All about 7th International Traveling University: New and Traditional Communities: Between Past and Future, Chiprovtsi, Bulgaria, 2015

NEW AND TRADITIONAL COMMUNITIES IN EUROPE: BETWEEN PAST AND FUTURE – 7th Interdisciplinary International Traveling University: ‘Place for Future’- A Transdisciplinary Education Network for Sustainable Development and Civic Participation, established by the Shtastlivetsa Sofia Civic Association and its partners.

Extracts from Matthew Love’s Diary

Today we left Sofia, to join the ‘Traveling University 2015′ and we visited a community of biodiversity farms in Zhelen. Each one unique and very different. Listened to some great lectures from the community members, their successes and their struggles and a glimpse of their lives. Learning lots about biodiversity and sustainable communities.

Now we are at Chiprosti and looking forward to some very interesting seminars….Think we’ll camp here for the week.

… Another fine summer’s day in Chiprovsti at the Travelling University. Today we were.learning about some of the local cultures and traditions and thinking about how we can develop new ideas for the community. Chiprovsti is very famous for traditional carpet making. We met with a local artist who made a tapestry for Pope John-Paul II. We also learned the amount of work and skill that goes into such production really is a labour of love which involves months of hard work, a lot of manual dexterity and skill.

Jim’s having an awesome time. He made a speech in the opening ceremony in Chinese and English which was then translated into Bulgarian by the interpreter for the local dignitaries and scholars….It’s having a really positive effect on him and he’s feeling quite confident to communicate. Some young students are also studying Chinese, so it’s been a great exchange for them to to speak Chinese with a native speaker and fellow student of the ‘Travelling University’

This is an awesome summer in Bulgaria, it might even top last years experience. People and place here is sound and fascinating culture to go with it…

… Great day, not only were we afforded three very excellent lectures from experts in a wide range of fields from socio-historical, modern e-technologies along with a solid foundation of the philosophical theoretical understanding that mapped the changes of the landscape, past, present and quite possibly future (depending how we utilise that knowledge) We also, got an opportunity and plenty of space to move around get a better feel of the wider community and connect with local people and basically get a feel of everyday life here in Chiprovtsi.

The students and academics are also becoming more excited (hopefully more involved). From my own view this an extraordinary learning experience beyond the confines of the classroom.

It’s also a fascinating convergence of different disciplines and focuses with enormous potential to use such skills and knowledge as a change for good. It’s also a brilliant way of getting students out into the field to learn the challenges of research practice, learning the methodology and instruments of data collection is one for a start

I’m definitely now interested in doing research on this project, with a long-term view to a deeper study, just on the pedagogical principles alone. However, there’s a vast wealth of different studies here in a multitude of areas that could be explored.

Jim’s loving it, last night we had a late night party in the camp and he was totally unleashed and he’s getting on well with his bright young student peers exchanging language and ideas…and having fun in that process too. I’m delighted….for both of us really and indeed everyone involved in this ‘Travelling University’ and the wider community here in Chiprovtsi.It’s a beautiful place.

This is an awesome ‘busman’s’ holiday….with a very unique style and difference in the classroom without walls.

… This is one of the Chiprovtsi carpet craftswomen, explaining the whole process of the production. She uses a model loom to talk about the production itself. She also sings some of the songs the weavers sang sometimes to battle tiredness or even speed up the process.

She also explains how the durability of the carpet was tested. By swinging people in them, normally with children while singing lullabies which would rock the children to sleep. Because weaving is pretty much a home or as we would say a ‘cottage industry’, weavers had to attend to children and work the looms simultaneously. As the child grew it also played a role in threading the loom. While the husband was responsible for foraging in the forests for plants, berries and flora that make up the dye, as well as overseeing the process, distributing the carpet to the market places. However, I think it safe to say that the women play the biggest role in the overall product.

Here you can see that the carpets are not only visually spectacular and artistically created and crafted, but also are strong enough not only to hold children but even adults. The lifespan of these carpets runs into hundreds of years and there many examples of carpets that date back to the start of carpet making itself. This weaver showed examples that were over a hundred years old that had been passed on to her from her mother. This is also a traditional and personal connection to the past family generations, that is common in Bulgaria.

The carpets themselves have an actual ‘narrative’ filled with symbolism or even a ‘code’ if you like, which give them meaning. In other words you can actually read the carpet and find a message or story contained within it. This was useful during the time of the Ottoman Empire, as only locals understood what each design pattern or object signified, so they managed to maintain a lot of their cultural identity and beliefs in an almost evasive manner. To the untrained eye it was just an almost abstract collection of shapes, circles and zig-zags and so on, but in fact there was quite a deep, clear and linear message contained within them. Cunning eh?

… More out and about in Chiprovtsi! Yesterday we visited the local school and we saw how hard the school has worked to maintain this beautiful and interesting craft for future generations.

Sadly a combination of bureaucracy, and regional government have put a number of obstacles in the way of the school and it’s now facing a crisis.

One example they were delegated as a ‘national’ arts and crafts school, then they imposed rules like that students needed to learn English. Although they had nothing ‘personal’ against the language, many keen enthusiastic students were turned away, because they hadn’t the English language ability or students weren’t interested in English they only wanted to embrace the arts. This had quite a negative impact on the school, along with other nuances that were being forced upon them and eventually the school gave up the national status. I’ve seen similar problems in Korea where there’s been way too much focus on English that has hindered or limited specialist schools in the arts and sciences. It’s kind of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” idiocy.

However ‘politics’ aside it is a great school with incredibly knowledgeable staff and I personally believe (although I’m just a visitor and don’t know the full depth of the story and the various arguments) there is still great potential here to revive the school and the craft on both a national (maybe even international) level.

… Sadly, last day of this year’s ‘Traveling University’ and to say we learned about the Bulgaria and gained new knowledge in regeneration projects for the Chiprovtsi region would be an understatement.

It’s been an absolutely fantastic’ educational journey for both Jun and myself, and we are just blown away by the depth of knowledge, care and compassion, unity and strength, hopes, determination and enthusiasm of all our partisanship to build better communities, forge new friendships in a very open and peaceful approach to learning and empowering those in need with our skills, ideas, creativity and above all a love for nature, history, art and culture and humanity in general.

This has been a bit of an exciting development of dreams and ideas, from a wide collection of scholars and students, from across Bulgaria, Europe and indeed the world. Now, the next step is to reflect on the experience and put the same energy on the drawing table, research and refine and put some kind of plan into action.

Now we are back in Sofia having few drinks and farewells..awesome week…

… Well, here we are at our penultimate destination at the end of our month long trip. In all the past summers I have been coming to Bulgaria, they just get better and better. Not only is Bulgaria a place of immense beauty, peace and tranquility with an extraordinary and fascinating history and culture with many unique traditions and customs, architecture, food, beer, wine and spirits, with good hotels, swimming pools, mountains, rivers, forests, sheep, deer, rabbits, cows and numerous species of birds and fish. It also has some of the most gentle, kind and friendly people you could ever possibly meet. And each year I meet more my experience just gets better. So the real essence has to be Bulgarian people themselves the truly make Bulgaria absolutely awesome. 

I’m very proud to call this country is where I live, rest and draw a breath of air, in between working in Korea. I still yearn for the day to see Bulgaria in Spring and Autumn, which if its anything like Korea, it must be truly awe inspiring. I yearn to work the land, and produce and contribute to the great fruit and wine and many other outstanding products you can find here and moreover in the rural areas.
Thank you all my Bulgarian teacher friends, thank you everyone in the ‘Traveling University’ (I’m already excited for next year). Thank you everyone in the town of Chiprovtsi and Targovishte, Thanks to everyone in the cities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Varna and Stara Zagora and the village of Makovo. It’s been great summer and I’m so looking forward to coming back again. In Scotland we say ‘God speed and haste ye back again’ and I certainly got the vibe from everyone. Thanks, I’m going away, but you’ll all be with me and my heart and mind, till next time when we can share so much news and stories one more time. I love you all, your my friends, my neighbors, my fellow Europeans and brothers and sisters.

It a sad one to go…but this is the nature of modern life, full of comings and goings….and I’ll always be back again.

Take Care 

Love and Peace



For eight years now, Shtastlivetsa Association has organized interdisciplinary summer schools, lectures, seminars, student practices and internships, debates, and artistic happenings—all dedicated to the new paradigm of Sustainable Development.

Some of our topics have brought together ecohumanism, new science, alternative culture and education, innovative forms of democracy and civic participation, ecology and environment quality. We have been weaving, like a Chiprovtsi carpet, the Place for Future education network, a community drawing its inspiration from a young tradition: the International Travelling University in the Municipality of Chiprovtsi and the region of Western Stara Planina in Bulgaria.

Our aim and passion is promoting cooperative culture and sustainable living. This means providing information and inspiration but also knowledge and reflection for those seeking a community, forming communities, struggling with the challenges of the new communal shapes, or wishing to develop a greater sense of community in their workplace or the various environments in which they live and communicate.

The topic of our next Traveling University is:


Traditional communities and behaviour models have been disintegrating; some have already become anachronistic. World-scale changes in our societies are so dynamic and unpredictable that they pose serious challenges to the capacity of inpiduals or groups to adapt. It has become increasingly difficult for groups to identify themselves on the basis of enduring, traditional interconnections. Identities seem to be ever more focused on personal choices, unfettered by long-lasting relationships and commitments. The structures, institutions and interactions fundamental to any society—family, matrimony, class oppositions and pisions, intergenerational, intersexual and interspecies relations—have undergone drastic transformations. At the same time, the necessity for new sustainable models of social behaviour, interaction and coexistence has become increasingly acute on all levels of social interrelations.

The need for communal belonging and sharing, however, often conflicts with the isolation and alienation stemming from the hyper inpidualization of our communities. The increasing geographical, economic and cultural mobility brought along by globalization processes has created further challenges to preserving established communities. Moreover, these processes prevent inpiduals from maintaining organized forms of shared life. The new inpiduals, who reject (and become ever more incompatible with) traditional norms, institutions, values and models of communal life, turn into institutions in themselves, and it is their calling to construct the new communities and norms of their world. There emerge communities developing new kinds of ‘common life.’ Some of them categorically break with tradition, others categorically return to it, still others rediscover it, attempt to modernize it and hand it down to future generations.

The ‘New Communities in Europe: Between Past and Future’ Traveling University invites us to reflect on the present and evolution of living in communities. Participants will get introduced to specific local examples of new and traditional communities in Northwestern Bulgaria. These communities have the advantage of being examined in their natural environment.

In parallel, participants will learn about other such communities in Europe and around the world, based on the principle ofintentional communities: ecovillagescohousing,residential land trusts, income-sharing communes student co-ops, spiritual communities, and other projects where people live together on the basis of explicit common values.

Still more examples will be drawn from some of the newest types of communal life in Bulgaria: from social networks such as the Food Co-op and Bg-Mamma movements, to civic groups and environmental protection networks such as the For the Nature Coalition and the Save Irakli civic group, to the new forms of ‘informal formal’ association such as our own Place for Future education network.

Last but not least, our Traveling University will stir us to debate and reflect.

Why do new communities emerge? How do they attract young or educated people? Can we discern, past their obvious persity, some common principles and values? Do they offer more—or different—opportunities for personal expression? How are they related to democracy? How do communities make decisions? Do they foster a more responsible attitude to communal wealth and public responsibilities? What are their drawbacks? Can they offer solutions to the crisis of community and identity? Do they overcome the disadvantages of ‘living in communes’ characteristic of the ‘old’ new communities from the 19th and 20th centuries? How?

We will talk about new and traditional communities but we’ll also try to live in a community, even if for a short period. Each day of the Traveling University will include:

  • in the mornings, presentations and discussions of various types of communities;
  • in the afternoons, workshops aimed at group (‘community’) interaction among the participants;
  • introduction to local traditional and innovative types of communal life.

We will focus on several topics related to coexistence and decision-making in a community:

  • Leadership decisions and majority rule
  • Innovative forms of decision-making (deliberation, democracy of consensus, etc.)
  • Dealing with power imbalances
  • Finding your role in a community
  • Integrating new members

he main institutional partners of our education network are:

  • New Bulgarian University, Sofia
  • Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • Institute of Archaeology with Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
  • La Maison des sciences de l’Homme, Dijon
  • Georges Chevrier Centre at the University of Burgundy
  • Institute of Sociological Studies at Pierre Mendes-France University, Grenoble
  • University Montesquieu – Bordeaux IV
  • Institute of European Studies at Jagiellon University, Kracov
  • Institute of European Studies at Matej Bel University, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia
  • European Association for the Protection of Human Rights
  • For the Nature Coalition
  • WWF – Bulgaria
  • Chiprovtsi Municipality
  • Chiprovtsi, Alternative and Development (CHAR) Association
  • Chiprovtsi History Museum

For more information about our previous Traveling Universities,

please see the following links:

Резултат с изображение за място за бъдеще ЧипровциAll about our next International Traveling University in

Chiprovtsi 2015: New and Traditional Communities in Europe: Between Past and Future: Program

7 years Traveling Universities ‘Place for Future’ in Chiprovtsiincluding:

All about Spring University ‘Europe on the Go: Citizen Empowerment and Sustainable Development’, Chiptovtsi 2014:

Video Diary of Spring University ‘Europe on the Go: Citizen Empowerment and Sustainable Development’,

Chiptovtsi 2014:

All about Traveling University and Summer School for Sustainable Regional Development Place for Future, Chiprovtsi 2013:

Video Diary of Traveling University and Summer School for Sustainable Regional Development Place for Future, Chiprovtsi 2013:

More about the region West Stara Planina



The PLACE FOR FUTURE network is a broad alliance for informal and alternative education. Our priority over the recent years has been the introduction of sustainable development education and good practices into Bulgarian curricula; and bringing together Bulgarian academic circles with genuine civic initiatives and good practices of civil participation.

Shtastlivetsa’s ‘trademark’ are travelling universities. Traditionally, we have organized them in Western Stara Planina since 2009, on the principle of interdisciplinary education through field demonstrations and practice.

‘The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were!’

John F. Kennedy

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