March 11, 2016 by American College of Sofia
Patty Anderson taught English Language and Literature at ACS between 2003 and 2005. Many students remember her as the teacher who introduced them to Classic American literature and baked the most delicious chocolate chip cookies for our quarterly book discussions. Nothing can beat an inspiring conversation about literature in a room that smells like cookies! I still have a collection of Patty’s awesome stickers – the perfect award for scoring high on a test or writing an excellent essay. Patty Anderson has now agreed to share some of her favorite ACS moments with you – enjoy the read!
I doubt that anyone will be surprised to hear that the approach to ACS was bleak. After a seven-hour layover in Budapest that required us to clear customs and take a lumpy nap atop piles of luggage, we finally arrived. We were gratified by an enthusiastic greeting from Ivo, driving the beat-up blue van that had belonged to ACS since its re-opening, and Kirk Kahu and Julie Cook, who’d arrived earlier in the day. Ivo was particularly tolerant while I, sleep-deprived and a bit hysterical, babbled about possibilities for new, more Slavic nicknames. “Will you call me Patski Andersonova?” I asked. Answering as only appropriate when posed such an absurd question, he replied “No–I won’t,” without cracking a smile. Once I shut my mouth and opened my eyes, though, I was daunted by the approach-to-ACS corridor. The array of cell phone ads, surprising ‘Flirt Vodka’ signage, and careworn high rises lining the way were not the pastoral landscape at a mountain’s base I’d been promised. However, I was charmed when we arrived on campus. The houses reminded me of the neighborhood near San Francisco where I’d lived as a child, and the care that Evgeni and the rest of the grounds crew put into maintaining an environment that was more park than prep school was immediately apparent. I couldn’t wait to get washed and rested before exploring the city that was to be my home. I rambled all over Sofia for the next three years, and though my escapades didn’t always match my initial expectations, they invariably made for a good story. For example, there was that time that I decided to hop an unfamiliar bus expecting that everyone would think I was oh-so-clever to have discovered a new route downtown. I was surprised to end up in Samokov, but now I’ll always know the answer to this trivia question: What is one of the primary crops grown in Samokov? *
My experiences teaching 10th and 11th grade students at ACS rival the best of my career, but the real highlights were extracurricular. I remember watching the girls in the modern dance club work out their choreography before I grabbed a quick dinner and attended folk dancing practices with Stoyan Karadjov, possibly the most patient teacher in the world. “But Stoyan, why does Mike get to brandish a sword and yell lustily while I hold a wineskin and gossip in the background?” I’d whine. “It’s tradition,” he’d reply, eyes laughing, and then he’d put us through our paces again, silently praying that we’d pull it off in time for the big performance. I hate mornings with a bitterness they don’t deserve, but the few when I managed to roll out of bed at dawn to join the hiking club for an out-of-town excursion were well worth it. I often think about warm afternoons spent with the softball club or watching the boys playing one of those harrowing games of soccer on the blacktop– I still cringe when recalling the asphalt burns some players sustained. There are so many moments to recount: watching films with the film elective, choosing poems and stories to publish in The Fountain, inexpertly slathering make-up on the actors in Once Upon a Mattress and The Music Man (sorry everybody!), baking hundreds of chocolate chip cookies using one sad cookie sheet, and eating pizza/ bowling with/ or hosting a BBQ for members of my section.
My life at ACS naturally revolved around the students, with whom I spent most of my time, but I also appreciated time with colleagues. The international staff’s tradition of making a Thanksgiving feast for our Bulgarian counterparts was reciprocated in the St. George’s Day feast, and I think that we got the better deal in that exchange! The students probably didn’t know much about staff parties, but they were fantastic. Along with our roommates Anne Spaete and Patrick Love, Mike and I hosted Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day extravaganzas featuring excellent bonfires and Vlado Marinov’s renditions of “Nyama Bira.” Mike and I, usually accompanied by colleagues, traveled to Austria, the Czech Republic, Russia, Croatia, Romania, and made multiple trips to Greece and Turkey. Even so, some of my favorite get-aways were intra-Bulgarian: I’ll never forget Bansko, Nessebar, Veliko Tarnovo, Melnik, Rila Monastery, Borovets and Pamporovo (among other places). Despite understanding about 40% of any given conversation when socializing with Lyuba Ivanova and Dessi Yordanova after work, I have vivid memories of sitting around cramped tables and enjoying myself as much as I ever have. It’s been a decade since I savored the excellent dinners Vanya Sheneva and Angel Miloshev prepared for Mike and me, but I haven’t forgotten how tasty they were or how much the rakia initially burned. My days began and ended with the Stoils, my two favorite campus guards who never failed to cheer me up with a cookie, savory snack, or a cup of warm tea in dismal weather. These experiences, brief though they were, grow in nostalgic significance whenever revisited in my memory.
I am a terrible correspondent, but Mike and I have managed to keep in touch with some former colleagues since leaving ACS. We’ve visited Bill and Birgitta Cattelle, Kate Oliverson, Chad Schwaberow, Andrew Ulrickson, Travis McKeen, and Julie Ham. Though our tenures at ACS didn’t overlap, we’ve gotten to know Steve McCallum and Darlene Frketich through mutual friends. I hope to maintain these friendships and to rekindle others before allowing too much more time to pass by. I’m not employing hyperbole when I say that I think of my friends in Bulgaria all the time.
Mike and I left Sofia for Central Virginia expecting to move abroad again after a couple of years. Now nine years have passed, and this is the longest that I’ve lived in one place! We’re older and not too apparently different, so I don’t have many real secrets to divulge, though as a couple, we seem to be trading roles. He used to work with younger students, something I swore I’d never do, and now I teach 7th and 8th grade in a local Quaker school. I was considering pursuing a PhD, something he hadn’t expressed interest in, and now he’s in graduate school earning his PhD in social work. I ran avidly and occasionally coerced Mike into accompanying me, but I rarely break a trot these days as he runs marathons. Mike was a lifelong athlete while I never played sports, but this season, sidelined with a broken leg, he cheered me on as I played soccer every weekend. Scruffy spends lots of time on the couch and probably doesn’t remember her time on the streets of Mladost 2, but she can still be goaded into action if you yell “Haide!”with just the right intonation. Our biggest news is small in stature. Mabel, our daughter, will be six months old when this goes to print. She keeps a low profile–she’s the rare baby that doesn’t have a social media presence–but her few acquaintances already include two members of the class of 2006 (Svilen Kolarov and Viktoria Vutova). I look forward to watching her taste her first spoonful of tarator next summer, and I’m so excited to have an excuse to return to Bulgaria sometime in the future. Mabel will want to see for herself what all the fuss is about, and we’re already more than willing to oblige her in that wish.
* Potatoes. Duh.
This material was first published in December 2014 as part of the ACS Alumni Magazine.