mia and I were in Sofia, Bulgaria, for our Erasmus+ project. Together with our Latvian and German colleagues, we visited the National Highschool in Finance and Business (NHFB). We had a full and inspiring programme. We worked on our project activities (a.o. ETwinning, job shadowing, website content, study opportunities for students and preparing the student exchanges). We also had the chance to explore Sofia and see some interesting places in the surrounding areas, including the museum of archaeology, a winery, and the famous Rila Monastery.

Sofia has surprised us very much. Even though we knew that we would meet very nice and hospitable people (we had of course met our Bulgarian and Latvian colleagues in Germany twice before), we didn’t really know what to expect. To most of you Bulgaria probably makes you think of Eastern European apartment buildings or rumours of corruption. This, however, was not at all the atmosphere the city breathes. Of course every city has its dark sides, but Sofia is a lively, vibrant and modern city that shows pride of their recent developments and European Union membership. The wide streets, parks and wonderful views of the mountains provide a sense of warmth and safety and the EU flag flaunts proudly. The 20+ degrees temperatures of course did help in our positive imaging. It is a city that seems to be rapidly developing – made possible also through EU financing. Modernising and cherishing its rich history of centuries old cultures go hand in hand. In the middle of the city centre one can find Roman remains right next to an old mosque and an orthodox church. Young people almost all speak English and tourism is starting to take off (but is also welcomed with some anxiety – Prague-like mass tourism isn’t something they aspire, but it, unfortunately, just seems to be a matter of time). The gap between rich and poor and young and old seems to be big, and the mixture of architecture reflects a difficult, but optimistic quest for identity as a new, European, Bulgaria.

The NHFB, our partner school, is located in the centre of Sofia in a monumental building that proudly displays the Bulgarian and European Union flags. The building is too small to house all of its students, which is why they work with two shifts of classes. Half of the students have classes in the morning, half of the students have classes in the late afternoon. Whereas we offer different specialisations within our school, in Bulgaria it is quite common to have secondary schools that have a specific profile. The NHFB focuses on the economy-related courses. Students at the NHFB work on projects together with local companies. They simulate their own companies and have to develop, manage, produce and market their own products. At the end of their school career students receive an additional certificate in international business. We were impressed with the students’ level of English, self-confidence, motivation, and ambition.

Teachers in Bulgaria often have a second or even third job next to teaching, because teachers’ salaries are often not even enough to support a household. To us and our German colleagues that is unimaginable, but the situation in Latvia isn’t all that different. Because our project is fully financed by Erasmus +, it luckily isn’t something that affects our mobilities very much, but is definitely something to take into account when we compare educational systems. We are quite aware that it is a bit of a shame that we can only take so few students with us on our exchanges, but at the same time a subsidised project that also includes separate teacher meetings also provides the opportunity to learn from one another without much stress of having to keep an eye on large groups of students. This allows you to truly reflect on your own educational practises and really get to know each other. And of course we will use all the knowledge we are gaining in this project to inspire us to organise more projects that could include more students (and teachers).