May 22, 2003 - Sofia Echo: PCV Brian Bergman recognized for work in Bulgaria

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Bulgaria: Peace Corps Bulgaria: The Peace Corps in Bulgaria: May 22, 2003 - Sofia Echo: PCV Brian Bergman recognized for work in Bulgaria

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, May 23, 2003 - 10:15 am: Edit Post

PCV Brian Bergman recognized for work in Bulgaria

Read and comment on this story from the Sofia Echo on Peace Corps Volunteer Brian Bergman who is being recognized for his work in Bulgaria at:

Expat of the week - Bulgaria, not Bolivia*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Expat of the week - Bulgaria, not Bolivia
Matt Willis

Name: Brian Bergman
From: Wisconsin, US
Age: 27
Brian Bergman's friends back home in the United States were initially a little confused about his Peace Corps placement in Bulgaria. Some told him that he'd find it pretty hot in Bolivia, and others praised his bravery for working in a country with a hardcore Communist regime, where they were sure he must have to queue for bread and live in utter poverty.

Their discovery that he heats his house in Malko Turnovo with a wood stove only served to strengthen their misconceptions. "So you don't have the opportunity to just hit the thermostat and raise the temperature?" one bewildered acquaintance asked Brian during his brief visit to the US at Christmas. "That must be really hard," he concluded.

Brian straightened out the misunderstandings, and, still reeling from the culture shock of walking through supermarkets and seeing six different kinds of tomato ketchup to choose from, he was more than ready to return to the tranquility of Bulgaria. "It wasn't just culture shock from the consumerism," he said. "I was also surprised by the politics. It seemed that people only knew what they saw on television, and that's only one side of the story. I got the feeling that people there had a really narrow view of the world."

He signed up for Peace Corps' environmental programme in 2001 as he wanted to do something different with natural resources after two years with the forestry service in the US, but it was not until three months into his six month training programme in Bulgaria that he found he would be stationed in Strandja Nature Park. "They told me I'd be in Strandja and I had no idea where that was," he recalled. "We all had to stand where we were going on a big concrete map of Bulgaria at the training centre. I couldn't find Strandja and was eventually shown that I'd be way away from everybody on the Turkish border - I thought they were sending me to some desert region."

This caused him some second thoughts about the wisdom of volunteering in Bulgaria, but after visiting the nature park and seeing the huge forests there, he realised that things were going to be alright.

Though he sometimes feels a little restricted in terms of recreational activities and food variety in such a small town, Brian does not complain as he can always get a bus to Bourgas, just an hour away, where he catches up on the latest films and takes full advantage of the chance to eat non-Bulgarian cuisine.

He has almost come to the end of his two year placement working as an ecologist for Strandja Nature Park and, though he said that he feels he has gained more from Bulgarians than they have from him, he has initiated several valuable projects in the region.

Malko Turnovo's Eco Club for children is one of the projects that he set up with a Bulgarian colleague. They have organised activities and excursions for the 25 members, six to 10 of which he described as "hardcore enthusiasts", and recently held a bat night with a slide show and bat tracking.

Brian also works with bio-diversity conservation and he and his colleagues have implemented a project funded by the Bulgarian Swiss Bio-diversity Program to rehabilitate local wetlands polluted by heavy metals from an old mine. This spring they planted over 1000 willow trees there to improve the habitat for the 150 bird species that they've documented in the five-acre area. "We're also trying to get the locals to stop grazing their goats there," he said, "because the goats will eat all the young trees, but it might not be so easy to stop them."

Bio-diversity conservation has given him the most enjoyment, and he feels that when he finally leaves Bulgaria, probably to travel abroad before returning home, he'll be very satisfied with what he's achieved here in terms of relationships that he's made with Bulgarian friends, colleagues, and children. "I've just tried to be a friendly open person," he said. "And I'm happy that I've been productive. My time here has been a tremendous learning experience in every way."

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