Once Erasmus, always Erasmus

I was packing for my trip to Lovech, Bulgaria, for the first meeting of this surprisingly challenging Erasmus project we have recently been approved for. As always packing was left for the last few hours before the trip. I really hate packing and I always either pack too much or too little. Anyway, I always get this feeling before a new Erasmus project, it is like first day at school. You are so impatient to go and at the same time a bit stiff, facing the new, the unknown. It is my 13th year, and yet the feeling is the same. But the moment we got into the mini bus with our cheerful and so very patient driver Lefteris all my worries vanished. Seeing the enthusiasm and the happiness in the students faces was what reminded me why I love so much the Erasmus idea and why I am so addicted to the school exchange programs Erasmus plus, or Comenius as they used to be called. Whatever the name, the flame is the same, and it is extraordinary and lasts for life.

Our trip was surprisingly easy and full of magnificent pictures of unspoilt nature and colorful autumn landscape. And before we even noticed we were in Lovech. It was unbelievably beautiful and unique. Like a forgotten film set, colorful and unique. Formion was “cool”, Gregory was speaking a lot, Vassilis was just waiting, while Kelly and Maria were a bit stressed, though Maria will never admit to it. They were to meet their hosts and it was only natural to fill a bit nervous, as they were staying with host families. And then these kids came, with a big smile, full of enthusiasm, they embraced my students who almost instantly felt at home. This mingling of people Erasmus offers is so beautiful, as children experience everyday life and people from different countries in the best possible way, becoming part of a family.

Early in the morning carrying the small olive trees we brought with us as a present we went to the school. Built on a huge land spot it had buildings including dormitories and a gym which hosted basketball and handball courts and other sports facilities. But the greatness of this school is not in its size, it is in its past and present story. Founded more than 300 years ago this is one of the first Language colleges in the world where all lessons are conducted in German, French and English, and its alumni count scientists, politicians, ambassadors, artists and writers all over the world. The official opening of the meeting began with the addresses by the principal of the host school, Mr. Radoslav Hitov, and the official guests – Mr. Ilian Todorov, Deputy Regional Governor of the Lovech District, Mr. Ventsislav Hristov, Deputy Mayor of the Lovech Municipality, and Mr. Elenko Nachev, Head of the Regional Inspectorate – Lovech. The coordinators of the six partner schools together raised the EU flag under the sounds of “Ode to Joy”. The festive ceremony ended with folk dances, after which the guests were welcomed, as the old tradition goes, with home-made bread, in front of the America for Bulgaria Hall, where the presentation of the international teams took place during the press conference.

Apart from the workshops, the presentations, the meeting with the local authorities, and the very interesting demonstration of the skills and competencies that young animators should possess, as well as an introduction to the day-to-day challenges they may face, the presentation of the BEST Foundation – Bulgarian English Speech and Debate Tournaments, we had the chance to learn from the good practices and the experience of the hosting school, visit classes, meet other teachers and learn more about their impressive tradition in teaching foreign languages interdisciplinary. Cross curriculum methods were applied there even before the method got a name.

But the highlight of the first exchange visit were the landmarks we visited. All were new pictures to our mind, things we have never seen before, things that definitely will be in the photo album of our life. The colours, the smell, the uniqueness were more than an educational trip. The Troyan monastery and the Ethnographic complex in the village of Oreshak, the “Eyes of the God” cave, the Varosha old town, the modern town of Lovech…..Words are not enough! The images are still so vivid, like the colours on a traditional Bulgarian embroidery .

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”, writes Mark Twain in the The Innocents Abroad, and yes, that is what travelling with Erasmus is. It is not another school trip, it is The Trip, where you not only make friends, learn new things, try new tastes, learn more English, actual English and not the testing stuff, but what is more important the Erasmus exchange changes you, changes you for ever. You become more open minded, more eager to travel, to visit new places, to learn new things, to be ready to take risks and live life to the full.

This is our story, well only the first chapter, but it was the best ever beginning and we can’t wait to go on more adventures and write the next chapter. May the force of Erasmus be with you!