February 15, 2016 by American College of Sofia
Lindsay Moran came to ACS in 1994 to teach English Language and Literature. Even though she left only a year later, she managed to impress her students for a lifetime. After all, how do you forget the person you learned of Ayn Rand and Truman Capote from? Following her time at ACS, in 1998, she joined the CIA and in 2005 published her memoir Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy, detailing her time at the Agency.
Like many Bulgarians, I am a big believer in fate; what is meant to be, will be.
I was living in New York City in 1994 and wondering what to do with my life. I had many aspirations: to be a spy, to be a writer, to enter politics, perhaps to teach. Above all, I wanted to travel. Eric Chehab, my boyfriend at the time, suggested I visit an international school job fair that was taking place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I took the train up to Boston and headed to my old stomping grounds of Harvard Square. I’d already sent a resume for headmasters and school directors to peruse; but without much significant (read ANY) teaching experience, I was dubious that anyone would be interested in me.
In my newly purchased “teacherly” attire, I trolled the fair, feeling overwhelmed and ill at ease. Throngs of prospective teachers gathered around tables for international schools in Paris, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, and various other alluring locales. It seemed impossible to gain entrée into these clusters, let alone attract the attention of the headmasters, who mostly appeared haughty and unapproachable to me.
Just as my hope was waning, I walked by a table behind which sat an amiable-looking man with small glasses. Positioned in front of him was a sign, “American College of Sofia, BULGARIA.”
Bulgaria? I hadn’t a clue where it was. Absolutely NO ONE was at this man’s table. I was about to walk on… but something about the man’s friendly smile beckoned me. I stopped and thrust out my hand: “Hi. I’m Lindsay Moran.”
“Oh!” The man’s face lit up. “I have your resume. I was hoping you would come talk to me.”
Could he possibly be serious? Did he say this to all the teachers? But then the man reached into a folder and pulled my resume from a small stack. I sat down and we started to talk.
Roger Whitaker told me the remarkable story of the American College. He showed me photos of the students and Bulgarian faculty. (He mentioned several times the campus’ proximity to the Simeonovo ski left.) Within half an hour, he had totally sold me on ACS and Bulgaria, which I vowed to locate on an atlas as soon as I got home.
Somehow, I left the job fair with three offers – ACS, Jakarta International School (JIS) and The American School of Quito in Ecuador. Each school was also interested in Eric Chehab (who had considerable experience as a chemistry teaching assistant at Harvard) and whose resume I’d carried with me.
My father encouraged me to take the job in Jakarta since he’d attended JIS in his youth. Others advocated Quito, reputed to be beautiful and surprisingly cosmopolitan. Virtually NO ONE thought I should go to Bulgaria. “Isn’t that the country where no children are allowed, from the Dick van Dyke movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?” someone asked me.
But something was drawing me to Bulgaria and to the College. Looking back, I can only conclude it was fate.
That summer, my mother told me that I should stock up on long skirts and turtleneck sweaters since Eastern European women were sure to dress conservatively. (Needless to say, she was surprised when she finally visited me in Sofia.)
Eric, who accepted a job at ACS (leaving his position at the prestigious St. Albans school in Washington D.C.), and I spent the summer preparing. One day, we happen to be watching the World Cup soccer tournament with our housemates when Bulgaria played Germany. I thought the veins in our necks were going to burst as we hooted and hollered for this hitherto unknown team that somehow managed to upset the Germans. Afterward clips of the players preparing showed the Germans performing calisthenics and running in formation, while Stoichkov and the gang drank champagne in a hot tub. That was our preview of the Bulgarian way, and we were psyched.
Sofia was undeniably grim in 1994. I remember as if it were yesterday riding from the airport to the campus of the American College in August 1994. A grey sky settled over a sea of Soviet-style blocks. Eric’s jaw hung open and I thought, “What have I done?” What was worse: Roger Whitaker, whose infectious enthusiasm for the school was a large part of what had recruited us, was not to be there. We soon learned that there would be running water only once a week, and sporadic electricity. What kind of place was this, and what kind of people lived here?
Shortly after arriving, we met the Bulgarian faculty. We both felt such instant kinship with so many of them that showering sporadically and subsisting on bread with cheese didn’t seem all that bad. Then we met the students. I’ll never forget my first class: rows of wide-eyed faces, everyone sitting perfectly straight and straining to make a good impression. At 24, I was not much older than my students and I wanted to establish a firm hand. Several later confessed that they were frightened of me. Little by little, they realized that I was something of a “softie,” and I discovered that they were not such “goodie-two-shoes.”
I also realized that these were the most remarkable people I would meet in my life. I can report honestly that after six years at Ivy League schools, my Bulgarian students were the brightest individuals I’d ever met.
I could never narrow down to ONE my most vivid memory of my time in Bulgaria, so I’ve compiled a list of moments that I can only hope to retain for my life:
- Struggling to prepare a Thanksgiving feast to share with our Bulgarian colleagues when we had electricity every four hours and water every five days. The meal ended up being amazing, and the party joyous.
- Horseback riding with my student Ina Irincheva, galloping as fast as the horses could manage, along wooded trails in Boyana
- Swimming at the dimly-lit (and sometimes bone-chillingly cold) Technical University pool with the art teacher Natalia Himmirska and biology teacher Kathryn Davis
- The collection of ironic grins on my students’ faces when I turned to face the blackboard during a test, explaining that I trusted them not to cheat (I think I only made that mistake once.)
- Many meals of shkembe and sirene po shopski at the exaltedly-named “Bistro” with Kalinde Webb and Bill Fisher, my English department boss and colleague, respectively
- Delicious planinski chai at the Mt Vitosha hizha after struggling through a white-out (blinding snowstorm) with fellow teacher and villa-mate Lee Cunningham
- One of my best students breaking down in tears when I slightly criticized an essay she’d written that was for the most part VERY impressive. (It was then that I realized that my students would be much harder on themselves than I ever would.)
- Watching in awe our impressive troupe of Bulgarian folk dancers that managed to incorporate a few of the more dedicated (and coordinated) teachers
- Walking around proudly like some sort of highly-decorated Admiral with all of the martenitsas bestowed upon me by students on the first of March.
- Enthusiastically, if not adeptly, dancing the hora at countless raucous faculty parties
- Lolling for hours by the Black Sea on a trip to Sozopol with math teacher Ani Ivanova.
- Having one student tell me that no one had ever told him he was a good writer before, when in fact he was, and being unfathomably happy to see how some positive feedback awakened his love of writing and literature.
- Not even bothering to fight the flood of tears that ensued as our Balkan Air flight took off from Sofia at the end of the school year… and already looking ahead to how and when I would return
Upon leaving ACS, I fulfilled another childhood dream of joining the Central Intelligence Agency and becoming a spy. I was with the CIA for five years, a period that I wrote about in memoir entitled Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy.
I was simultaneously delighted and apprehensive when the book was published in Bulgaria (“На светло”). Of course, it was inevitable that many of my former students and colleagues would read the book in English anyway since they are generally more well-read than many native English speakers. But I knew the book would create controversy for the American College by fostering the conspiracy theory (lingering from the early days of ACS’ existence) that some of the teachers might be American spies. While I tried to make clear in the book and interviews that my time at ACS preceded my entrée into the Agency, I also realized that some people might never believe me. It is with a measure of regret that I brought unwanted and unwarranted attention to the College, a place that I hold so dear.
While I was teaching, I always tried to impress upon my students the notion that, from my perspective, they all led very “rich lives.” I think at the time they might have perceived this idea as naïve, a privileged American’s romantic vision of post-communist life. By rich lives, I meant that what my students seemed to lack in material benefits, they made up for by pursuing their talents and interesting hobbies; feeding their intellect (through reading and debate); properly nourishing and caring for their bodies (by not eating to excess and by walking and taking public transportation); cultivating important and lifelong friendships (like meeting on Graf Ignatiev, even if it was just to ‘hang out’ as opposed to sitting at home glued to the television, as are so many American teens.) Not having many of the options or means afforded to their American peers, they “made do,” in some meaningful and worthwhile ways.
I recognize that I have an idealized outsiders’ view of Bulgaria, a country that continues to struggle with economic hardship and rampant corruption. I tried to encourage my ACS students not to contribute to their country’s “brain drain” by leaving altogether, and yet I knew that many would have opportunities abroad that were simply too good to pass up.
Every time I hear from one of my former students, I am filled with immeasurable pride and a reawakened desire to return to Bulgaria. I am married to a photographer, James Kegley, and have two young boys now – Jesse, 4, and Shep, 3 – all of whom I hope to bring to Bulgaria within the next five years.
People ALWAYS ask me if I have any regrets about leaving the CIA. (I don’t.) No one ever asks if I miss being a teacher. (I do.) While teaching at the American College, each night when I went to bed, I had the sense that I had done something good that day. (This was quite the opposite feeling later when I was a spy.) Above all, I hope that I made some small difference in my students’ lives. I know that they made all the difference in mine.
This material was first published in December, 2009 as part of the ACS Alumni Magazine.