Thursday, August 12, 2010

Diary of a Japanese schoolteacher (Ruse, Bulgaria)

This is a short piece I did back in June about Boryana Kirilova and Saori Takehisa, who teach Japanese at Vasil Levski, a public high school in Ruse, Bulgaria. In an effort to spread Japanese language and culture in Bulgaria, the Japanese embassy had paid for renovations to Vasil Levski, and paid for Saori to come from Japan to teach in Bulgaria for three years. They also offer free textbooks and programs for teachers.

More and more students are drawn to Japanese through anime, martial arts (aikido and karate), and manga. Saori frequently hosts cultural events, cooking a Japanese meal for students or inviting them to Karaoke. Boryana, a young Bulgarian schoolteacher, is fascinated with Japan and loves to teach it. Outside of the classroom she does tutoring and small adult classes in students' homes.

Once, as we ate sandwich-sized Chinese dumplings served in little plastic bags that you can pour hot sauce into (in the running for the best street food ever), Boryana said "Shiawase." She explained to me that in Japan they have a word that means "I am happy." They use it with small meals or beer, anything that is small that makes them happy. In Bulgaria, she said, happiness is a big deal - like getting the job you have always dreamed for or a family with two kids.

Boryana said she likes how the Japanese perceive the world. She describes them as kind and unselfish. They find charm in a lot of small things. "You saw when we were walking to the market," she said, "[Saori] stopped to show me the flowers and they were heart-shaped and she was so excited." She says few Bulgarians notice those kinds of things. She doesn't. But she's learning from them.