2014-07-23 / Columns

Ambassadors to Bulgaria program offers life-changing summer experience

By JESSICA SKLAR For the Voice

Melissa Morgan (left) and Jessica Sklar experience Bulgaria on BBYO’s Ambassadors to Bulgaria summer program. Melissa Morgan (left) and Jessica Sklar experience Bulgaria on BBYO’s Ambassadors to Bulgaria summer program. Some teens go down the shore over the summer; others go to camp. I, however, had the unique opportunity of visiting the country of Bulgaria from June 23 to July 2 with BBYO’s Ambassadors to Bulgaria summer experience.

Approximately 80 teens took part in this program, with an almost equal split of North American and European teens. Participants were from countries that included the UK, Ireland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Macedonia, and Serbia. On this trip, I was able to talk to all of these teens and form friendships with people that I never would have met otherwise.

During our time in Bulgaria, we did a ton of sight seeing. I loved being able to see the highlights of Bulgaria, a country that I am sure I would not have traveled to if not for this trip. We were able to swim in the Black Sea, climb the fortress of Tsvarets, which is located in the old capital Veliko Turnovo, and walk the streets of old Plovdiv. Known as the sixth oldest city in the world, Plovdiv is home to an ancient Roman amphitheatre that was open to walk around and climb on. It felt as though I was traveling back in time.

In addition, during our time in Sofia we were able to freely walk around the city to shop, as long as we were accompanied by native Bulgarian teens to translate. It was an incredible experience to see the city and walk around.

Besides sightseeing, we spent our time doing community service. The projects and sites we took on were varied and gave me a chance to give back to the Bulgarian community in many different ways. I had the opportunity to clean an extremely dilapidated Jewish cemetery and pick up trash. One day, a small group went to the Sofia Animal Rescue to help walk the dogs and socialize with the puppies. In Plovdiv, we met with local Holocaust survivors. It was so interesting to hear their stories, especially because Bulgaria was one of only three countries allied with the Axis powers to save their Jewish population from concentration camps.

One day in Sofia, small groups of around four people each met with elderly Jewish residents. It provided me an experience I never thought I would have. To help break language barriers, one of the girls in my group was able to translate Bulgarian so we could hear the story of her life.

My favorite part of the trip was the day that kids from a nearby orphanage came to our hotel. All participants had the chance to play with these young children that were between the ages of 5-7. It was so amazing to see how quickly I could bond with a little kid that spoke a different language from me. We had lunch together and then played for the rest of the afternoon.

I am sure that every person who participated will never forget that day.

Overall, my time in Bulgaria was incredible. I was able to tour a country that I had never been to before alongside teens from across the world. This truly made my summer memorable! .

Jessica Kailee Sklar is the South Jersey Region’s 54th N’siah (president).

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