Ashtabula professor gears up for Bulgaria

Morgan Day

Even before Roger Craik packed his bags to leave Bulgaria two summers ago, he realized this was a place he wanted to visit again.

Craik, associate professor of English at the Ashtabula campus, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship enabling him to do just that next semester when he teaches poetry appreciation classes at Sofia University in Bulgaria.

“I think it’s a valuable and interesting thing to do,” Craik said on teaching abroad. “It’s the kind of thing that keeps one fresh.”

Craik was invited to give lectures in Veliko Turnovo and Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, two summers ago and later talked with university members about applying for the scholarship. The scholarship was created by former Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright to promote “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world,” according to the program’s Web site.

Craik said he enjoyed Sofia, with its mixture of grand governmental buildings, large churches and parks. He liked the university as well.

“It (the university) is big and dark and it’s got marble staircases and old wooden desks,” he said. “It’s grand and going slightly to seed. There are big staircases and long, dark corridors, and you get the feeling that the desks have been there forever.”

Now, he is attempting to tackle the Bulgarian language by practicing with lessons on CD while driving. Craik already knows the Cyrillic alphabet in which the language is written and has learned various Bulgarian phrases.

His courses in Sofia, however, will be taught in English.

“The whole point of me being here is that I will be speaking in English,” he said. “There’d be no use in me speaking Bulgarian. So the people can hear English and have an exposure to someone who is brought up in Western culture and Western tradition.”

In addition to Craik’s teaching at the Ashtabula campus, he also writes his own poetry and has three books to his name – all published in Australia.

He will teach two courses at Sofia University – Contemporary British Poetry and Modernism, which will study 20th century modernist writers such as T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens and James Joyce.

A native of England and no stranger to travel, Craik said going abroad makes people realize the good lives they left behind.

“You get a kind of culture shock in reverse,” he said. “People always talk about what a difference it makes to go to another country, but I think the difference is looking at your own country, which in my case is America, with different eyes.”

Michael Kreyche, systems librarian and 2003 Fulbright Scholar, said visits to host countries as a tourist often prompt faculty to apply for Fulbright Scholarships.

Kreyche, who taught in El Salvador, said he has always been interested in Latin America and saw the program as an opportunity to combine personal and educational interests. He said he was one of many Portage County residents who hosted refugees from the El Salvadoran civil war.

“It (the Fulbright) was a very rewarding experience, and I’ve continued to visit there every year since that time,” he said.

Contact regional south campuses reporter Morgan Day at [email protected].