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From Roseville to Bulgaria?

Date: 03.08.2010

By Josh Fernandez
The Press Tribune

Going to Bulgaria after college almost sounds like the punch line to a joke. But Roseville native Dena Fehrenbacher isn’t laughing a little bit.

OK, so, technically, she’s laughing.

“I was thinking about changing my Facebook to something like, ‘I have escaped the U.S. and I am now residing in Bulgaria,’” she said, choking back a smile.

But, jokes aside, Fehrenbacher was recently awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarship to Bulgaria to teach English as a foreign language there for a year. And that opportunity is a dream come true for the recent UC Berkeley grad who double majored in English and economics.

“Everyone always asks me why I chose to go to Bulgaria,” Fehrenbacher said. “Post-transition Eastern Europe is interesting to me … and I thought it would be fun to try my hand at teaching English.”

While any college graduate can apply for a Fulbright, the lengthy process includes a detailed application, two essays and an interview.

A spokesman for the Fulbright program said it’s a competitive scholarship that’s getting more popular with each year.

The program will pay for Fehrenbacher’s flight, plus pay her a thousand-dollar stipend each month.

“It’s more than enough to live in Bulgaria,” she said.

Fehrenbacher, who did very well during her tenure at Berkeley, is one of more than 1,500 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2010-2011 academic year through the Fulbright student program.

And while she’s excited for her flight that lands in Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital) on Friday, she’s also quite nervous about the language barrier.

“I’m trying to learn as fast as I can,” she said.

According to its website, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It’s designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people in other countries.

Funding for the program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of Sate, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

After Fehrenbacher arrives in Sofia (at around 2 p.m., Bulgaria time), she’ll then make a two hour journey to the tree-laden town of Lovech, in north-central Bulgaria, where she’ll live for the next year in an apartment provided by the Fulbright program.

Lovech – a town of about 50,000 people – is surrounded by hills and is the birthplace of author Dimitar Dimov and poet Hristo Karpachev.

“It’s supposed to be hot in the summer and really cold in the winter,” Fehrenbacher said. “I’ve never lived in a place that it snows.”

Weather isn’t the only difference. Cultural nuances might take Fehrenbacher a while to get used to. For instance, compared to the constant hurriedness of American culture, Bulgarians aren’t really in a rush.

“It’s a much slower pace and people disregard time,” Fehrenbacher said. “But so far, everyone I’ve been in contact with has been really hospitable and kind.”

Fehrenbacher’s fellow classmate at U.C. Berkeley, Hanif Houston, said his friend is a perfect fit to teach and to represent the United States in Eastern Europe.

“Dena is sharp, smart, motivated, and, she’s also kind as hell,” Houston said. “She’s such a sweetheart, down to the core.

Forty Fulbright alumni from 11 countries have gone on to win the Nobel Prize and 75 alumni have received Pulitzer Prizes.

No pressure, though.

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