Eleven High Schools in the Midwest Participated in Euro Challenge 2014

Eleven high schools from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin participated in the 2014 Euro Challenge.

GlobalFest 2014

GlobalFest is an annual event that celebrates world languages and cultures, and encourages middle and high school students to make connections with the global society.

U-46 Teacher Travels the Globe to Enhance Her Lessons

Elgin Area School District teacher Chris LaRue spent two weeks in Turkey in 2013, a trip that was almost entirely funded by the Turkish Cultural Foundation.

EU Centers of Excellence Education Trip to Belgium

Read two teachers' experiences during the 2013 EU Centers of Excellence Education Trip to Belgium.

TED Helps European and American Educators Connect

The Transatlantic Educators Dialogue (TED), held from February through May, gives American and European educators an opportunity to meet virtually to discuss educational issues.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

TRANSATLANTIC EDUCATOR'S DIALOGUE (TED) SERIES-Week Six

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week Six Prompt:How does your country approach higher education? What is the student debt situation like? How many colleges and universities does the country have? Are any of them world-renown / famous? How is the transition between their high-school analogue and university handled? Do students frequently get scholarships, or do they tend to pay for themselves? Do good students get automatic acceptance into public universities?

Bulgaria in Higher Education

Like many EU member states, Bulgaria has been steadily making progress in higher education reform in the 1990s, driven by Bulgaria’s necessity to revitalize their economy and labor force. 
According to the Fulbright Office of Bulgaria, the country has 51 accredited higher education institutions – 37 public, and 14 private. There are four different types of higher education institutions: Higher Education College, University, Specialized Higher Education Institution, and Academy. Admission to these higher schools, in general, requires entrance exams and a diploma from a completed secondary education. Admission requirements do vary, though, depending on the nature of the higher education institute (i.e., technical schools have different requirements than university).

Cost of living and attending higher education institutes in Bulgaria is very low, compared to the United States, making attending a university more feasible for individuals in the middle class. Tuition rates in the mid 2000s were between 2,500 and 5,000 euros, depending on the school (tended to be more expensive at trade schools). No recent (within the past few years) data is available on student loan debt ratios, from what I can dig up in English; but, in the early 2000s, scholars began suggesting Bulgaria implement a stronger student loan program to accommodate students from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. Since Bulgaria participates in an EU-wide education initiative that provides funding to schools for a variety of educational needs, it is likely that they provide more financial support than universities in the U.S. It is unclear to me, at this point, though, whether or not Bulgaria offers free tuition in any form to its citizens, like most other European nations.

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Transatlantic Educator's Dialogue (TED) Series-Week Five

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week Five Prompt: Please write about your country's immigration policy, esp. now during the current refugee crisis. How many refugees have they let in, and how many more do they plan to admit? What sort of migrants (if any)? Is it their decision, or is your country being compelled by the European Union? Is there support for this additional immigration in the country you are studying? Has there been a far right party backlash?

Bulgaria and the refugee crisis

Up until the recent immigration crisis, Bulgaria applied the EU’s visa policy to its national law since January of 2007. Bulgaria, however, is not part of the Schengen Zone – the EU’s transnational free travel zone that is now, due to the refugee crisis, at risk. Since Bulgaria does not participate in the Schengen Zone, only national visas are issued, and these do not necessarily allow travel into the EU. According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, foreign visitors entering Bulgaria must be in possession of regular foreign travel documents, as well as a visa if planning any length of stay (Visa C or D) or for airport transit (Visa A). Visas must be submitted at least 3 months ahead of time. According to the site, persons applying for long stay visas under asylum or in relation to refugee status are not required to provide extensive document when applying for the visa.

Having signed and ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and cooperating with EU law implementation, Bulgaria produced a national law called the ‘Law on Asylum and Refugees’ (LAR) to cope with forced migration. Under the LAR, there are four types of protection for immigrants seeking asylum: asylum, refugee statues, humanitarian status, and temporary protection. For the purposes of the current refugee crisis: asylum is granted to those persecuted for reasons of their convictions or expression of rights and freedoms; refugee status is granted to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, social circles, or political opinion and does not have protection in their home country; humanitarian status is granted due to forced migration under threat of serious harm; and temporary protection is granted “in the event of mass influx of foreign nationals who are forced to leave the country of origin as a result of an armed conflict, civil war, foreign aggression, large-scale violations of human rights, or violence in the territory” (Migrant Citizenship Education, Bulgaria).

With all of this information, how does Bulgaria actually handle the Syrian refuges? According to many reports, Syrian refugees avoid settling in Bulgaria because there is little to no monetary of physical aid available to them; nor are the welcomed or wanted in the country (Ayres, 2015). But, Bulgaria has accepted their refugee quota imposed by the EU, processing 10,600 asylum requests by August of 2015. Riddled with corruption, a weak economy, and anti-refugee sentiment at the moment, the country is not a viable place to start a new life. If there is funding support from the EU, it is not being disseminated to the refugees, who are being housed in former Communist party buildings and given meager living stipends. Additionally, while these refugees have the option and right to attend school, immigrant integration programs are few and far between.

To stem some of the illegal migration, Bulgaria erected a barbed-wire fence along the Turkish border and increased patrols. As of January 2016, the UNHCR has been extremely concerned over the safety of refugees attempting to cross the Bulgarian borders due to several reported deaths. They also remained concerned due to multiple reports of abuse and extortion against refugees seeking asylum in Bulgaria (UNHCR). Like many other conservative EU member states, it is possible Bulgaria does not welcome these refugees due to differences in religion. Unfortunately for those with anti-refugee sentiments, the crisis is not predicted to stop anytime soon. As one of the gatekeeper countries to the EU, Bulgaria is in very serious need of physical and monetary assistance to help both usher those refugees seeking passage to northern Europe and provide humane assistance to those wishing to settle in the country.
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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Transatlantic Educator's Dialogue (TED) Series-Week Four

From January to May, the European Union Center invites educators from throughout the world to come together in an online setting and discuss important topics in modern educational practice and politics. As part of this discussion, students from the University of Illinois are invited to follow the discussion and write short posts about related topics on a country of interest. Lindsay Ozburn, a student in the EU Center’s Masters of Arts in European Union Studies program, will be contributing to this series through a multi-week study of Bulgarian politics and government. Her research will provide a thoughtful and helpful case study that will give TED participants a chance to see how their discussion topics are expressed in real life.

Week Four Prompt: Please write about your country's youth employment situation, remedies, and the availability of youth programs in general.

Bulgaria’s Youth

Youth unemployment, defined as ages 15-29 by the National Youth Strategy (2020), has been very high in Bulgaria. Statistics from 2015 report the highest percentage at 22.5% unemployed in March 2015, and its lowest at 20.4% unemployment in September (tradingeconomics.com). According to the Employment, Social Affairs, & Inclusion report, Unemployment appears to be slightly decreasing since 2014. However, with the Eurozone in flux, these numbers likely change with every quarter.

In response to this high unemployment rate, the Bulgarian government partakes in and EU-wide program to support young people not in employment or educational training, in regions with unemployment rates above 25%. This program, The Youth Employment Initiative (2012), is support by the European Commission to implement the Youth Guarantee schemes. Under Youth Guarantee, member states are encouraged to put measures in place to ensure good quality employment offers, continued education, or an apprenticeship/traineeship within four months of leaving school or being unemployed (EU Commission).

For the year 2014-2015, Bulgaria, with support from the European Commission and several other countries, requested an advance of one billion euros to the YEI, for use by all member states. This was meant to speed up the implementation time for the Youth Guarantee scheme created by the EU institutions. The funding can directly support high-quality traineeships and apprenticeships (the meaning of ‘support’ is unclear), placement for first job post-college, start-up support for young entrepreneurs, and educational training. According to the Country Sheet on Youth Policy in Bulgaria, (2012), the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Science is responsible for youth initiatives and programs, including their implementation. The Ministry’s goal is to make Bulgaria attractive to all young people by establishing economic and educational opportunities.
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