Unlocking Potential: Bulgaria Hosts first Digital Skills Academy since Pandemic


Students from across Europe and Israel have taken part in the first World ORT Digital Skills Academy summer school to take place since the pandemic.

After four months of a rigorous selection process, a group of 22 talented youngsters arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria, for two weeks of intensive studies and skill development. During the program, participants honed their video production, audio production, and digital photography skills. The students travelled from seven countries across the ORT network: Bulgaria, Spain, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Ukraine.

The event started with an opening ceremony at the ORT No. 134 “Dimcho Debelianov” Jewish School, attended by Vesela Paldamova, the school Principal, Director of ORT Bulgaria Plamen Petrov, and the course leaders.

The first week proved to be an engaging and educational experience. The group had the privilege of visiting Bulgaria’s largest national TV studio, Nova TV, where they were given a tour by local celebrity Nikolay Doynov. They witnessed the live broadcasting of the afternoon news and even saw their visit featured on the channel’s news website. Additionally, they enjoyed a live concert by talented local Bulgarian musician, Etienne Levy, known for his eccentric performances and for being a vocal coach on Bulgarian TV shows such as Music Idols, The Masked Singer, and X Factor.

The group of students at the studio.

The participants’ journey also included a visit to the renowned Nu Boyana Film Studios, owned by independent Hollywood film companies. The studio complex offered 10 impressive sound stages, an extensive costume wardrobe, and various standing sets, including replicas of New York, London, a Middle Eastern street, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a grand ancient set with a Roman colosseum.

Besides the digital skills development, the students actively engaged in team-building and cultural activities. The students had prepared presentations to share unique insights into their respective countries, showcasing landscapes, culture, music, and traditional attire. The engaging presentations were complemented by sharing snacks from their home nations, fostering a sense of unity and appreciation for diversity.

Divided into three groups based on their interests, the students delved deeply into Video Production, Audio Production, and Advanced Digital Photography. The Audio Production group visited a professional recording studio, while the Digital Photography and Video Production groups gained hands-on experience in setting up scenes at the school’s studios using professional-grade lights and cameras.

Students at the Audio production studio.

As part of their Jewish experience, the group enjoyed a traditional Shabbat during the summer school. A memorable highlight was the visit from Naama Levi, the Deputy Ambassador to the Embassy of the State of Israel in Bulgaria, who shared inspiring insights into Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit.

On Saturday morning, most of the group embarked on a fascinating walking tour of Sofia, exploring the three parts of the so-called Triangle of Tolerance: the Sveta Nedelya Church, the Banya Bashi Mosque, and the Sofia Synagogue. The students were warmly welcomed inside the breathtaking synagogue, adorned with impressive Sephardi-style decorations from the early 20th century.

During the week, the group travelled 100km to Kyustendil, a charming town in western Bulgaria near the border with North Macedonia. Here, they visited the town center and two museums. One of the museums showcased the replicated home of Dimitar Peshev, a significant figure in ensuring Bulgaria’s Jews were not deported during the Second World War. The second museum showcased the collected works of the esteemed local painter and sculptor, Vladimir Dimitrov-Maystora. The students embraced these visits as an opportunity to apply their newly acquired skills in a creative environment. Continuing the journey, the week also featured a visit to a beautiful sequoia forest and the ancient Hisarlaka Fortress, originally built by the Romans in AD 400.

The group on a training session.

As part of the cultural experience, the students were treated to a delightful showcase of traditional Bulgarian folk dancing. Eager to participate, they learned new dance steps and joyfully danced together. The festivities continued with a talent show, where the students amazed each other with their talents, including singing, magic tricks, contemporary dance, stand-up comedy, and a cappella performances.

During the Academy the students were challenged with creating content on social media highlighting their experience and what they have learnt. Congratulations to the winners Yahav and Ori from Darca Zinman School, Israel, Noam Shynes from Beit Yerah School, Israel and Abraham and Sara from Colegio Estrella Toledano, Spain. You can watch the winning entry below:

The summer school ended with the students dedicating themselves to continuing their projects and exploring other captivating sites of interest in neighbouring towns. At the closing ceremony, the students proudly showcased a collective project and their individual pieces and demonstrated how far they had progressed the skills, as well as confidence, they gained during the World ORT Digital Skills Academy.