Nicole Simmons is the wife of Eric S. Rubin, who has been the US Ambassador to Bulgaria since February 2016.
Nicole is also an epidemiologist and international health expert with 20 years of experience managing and developing technical assistance, training and research projects. She is currently a part-time faculty member in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a current project evaluating an early childhood development programme in Swaziland.
Nicole was born in New York City, but grew up largely in Minnesota and is now permanently resident in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of Harvard and Johns Hopkins University. In addition to her four resident postings overseas Nicole has extensive experience leading projects in Ethiopia and Bangladesh. She is proficient in Russian and Thai, has a working knowledge of French and hopes soon to attain proficiency in Bulgarian.
As a foreign service spouse Nicole has lived in Kiev, Chiang Mai, Thailand, and in Moscow. In all three previous posts she held full time positions working in US supported programs in international health and development, including health and social sector reform, HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health. Whilst in Chiang Mai and in Moscow she also focused on organising art exhibits and cultural outreach. She is very interested in the potential of art and cultural events to build bridges between the United States and other countries, and to generate debate on many different issues.
Nicole's interest in Bulgaria and things Bulgarian is intense. She has been receiving many guests from the United States and elsewhere, and she has always taken them to different places in Bulgaria because she doesn't want to visit the same place twice. "I love Sofia and Vitosha. I've been to Borovets and to Bansko, I've been to Kazanlak – to both the Rose Festival and the Thracian tombs. We've also been to Sozopol and Sveti Vlas on the Black Sea coast, to name just a few. We are planning to go fishing, then we'll visit Veliko Tarnovo for the Bulgarian Independence Day and we'll stay at Arbanasi. Our schedule is quite full."
Nicole's passion for the arts dates back to some of her earliest foreign postings when she started collecting local art. In this she was assisted by both her husband and her father, whom she describes as a serious collector. One of her main interests in Bulgaria is the Art in Embassy programme run by the US State Department, which aims to showcase the work of both living US and foreign artists and enhance dialogue between them. The programme was started in 1963 and it was President John F. Kennedy who formalised it by appointing its first director. At present, there are 200 exhibition halls and spaces throughout the world where the programme operates – usually in US embassies, residences and other related spaces. "There are curators at the State Department who work closely with the various ambassadors to select artwork to be loaned for a period of three years, "says Nicole. The State Department would then pay for the shipping.
As part of the programme, there is going to be a series of US-Bulgarian exhibitions the first of which already materialised in April-May 2017. On the US side the participants included noted artists H. K. Anne, Bascove, Noël Hudson, Michiko Itanani, Cindy Litchfield and Alex Katz, while on the Bulgarian side there were Hari Atanasov, Krasi Todorov, Selma Todorova, Marin Delimarinov and Petya Deneva. The theme of the exhibition was Expressive Landscapes.
Rhodope Morning, 2009, Hari Atanasov
Cosmic Wanderlust, 2013, Michiko Itatani
Homeland, 2011, Marin Delimarinov