Peace Corps volunteer and Newark native Rafael Aguilar on X Factor Bulgaria. Photos (2)
Rafael Aguilar always wanted to make a difference, and for more than two years the Newark Memorial High School alumnus has done just that in eastern Europe.
On Monday, the 25-year-old returned to Bregovo, Bulgaria, where he has been teaching English to students in grades 1 through 12, to extend his stay for a third – and final – year as a Peace Corps volunteer. He plans to continue working toward improving his students’ understanding of the English language.
Aguilar’s return to the village of 1,500 residents that he has called home since 2009 comes weeks after he made a star appearance on X Factor Bulgaria.
Known to belt songs with a strong tenor voice, Aguilar publically made his decision to stay with the Peace Corps rather than continue on with the vocal competition. The reason for his choice was simple.
“I love my kids,” Aguilar said. “I wasn’t ready to leave, and if I had one more year… why not [do it].”
But teaching has not been an easy task for Aguilar, who said that the Bulgarian school system is much different than that in the United States.
Each class, which can vary from 16 to 32 students, is divided by grade level rather than language skills. A student who is nearly fluent in English might be in the same class with otherss who only speak Bulgarian.
Aguilar said his participation on X Factor Bulgaria was meant to send a message to his students in Bregovo. He wanted to build a feeling of nationalism within the village and put Bregovo on the map.
“I want the students to know you can [go far] even if you come from an isolated village if you just follow your dreams,” he said.
Aguilar joined the Peace Corps one year after graduating from University of California, Santa Barbara, where he majored in global and international studies. He expected to be exposed to a different culture and Bulgaria did, in fact, prove to be a big change for him. He spent his first two months with a Bulgarian family learning about the culture. He now cooks Bulgarian cuisine and speaks conversational Bulgarian.
He said his time in Bregovo has made him live life more simply.
“I just need hot water, a bed, clothes and a cell phone to live my life,” he said.
Aguilar returns to his life in Bulgaria with much excitement.
“I wanted to stay with the Peace Corps and stay with the students. I already made that promise,” he said.
To keep up with Aguilar’s life in Bulgaria, click here to read his blog. See the video above to watch him on Bulgaria X Factor.