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Bulgaria 101

IMG_3532It’s hard to believe I arrived here in Bulgaria 5 days ago (and am still fighting off jet lag). I arrived on the same day as a group of 25 Michigan University MBA students who are also participating in the Fulbright International Summer Institute in Trayvna, Bulgaria. Their professor is teaching a course on Negotiation, which I unfortunately could not take due to a conflicting class, which I like to call Bulgaria 101.

In this course we have a different professor every day teaching us another aspect of Bulgarian culture, history, etc. I missed all of last week’s lessons, which included politics, the economy, popular music and history – but fortunately this week covered a lot more than I thought it would given that I had missed the first 5 days. Monday we had a sociology professor who had worked with the Bulgarian Government regarding minority ethnic populations like the Turks (9.4%) and Roma “Gypsy” (4.7%) peoples, who are primarily Muslim. The percentages on these populations tend to be skewed, since many Roma improperly identify themselves as Turks when national surveys are conducted. The Turks and Roma happen to be the poorest of the population and have the highest percentages of unemployment. During this lesson I was able to also gain an understanding of the current economic decline and the national economy since the fall of the Soviet Union. One thing that I found interesting was a disparity in employment vs. unemployment data. The last national survey found that 50% of the working age population was employed, yet somehow unemployment was only documented at 14.5%. The professor noted that few EU or UN officials really look into the numbers that the Bulgarian government benefits from. About 35% of the individuals not included in this unemployment data are “inactive” meaning that they don’t file the proper paper work to be considered unemployed or are students. Given that only around 4-7% of the population actually pursue higher education we can assume that the majority of the 35% are indeed unemployed. Also, Roma tend to consider themselves employed if they worked as a seasonal employee for a small period of time in the year – further skewing the numbers.

But, enough with the factoids – The town of Trayvna is a beautiful and our hotel is on a high hill which over looks the town and the mountains around it. I have a huge balcony off of my room which I share with another Fulbright Grantee. At night or sunset its really nice just to walk outside and enjoy the view.

My first day I was able to join the Michigan group into town and we had tours of a local underwear manufacturer which sells to major European companies and a very talented furniture factory/maker, who has decorated and furnished Margaret Thatcher’s homes. We also got a tour of a local Belgium Micro Brewery that is owned by a Russian professor from Moscow. We ended up taking a mini-keg back to the hotel and a group of us drank it on my balcony along with some Bulgarian Rakia, which I had been warned to stay away from – for good reason. Rakia is a grape brandy that is 40% alcohol or 80 proof. I only had a sip to try and doubt I’ll be drinking too much of it.

Time for me to go to lunch – I’ll update you later on some other things I’ve done and learned this past week.

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