Interview with Robin Parrish - Linguist, Illustrator and English Teacher for a Year in Bulgaria
Interview by Petko Kolarov
In the context of the Bulgarian Presidency of the European Council, we from Novinite.com were interested in how do all those people coming from Brussels and other parts of Europe feel about our country. Do they like it? Do they really understand it? I reached to the conclusion that diplomats and EU officials did not have much time to explore.
I have decided that I am really interested in the perspective of a foreigner living in Bulgaria. There is a significant rise in people visiting the country considering the increasingly cheaper flights provided by low cost carriers, but still as much as those tourists deserve a separate article, they are in Bulgaria only for a short time. At this point I remembered about Robin Parrish, who I spoke to a while back. I contacted her and she kindly agreed to make an interview on what were her views about Bulgaria, her creative explorations and more.
Robin Parrish is born and raised in Virginia, on the east coast of the U.S., she attended graduate school for linguistics at the University of Hawaii. From 2016-2017 worked as an English Teaching Asssistant in Silistra through the Fulbright program.
Novinite: Hello, Robin! You are a linguist, illustrator and traveler. Can you tell me more about all that?
Robin: Yes! Right now, I work as an linguistic social media analyst at a company near Philadelphia, and my side-job is drawing cartoons (usually about literature and famous authors.) My "world traveler" phase sadly has come to an end for now, as I'm back across an ocean, but I hope to return to Bulgaria soon. It is possible that I will be applying for another U.S. government arts grant to study humor in Gabrovo and Sofia, since I really like some of the cartoons and jokes that I have heard originated in Gabrovo, and I also really enjoy Aleko Konstantinov's satirical writing. I think studying both of these would help me with my own writing and cartooning (but I need to get better at Bulgarian first.) It's still a tentative plan at this stage, but it would be cool.
Novinite: You were in Bulgaria? How can you describe your experience?
Robin: I loved Bulgaria. I was placed in Silistra, so I think I got to see a very different side of Bulgaria than most western tourists who come for hiking or beaches, etc. It was interesting to adjust to life in a small city, and I like to think I got pretty good at navigating the transportation / bus system! Also it was extremely cold - I think some of my students were amused at me wearing a giant pink parka to school every day from November to March. There were also lots of cultural differences - I think Americans like to think of themselves as very relaxed, chill people, but compared to Bulgarians, we're extremely uptight! I got a lot better at "going with the flow" and not worrying so much about keeping exactly to a schedule. I also think people in Bulgaria are much more hospitable and social than Americans. I remember during my first week in Silistra, one of my neighbors whom I had never met before ushered me into his apartment and gave me some soup and we watched TV and talked. This absolutely would not happen in an apartment complex in the US. There is just so much more of an expectation that neighbors should be friends in Bulgaria, which is pretty nice.
Novinite: So you were teaching. Can you tell me more about that? How did you find the students and the educational environment in Bulgaria?
Robin: Yes, I taught at Peyo Yavorov Language School in Silistra, through the Fulbright program. I loved my school, and I was honestly blown away by how smart the kids were. Like a fair amount of them were so good at English that I wondered what I could even teach them - a couple of them could pass for American native speakers, even. It was insane! Just completely head-and-shoulders above the foreign language education in America. I also coached the speech and debate team, which was a great way for the students to use their English skills in a more creative / performance-based setting.
Novinite: Before in a private conversation you told me about your interest in religion and more specifically temples, churches and spiritual places in Eastern Europe. How could you describe visiting some of those places?
Robin: Yes, one of the reasons I applied to teach in Bulgaria was because of my interest in Byzantine and Orthodox Christian art. I really liked visiting a lot of the old churches in Bulgaria (and Eastern Europe generally) to see the artwork painted inside of them. It's truly unique to this region, and I always loved learning from / trying to imitate the style in my sketchbook. As a linguist, I particularly grew to love depictions of Saints Cyril and Methodius, and I thought that it was awesome that Bulgarian culture placed such an emphasis on these saints who were also linguistic pioneers. I even bought my own small icon of them at a store in Varna, and it is hanging on my wall now.
Novinite: What will you remember about Bulgaria, what did you tell your friends about our country?
Robin: Well, in addition to the stuff I've already talked about, one of the top things I will remember about Bulgaria is the food. I miss it so much!! I wish I could fly back right now and get some banitsa or some tarator, or a fresh kashkavalka from the local bakery! We have some Balkan restaurants on the east coast, but none of them compare to the local restaurants in Silistra. Americans don't know a whole lot about Bulgaria (aside from the Harry Potter character Viktor Krum, which I think has given a lot of Americans a very romantic idea about Bulgarian men, haha), but they were very impressed by my pictures of the beautiful landmarks and natural sites in Bulgaria (e.g., Tyulenovo, the Rila Mountains, and Nevsky Cathedral).
If you are interested in the comics Robin talked about you can find her works at reparrishcomics.com
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