A Closer Look at SLE Columbia: Q&A with Iva

IMG_7921This past Thursday night Ezra caught up with Iva Gumnishka, SLE Columbia’s Bulgarian Fellow…

Q: So you’ve told me you just came from dancing. Where do you dance?
A: Yes, I just came back from CU Bellydance. I’m there almost every week. I love it!

Q: Was belly dance something you picked up when you came to study here?
A: I started doing it here. It’s been great. It’s not really that Bulgarian of a thing, it’s more Turkish. It’s definitely something I first saw here.

Q: What’s your personal connection with the Bulgarian language and with Bulgaria?
A: Well I’m from there. Bulgarian is my native language. I grew up in Bulgaria and went to Spanish-speaking high school there. The foreign language schools there are actually the most prestigious schools there. My Spanish became really good.

Q: A Spanish-speaking high school in Bulgaria?
A: There are actually a lot of foreign language high schools in Bulgaria. In my parents’ generation, everybody learned Russian. Now they have high schools for a lot more languages: English, French even German.

Q: So you went to a Spanish speaking high school, and now you’re here at Columbia. How did you learn English?
A: It was hard because I only decided to apply to American universities in my last year of high school. Even though I had learned English since I was very young I still needed to study a lot to be able to take the SATs.

Q: So I guess foreign languages are definitely your thing…
A: I guess so! I actually competed in the International Linguistic Olympiad. It’s a big deal in Bulgaria, and Bulgaria has always had a really good team. They usually finish third after the US and Russia. The problems were really fun. They were practical and you got to see a lot of languages for yourself. I even won a gold medal in 2013.

Q: Wow. That’s an awesome accomplishment! Are you thinking about studying linguistics here?
A: Not really. All the linguistics courses here are really theoretical. I’m actually studying human rights. This gives me a lot of papers to write, but to me English is harder to speak than to write. I’m also taking Arabic classes.

Q: So in your SLE Bulgarian course, what do you teach exactly?
A: We spent a lot of time on the Cyrillic alphabet. To help my students I had them read country names written in Bulgarian. A lot of the country names in Bulgarian are similar or exactly the same in English so it was really good practice for them.

We also work on a lot of grammar. The verbs in Bulgarian are really complicated so we’re just sticking to the singular for now. The endings on the question words are really hard too. There’s gender, there’s number. We started the class by teaching some basic phrases like “My name is…”

Q: Does Bulgarian culture ever come up in your class?
A: Oh, definitely. Recently myself, some students from my class, and a few Bulgarians met in a Bulgarian restaurant downtown. It was a really good chance for my students to practice their Bulgarian. In class we talked about Bulgarian traditions like Martenitsa. It happens every March 1st when Bulgarians make bracelets to put on their wrist until they see either a stork or a budding tree. We even made those bracelets in class! Bulgarian food comes up a lot. They even sell Bulgarian cheese and yogurt around here.

We’ve also talked about history. I told my students about an old Bulgarian king who killed his son, and the king’s other son became one of the greatest kings in Bulgaria’s history.

Q: What do you think surprised your students most about Bulgarian, either language or culture?
A: Actually, where Bulgaria is. My students didn’t know where Bulgaria was on a map.

Q: I bet they do now. Through teaching SLE Bulgarian, did you learn anything about your own language you didn’t know before?
A: A lot about the grammar. You don’t realize it when you speak it, but Bulgarian has no infinitives.

Q: What’s been your favorite moment teaching SLE Bulgarian?
A: When the students push me to learn all of the conjugations— they insist that they want to know all the complicated things!

If you’re interested in learning Bulgarian, check out this YouTube playlist, recommended by Iva!

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