By Ron Harvey—I LIVE IN Sofia, Bulgaria. I am a community psychologist (DePaul, 2014) who teaches psychology at American University in Bulgaria (AUBG.) I did both my Fulbrights in Bulgaria (Fulbright U.S. student, 2009-2010; Fulbright Scholar, 2016).
I like living in Bulgaria and I love my work and students; AUBG hosts over 40 nationalities from the region, and every classroom of 32 students typically have between 8 to 12 nationalities. However, there is nothing that makes me appreciate Chicago and the United States as much as my yearly visits to my hometown. What I am about to write about my most recent 3-week visit are simple pleasures, but they mean a lot to me. And in my opinion, they reflect the ideals of the Fulbright program: cultural exchange.
It starts when getting off the plane and walking to passport control. Passport control at O’Hare Airport is an enormous room holding several thousand travelers being directed my locals. Every face of every worker looks familiar, but I do not know them. But I can smile at them and they smile back. This makes me happy. Also, cutting in line is an art form in Bulgaria; this does not happen here (very much).
In the past few years, I came home to visit my family over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. This year and last I visited in mid-summer. Chicago’s summer is glorious. I had forgotten how beautiful and vibrant this city is during summer. A walk from Millennium Park to Oak Street on the Magnificent Mile yielded at least 20 musical performances on sidewalks, makeshift stages, and of course the Pritzker Pavilion. Every musician was good! And everyone smiled at me who caught my eye! Who knew that Chicago was such a friendly city?
LOOK AT THAT SKYLINE! LOOK AT THAT RIVER! OMG, THAT LAKE! I walked and walked along the lake during the day when you can have the lakefront almost to yourself. It is gorgeous and peaceful most of the time, but sometime behaves like the Black Sea.
And the food! These are things you cannot get in Southeastern Europe: hot dogs (Chicago and Coney-style)! Deep dish pizza! Pancakes for dinner as well as for breakfast! A steak as big as my chest! REAL Greek gyros! ICE! RE-FILLS! Bottomless cups of coffee! This is not healthy list, but imagine having nothing even close to this for the past year.
I am in Chicago for a conference of the Society for Community Research and Action, hosted at National Louis University. Throughout the conference, I kept talking to my fellow community psychology scholars and students about applying for Fulbright, saying over and over, “Fulbright changed my life.” Without Fulbright, I would not be living in Bulgaria or doing the work I do now. Being reunited with Chicago is part of that experience, bittersweet as it may be.
It is totally worth it. Let Fulbright change your life too!
Dr. Ronald Harvey was the president of the Chicago Chapter of the Fulbright Association in 2013 and 2014.