During the past two weeks, I have taken the subway to New Bulgarian University to attend class lectures daily. I also got the honor of shadowing Dr. Margarita Stankova during therapy sessions with children with developmental disorders. Here, I have learned about the numerous cultural differences between Bulgarian and American families. Additionally, I learned about the differences in perspectives on developmental disorders between Bulgaria and the United States.
While shadowing Dr. Stankova, I noticed most Bulgarian children are introduced to a second language as early as four years old! Children in Bulgaria are given the choice to learn a second language at their elementary school. Many of the Bulgarian children I met are fluent in English and native to Bulgarian. I was very impressed that some children are fluent in three or more languages! So far, I have met children fluent in Russian, English, Bulgarian, and Greek. This differs from the United States since most children attending public schools are given the option to learn a second language until middle school. As a bilingual person who learned English until I was twelve years old, I find it amazing to see children learning a second language early, as this will help facilitate their articulation of new words in the future!
Additionally, it is common for American children and adults with ADHD to take medications to help them focus on tasks. However, Bulgarian children and adults choose not to take medications for ADHD, except only in severe cases. In fact, many parents are against their children taking medications as they fear this will do more harm than good. Instead, they prefer their children undergo therapy. I found this difference interesting since it has become normalized for me to take medications daily, as many of my US peers do.
Lastly, during the past few days, Dr. Margarita Stankova has introduced me to speech therapists and leaders of organizations for children with autism. I learned that the Bulgarian school system is structured differently from American schools. Unfortunately, regular Bulgarian schools do not have a special program for children with developmental disorders like in the US. I was saddened to learn these children are often misunderstood and seen as lazy by their teachers and peers. Some teachers will exclude children with developmental disorders and treat them like they are contagious and sick. Fortunately, to provide them with support and education, there are separate schools designated for children with autism where they are taught topics similar to regular schools along with important life skills used outside the classroom. Here, children are grouped based on whether they are high-functioning or low-functioning. One of the benefits is that the classrooms are much smaller, allowing teachers to form close and meaningful relationships with the children. It is important for some children with developmental disorders to feel safe and connected to people in order to confide in them, listen to them, and, most importantly, learn from them. Seeing these children be comfortable with their teachers and have beautiful and meaningful relationships with them was amazing!
I am beyond grateful for the insight Dr. Margarita Stankova has given me into developmental disorders, their important biological factors, their symptoms, and the stigma surrounding them. Without this study abroad program, I would not have been able to shadow therapy sessions and be exposed to a diverse population of children with developmental disorders. I am so honored to have been welcomed by my professors, the leaders of organizations, and locals. I look forward to learning more from them!
P.S. The first attached photo shows me shadowing Dr. Margarita Stankova! The second photo was taken on my first day exploring Bulgaria!
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