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MC students benefit from 'invaluable' experience in Bulgaria

Barry McNamara
During a break in their two-week Fulbright International Summer Institute, Monmouth College’s Kaylin Smith, Joseph Hasenstein, Lukas Devlin, Sara Frakes and Bren Tooley explored Bulgaria’s Saeva Dupka Cave, which is known not only for its history and beauty, but for its excellent acoustic conditions.
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Four Monmouth College students who participated in the 2012 Fulbright International Summer Institute (FISI) in Bulgaria in August left Fulbright Commission organizers calling for more, according to Bren Tooley, MC’s associate dean of academic affairs.
Getting a head start on their academic year were Lukas Devlin ’13, Sara Frakes ’14, Joseph Hasenstein ’13 and Kaylin Smith ’13. The group, which was accompanied by Tooley, who was a Fulbright instructor at the institute, returned from its two weeks abroad immediately prior to the start of the fall semester.
“The students were outstanding young ambassadors for Monmouth College and exemplary representatives of United States college students,” said Tooley, who noted it was the first time a group of undergraduate college students has been accepted into FISI as a cohort. “They impressed their Fulbright Institute instructors and the Fulbright Commission staff deeply. In fact, as one of the Fulbright Commission’s coordinators for FISI said to me, ‘Next year, if you have students like this, bring 20 with you, not four.’”
Called “an ideal venue for the exchange of ideas and the development of new projects” by Tooley, FISI is an annual summer program run by the Bulgarian-American Fulbright Commission. Established in 2002, it was one of the first of the Fulbright Summer Institutes. Most of the institute’s intensive courses are one week in length, but a few of them spanned both weeks of the institute, including a course on Bulgarian culture. Students took up to three courses each week, with each course meeting daily in a time block of two hours and 45 minutes.
“The classes were informative and very entertaining, and served as a forum for discussions with people from incredibly varied backgrounds, cultures and opinions,” said Hasenstein. “As important and meaningful as the classes were, I found that the most interesting experiences we had were outside the classroom, in conversations with both the other student attendees and the professors.”
Frakes agreed.
“To have the chance to meet and study with people from all over the world is an absolutely amazing experience,” she said. “I came back to the United States with a completely new view of the world. It was amazing to see how even though the world is so diverse, we can still come together and get along.”
Tooley was the driving force behind Monmouth’s participation in FISI. In 2010, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Bulgaria, teaching and conducting research at the University of Veliko Turnovo. She co-taught a FISI course with her Veliko Tarnovo colleague, Ludmila Kostova, chair of the university’s department of English and American Studies.
“I loved my time in Bulgaria as a Fulbright Scholar, and it was a delight to be able to bring four MC students with me when I returned,” said Tooley, who plans to return next year with more students. “I hope this will be the students’ first experience of Bulgaria – which is a beautiful, complex, historically multi-layered country – not their only experience.”
Hasenstein, for one, sounds like he might be a repeat visitor.
“My experience in Bulgaria was invaluable,” he said. “A highlight would be the connections made with a group of Bulgarians who became informal tour guides for Luke and me. They took us to a nearby monastery and translated for us, then we hiked up a trail in the mountains surrounding our resort. The views were amazing.”
Smith, who took a course in which she read English-language novels and short stories written by Bulgarians about Bulgaria, also has an interest in returning to Bulgaria at some point in the future. Devlin has already begun to explore the possibility of internships and, eventually, business opportunities in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe.
Tooley warmly recommends two of the texts from her course to the MC community as an introduction to the fascinating and complex fields of Bulgarian history and culture: “East of the West: A Country in Stories” by Miroslav Penkov, and “Street without a Name” by Kapka Kassabova.