On first setting foot in America, Vesselina Ivanova realized that things are somewhat different from the way they are back in Bulgaria. She found herself greeting people on the street she never met before. She got smiles and felt welcomed. The convoluted bus system on the other hand, she wasn’t too fond of.
Who knew that something as minute as opening doors would take time getting adjusted to. The door handles in most of Europe were levers that you would push downwards on to open the door. Here, she found herself getting used to twisting door knobs to open doors.
Nevertheless, the more that Ivanova communicated with people, the more she felt right at home. This is exactly how she felt teaching at Falls Church High School. With an understanding and committed staff in the English department, Ivanova, a Fulbright exchange program teacher, fit right in teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) at Falls Church High School.
The Fulbright scholarship was started in 1946 by J. William Fulbright, a former senator of the state of Arkansas. Fulbright dedicated this scholarship to exchange students and teachers seeking to invest their studies or career abroad so that they may use the different resources available to enhance their learning or teaching experience. Moreover, this exchange helps recipients of the Fulbright scholarship to learn about different cultures, as well as broaden their view of the world.
In this case, the exchange process between Ivanova and Falls Church High School teacher Brian Grandjean, a Peace Corps worker with a M.A. in history, English and other languages, has worked out perfectly.
“We are exceptionally privileged to have a perfect match and to have such a competent teacher,” Marilyn McGivney, Ivanova’s mentor at Falls Church High School, said.
Ivanova now lives in Grandjean’s Flat in Fall Church while Grandjean lives in her flat in Bulgaria.
This year, Ivanova was one of only two Bulgarian Fulbright scholars to be selected to teach in America. She will teach ESOL students at Falls Church High School, for one year before returning to her homeland.
Ivanova taught English for 10 years to at a Bulgarian high school. There she was able rely on a shared native language to relay confusing terms. Now, teaching ESOL to students at the beginner and intermediate levels at a diverse institution such as Falls Church High School presents a new challenge — particularly when her students’ first languages include Somali, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. She solves that dilemma by using pictures and other means to communicate unknown words or concepts to the students.
Ivanova herself speaks Bulgarian, Russian and English. Moreover, her 18-year-old son speaks Spanish and English, and her 16-year-old daughter speaks French and English in addition to their native Bulgarian. Both of Ivanova’s children now attend George Mason High School. In Bulgaria, they attended an English only school, where they earned academic distinction, and grew up speaking English fluently. Now, Ivanova would like to impart the same success upon her newest children — those in her ESOL class at Falls Church High School.