At AUBG Aleks Iliev (’23) Figured Out What He Wants to Do

May 19, 2023 Martin Georgiev
At AUBG Aleks Iliev (’23) Figured Out What He Wants to Do

Since I started working at AUBG after my own graduation, one of my favorite things to do every spring has been helping the Admissions Office with prospective student interviews. What a thrill to meet inspired young(er) people, write down “great fit for AUBG” in my notes and then actually see them start their journey on campus the following fall. But now that journey’s ending.

As graduation approaches, I decided to check back on some of the students I first talked to four (or five) years ago. To see how they’ll answer the same questions with university life behind them and a new chapter of life about to commence. An exit interview of sorts.

I met Aleksandar Iliev in February 2019 at AUBG’s Elieff Center in Sofia. He looked and sounded familiar. It took me about half the interview to realize that I knew his brother from my final semester as a student at AUBG. I found Aleks to be “Definitely AUBG material, smart and ambitious.” Like many before and after him, he used the word “diversity” to describe the university. This is him now.

Welcome to your exit interview.

Yeah, I have to show that I’ve learned something.

Yeah, well, hopefully you knew it beforehand. Considering my glowing one-sentence recommendation.

You never know.

Okay. Tell me about yourself. This time I know you, but, you know, that’s always the first question.

Hello. My name is Aleks Iliev. I am now a senior at AUBG. I’m a JMC and a Film major. I came here as an ECO and Psychology major. I’m part of More Honors, I’m part of [Radio AURA]. That’s the basics.

You started off as an ECO major, or at least planning to be. Why aren’t you an ECO major now?

I came here because I wanted to do Psychology. Before I even chose a university, I wanted to do Psychology. But then I chose AUBG because my brother studied here and he had one semester left. So we would overlap with one semester. So that was kind of just expanding my comfort zone.

But then he told me the difficult process of AUBG majors and everything. So he’s like, “You know what? Just do ECO.” Because he’s ECO, of course. And he pushed me towards that direction, he made me take [calculus] and microeconomics my first semester. And after just two weeks of microeconomics, I was like, “Yeah, this is not for me.”But I’ve taken it, I have to finish it. And I think I took it with a C or a C+. Calculus I failed and I had to retake it three years later. So yeah, that’s why I’m not an ECO major.

But in between the ECO and the JMC, I probably changed four other majors. I was History, I was Literature, I was COS. And then I moved in with a load of JMC majors and I was like, “You know what? This is not that bad.” And I took one [professor Jason] Murphy class and I was like, “Yes, this is for me.”

What about your self-designed major?

Same thing. It was because of those people I was living with, off campus. They just pushed me in that direction. I’ve always been interested in film and I started really getting interested in photography. I just said to myself, “You know what? This can be merged together, these two interests. Let’s do self-designed film [major].” And honestly, it’s been way, way better than ECO, for sure.

What about your experience outside of classes and academics?

Again, because of that same group of people, they were all part of [More Honors], and for that one year I started getting to know more people from there. So I tried to get into MH. They didn’t accept me, but still I lived with them and I was around them the entire time. I was filming with them. I was part of a lot of their videos and I just understood what they’re really about. So I tried again my junior year, I got accepted and I think that for sure has led me to where I am right now with the SDM and me doubling down on my JMC. All my interests about what I want to do in the future have definitely been inspired by MH.

The radio as well. I think the radio helped me more with my JMC side. At first I joined because I thought I wouldn’t get accepted to MH, so it was my backup plan. But at the end of the day, my junior year, I enjoyed being in the radio way more and I was like, okay, thank god I made this decision.

Then I became music director. It was a really bad idea to do it my senior year because time management, which I’m notoriously bad at. But still, it was an interesting and educational experience. I really enjoyed being part of the radio and now I know that I have something to lean back on.

Same goes for MH as well. But after graduation, I definitely have like this, aside from AUBG in general as alumni, I have these small communities there to lean back on if I need any help. If I’m just sad and lonely in the future or something.

Big Gallery Image

Freshman-era Aleks.

Big Gallery Image

Behind the camera for his Film Studies senior project.

You mentioned that MH inspired what you want to do in the future. What is that?

In general, film, of course. But then during the process of shooting the SDM, I didn’t feel as driven to do fiction. Even though that’s maybe not because of fiction films in general, but because of the whole process that you’re not doing it because you necessarily want to, but because you need to. Then I was really going back and forth between those two while making my senior thesis. During my last year here, I really got more into photography, documentary photography, documentary film in general. So that’s kind of the plan for the moment – spend a couple of years in Sofia working, trying to find some work related to that. If I’m still interested in it, then after those two years, pursue a master’s in that same field. I know that these plans are definitely going to change. But that’s the outline for the moment.

Four years ago you said the biggest challenge you expect at AUBG was the fact that you’re moving away alone. Was that really it?

Yes, to an extent. I was doing the math in my head a couple weeks ago – throughout my four years at AUBG, I moved places ten times. Whether that was off campus or my one semester on campus, I moved places ten times. And honestly, it wasn’t that difficult. I’ve always had the support of my parents. So that hasn’t been the biggest problem, for sure. Yes, it’s been difficult to to switch to not having your parent figures who tell you what to do all the time. So my freshman year I was basically doing nothing. It was my first taste of freedom. It was like a drug. Just give me more, give me more. But then sophomore year came and I think I started getting to get the hang of it more. And I think my junior year, I was like, “Okay, I know what I need to do.” So, I wouldn’t say it was the biggest challenge.

What was?

Just life. It sounds cliche, but just figuring out what you want to do. Those four major switches that I had, that for example. Figuring out what university is about, because up until probably my junior second [semester] I thought, “Yeah, I’m going to classes, I learn stuff and then I go on.”

It took me way too much to find out that you go to university because of specific professors, if that makes sense. For example, I really regret not using professors’ office hours more, where I go to one-on-ones and I discuss ideas that they have and they seem eager to help as well. And I think that is the university process. It’s you pursuing knowledge and not just going to a classroom and knowledge is given to you. which it sounds stupid, like a really basic realization, but it took me two and a half years to figuring it out. And now that I know it, I’m better. And better late than never.

It was that process of figuring out what I am doing here. What the purpose of this was. And I think, now at the end of it, I’ve figured out the purpose of university.

I guess we did something right. But what do you think will be your biggest challenge after AUBG?

Same thing – just the switch from university life. Because up until now life has been a funnel. Different forces have pushed me in this one direction and I haven’t really fought against that, which I could have but the easier way is not to.I went I went to the school that I did because my brother went there and my parents told me, yeah, you’re going to the same school.

Same thing happened with university, kind of. My brother went here, it’s an obvious choice. But now that funnel is gone, it’s all up to me. Now nobody is telling me what to do. And that’s the scary part. The tutorial version of life just ended. Now it’s the real thing, it’s the real game. Which is both exciting and stressful because again, if something doesn’t work out, it’s probably on my head and there’s nobody else to blame.

What would you say is the biggest thing you got out of your time here?

Just figuring out what I want to do. I remember telling myself sophomore or beginning of junior, this is when I already figured out I want to be a filmmaker, I was telling myself,Why did I come here?” If I’m doing film, I could have gone somewhere else, either abroad or to NATFA. But if I hadn’t come here, I would still probably want to be a psychology major. I wouldn’t have figured this out.

This place just shaped me a lot, both academically and personally. So that to me is enough to be honest.

After these four years, if you had to describe AUBG with only one word, what would you say now?

Literally just a fraternity. It’s like a frat house, like one huge frat house. And this is what you told me right before I came here, as all. I didn’t get it at that point, but now I completely understand. It’s one huge bubble, sect, fraternity, whatever you want to call it. And [Blagoevgrad], which is a small community in itself, we’re even smaller but stronger and a more tight-knit community. Some people think it’s weird and creepy. I think it’s kind of cool because if you’re if you’re not in it, you won’t get it. So yeah, fraternity.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

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