AUBG: Mission Possible

This essay was a winning submission to a contest held by the American University in Bulgaria in 2001 in celebration of the school's 10th anniversary. The topic: "AUBG: Mission Possible?"  Photo by Goha.

What mission? Nurturing future leaders does not count as a mission—future leaders are a by-product. Liberal arts? Providing liberal arts education is not the University’s mission—it is one of the Blagoevgrad’s downtown edifice. "American University in Bulgaria" shines proudly off its sides over the town. What a confusing misnomer. The real University is not brick and mortar, glass and marble. It's not in any of the classrooms, labs, gyms, dorms or even canteens. Not exactly. AUBG is in the hearts. There it teaches. There it lives.

AUBG's true mission is to reverse the story of Babel, re-blend the tongues of the ever-warring region into one Absolute Esperanto. Its mission is to bring together young people dispersed and locked in their hundred (nevermind their eighteen) years of ethnic, cultural, historic loneliness. Its mission is to amalgamate an Über Nation without wars and hatred, where Knowledge is an elected President and where Friendship holds the monopoly of power. In that AUBG has never failed.

I remember myself on my first day: a foreign freshman stuffed in a room with three Bulgarians, not even knowing how to nod correctly in this strange country. My Bulgarian has crystallized out of the Bulgarian-English-Russian-Moldavian lingual soup my roommates and I devoured. A young Kazakh woman speaks Serbian to a Montenegrin, watching his jaw drop. Another, a Bulgarian, converses in Bucharest with its natives. A Romanian starts singing along to Russian music. Making grammar mistakes? To hell with mistakes! Understanding each other—that's what matters. "Te dashuroj, te obicham, te iubesc, ljubam te, yes kez si'rumem, liubliu tebia, volim te, szeretlek te'ged." Can one really mispronounce "I love you"?

We moved beyond understanding, slowly developing a common system of symbols. The landmarks are equally familiar and dear to all, regardless of age, sex or origin: Underground, hiking, Bansko, beer, MUD, IRC, deadline at 11.59 p.m. Sunday, dead computers, Volga’s lobby, JMC, Pegasus, a Chavdar bus, Napoli. Banichka is now an international word. So is otpor. AUBG kept converting ethnicities into all possible permutations: Belarusians into Bulgarians, Moldovans into Albanians, Armenians into Macedonians. We became a whole, throwing our nations' squabbles and politicians aside. Instead of the solemn building, the University’s seal should've featured a canteen scene: a Kosovar hugging a Serb over CNN’s bombing coverage.

AUBG is not about what others, the untouched, think it is. Liberal arts, English, computers, books, Western philosophy, black leather-clad diploma printed in a gothic font make only a fraction of the university’s true unique meaning. After all, this quality academic matter is similarly available elsewhere. What AUBG truly means to us is the four years of mastering the Absolute Language, breaking the shells of our stereotyping seclusion. To one generation after another, AUBG means growing from a humble "stupid" freshman into a cutting-into-the-canteen-line senior hand in hand with people we previously thought to be from another planet. For us, the acronym A-U-B-G stands for

Aaaaaaa! Awesome! Ask asl. Answer ASAP. Ah, Angela, Anguel, Anastasia, Atanas, Andrej, Andreia, ans960@, "Amigo, abstaining?!" An Aspirin after—aposteriori. Anthropology 101–-all A's. ABM, ad-hoc, Algiers, abdication—A’s again. Aspecter and airian--an attitude. Alkazelzer—all-time aid against Absolut Armageddon, Alt+F4. April. Away. Alt+Ctrl+Del.

Underground--U2 unplugged. Ulcer--unavoidable. Unisex underwear--utterly unnoticeable. UDF—unifying utopia. Uninstalling UNIX? Unacceptable, undo. "Understand utility, UCC, unemployment, uncollectibles?" "Uh-huh."

bus brings back Bachinovo, Bistritza.
Break-up bashes, bends:
Bewildered boyfriends babbles: "B-b-but..."
"Bye, bambino." Bonjour, bachelor.
Buddies beckon, beginning banichka baptism. Ben’s busy buying "Bankja", bananas. Bansko-Blagoevgrad-Borovetz. "Boje!": BUS 354 brought B-. Bragging 'bout bossoms, "Baaasi bebeto!...,"

girls grin. Gossip: "Gencho, Galia? Graffiti?" Giggles. Georgians greet: "Gamarjoba, genatsvale." Geniuses going gradschoolward: GMAT, GRE’s "gait, gall, gallivant, gregarious..." Geez! Graduation: goofy gowns, gaping grandparents. "Good gang, guys’n’gals. Go, govern!" Greece, Germany, Grenoble, Gabrovo. Gone.

Gone? Never. Simply relocated.

A friend of mine, who writes for a large newspaper in Bulgaria, complained to me once. "You know," she said, "you guys are everywhere."
"How do you know it’s us?" I asked. Had she run across boastful AUBG pins, ties, t-shirts or framed diplomas, I wondered.
"No, no. Somehow you all are different. Everywhere I go I spot one or two and then ask. Never got it wrong. It’s something in the eyes, if you know what I mean."

I knew exactly what she meant.

AUBG is in the hearts and the hearts require no shiny bronze. The eyes say it all. I remember walking down a London street once. As my eyes did the sightseeing part of the trip, they stumbled over a pair belonging to a thoughtful stranger. For a moment his stared at mine from under stylish glasses in quiet perplexity, then smiled as broad as the eyes can. The stranger passed by without uttering a word, without looking back, but by then I knew. He might not have been a leader of his region. Yet he was one of us, carrying AUBG, a symbolic 4 a.m. banichka in his heart around the world. He spoke the Language.

Sofia, 2001


Serik said...

Dude... So true. Lacking words, I just say: "Spasibo." A soph has passed this on to me, which in itself is great, I think. Kak govoryat, ti vernul tot "bigger picture," pro kotoroe mi inogda zabivayem ... za nedelyu do mid-termov. :)

Zaochno znakom s toboi. Kazakhstan. Rubl. Horoshiy drug Sveti i Asel. Cheers!

Yury said...

sveta? which sveta, vedrashko?

Mmmmm said...

a v temu-to kak.....

spasibo :)

Jamilia '06 said...

So true, so true... Thank you for this article! After 2 years off-AUBG, it seems like I desperately needed this feeling back..

an AUBG-er

Anonymous said...

it was me, obviously, -- z.

Anonymous said...

vedrash, i read it again.
you are freaking awesome.
i miss you and drinking with you in your room in hilltop.
god, the best 4 years of my life -- forever...

Nora said...

Eight years later, what you wrote is still beautifully true, and now that I'm about to graduate I can fully appreciate what you meant. Some of the symbols of AUBG may have changed over these eight years, (Hilltop for Skapto, "otpor" for "ajde," and saying cheers in many languages is probably more popular than saying I love you) but the big picture remains the same. You saw AUBG for what it really brings to its students, and thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

now it's late March, 2011 and people still keep sharing your article on FB wondering how precisely you described AUBG feeling. glad to study at the same place Ilya Vedrashko did. thank you.

A proud Alumnus said...

Anywhere, anytime, always and forever in our hearts !

Anonymous said...

now it's early January 2012 and I'll try to remember to remember not to forget to post by the end of the semester, and I got two words for you, seriously - WORTH IT.

Anonymous said...

I've kept on rereading your essay over and over again for the past 4 years at AUBG!
Thank you for make us all feel united over and over again!

Micky said...

Amazing article.... Now it's 10 years later, but still very true! I'm glad I had a taste of the atmosphere in skapto... Even if only for 1 semester!

Sofya said...

Fantastic essay!

Anonymous said...

I was a hater back then, not wanting to be part of the whole "false friendship deal" cause i thought it was fake and it will dissolve in time. Now i know it didn't dissolve and people who were cool then are cool now. Took me 9 years to figure it out. Of course, there were a lot of dumb motherf*cking brown nosers and idiots, but the nice people cannot shine without the marginal crowd. Cheers from the UK

Nikoletcheto said...


Anonymous said...

Vedrashko, this is awesome! Thank you.
Спасибо, дорогой!

Anonymous said...

Good essay but really aubg is shit. Been there, seen the dump, and transferee out of there as soon as i had the chance. Overall a friendly environment, cant say anything about the community yes great people. But with a diploma that means shit, and no education, in a developing county like bulgaria, Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

A comment to the anonymous reader's previous remark:I believe we make our reality ourself. I don't agree with most things you said, but it's your right to believe so, and indeed your reality is exactly like that. As Brian Tracy put it, "Whatever you believe with emotions becomes your reality. You always act in a manner consistent with your intermost beliefs and convictions." And "Almost all unhappiness in life comes from the tendency to blame someone else."

I hate smoking. said...

Hi Ilya, I came upon this through a share on FB by aubg-ers. I like the whole thing but the A-U-B-G part the most But in the end you really find it and hit it, we all walk around with 4 am banichkas in our hearts. How pretty! :)
Ani Gesheva

Rali said...

It's amazingly true and touching in its own AUBG way :) thank you for writing the essay, no words can describe the feeling it arises in everyone's souls, only AUBG-ers know ^^

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