Our first full day in Bulgaria was a busy one. Thankfully everyone had been in bed early and had slept well. After a tasty breakfast pupils and staff from England, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Turkey readied themselves for a morning in school.
The imaginatively names 137 High School “Angel Kanchev” is home to approximately 1000 students from ages 7 to 20 and is a short walk from our hotel. Upon arrival and following the ubiquitous group photo which has been a recurring theme of our visit, we shown into the school entrance. Here we were met by a quite spectacular welcome. Children waved flags of all of the visiting nations, sang songs and performed dances. Pupils in national dress presented all of the visitors with bread, salt and honey - a traditional Bulgarian welcome.
Next on the agenda was a tour of the school in which we joined many of the junior classes for lessons in English, geography and cultural studies. In what was a lovely touch we were all presented with a handmade card containing a miniature key said to “open all of the beauty of Bulgaria.” This was a great opportunity to learn a bit about life in school for Bulgarian children as well make comparisons between education here and at home. With a theme involving “similarities and attitudes” it was interesting to learn just how much our schools have in common despite the many differences. There was then more singing... and photographs.
The school headteacher met with us all and presented each visiting school with our Erasmus+ certificates and a jigsaw puzzle of the Bulgarian national theatre... and then more photographs.
Lunchtime was an opportunity for our children to play in the playground. Just like at home children played skipping, chase games and football. We then enjoyed lunch in the school canteen where our pupils mixed well with the other visiting nations and were challenged to find out as much as they could about each other over their meal.
When visiting new places it is always a great experience to explore the city and we were treated to an afternoon of just that. A short ride on the Metro took us all into the heart of Sofia. A group of Bulgarian pupils aged between 9 and 11 led the tour with their English teacher. At each building or monument one of the children gave a brief presentation. As a particularly diminutive nine year old discussed - we kid you not - “the baroque architecture” of the University of Sofia, one of children was heard to note: “Their English is quite good isn’t it.”
All of our teachers were very impressed with the interest and enthusiasm of our children and, as confidence grew, the ease with which they mixed with children from all nations. The centre of Sofia is renowned for its golden cobbled streets and this was a key part of my highlight of the day. Crossing a broad cobbled square, our children took children from Bulgaria, Portugal and Italy by the arms as they skipped and sang “we’re off to see the wizard.” This is exactly the “ similarities, attitudes, motivations and emotions” that our SAME project has been designed to represent.
Following the tour, with Mr Spruce’s Fitbit registering over 10,000 steps for the second day, and fortified with hot chocolate, there was just time for a little souvenir shopping before dinner. In the Happy Restaurant we sat with staff and children from Italy who were only too pleased to instruct the uninitiated of England in the correct strategy for eating spaghetti bolognese.
Our second day here in Sofia has been a triumph. With all the children safely tucked up in bed, we are all looking forward to more new experiences tomorrow.