Monika Evstatieva (’05), a Lover of Words, Writes Her Own Story

April 02, 2024 Douglas Barry
Monika Evstatieva (’05), a Lover of Words, Writes Her Own Story

Monika Evstatieva (’05) is an investigative producer for National Public Radio (NPR). She’s also a wife and a mother to her six-month-old son, all living in a suburb of Washington, DC. Her maternity leave ends soon, and the next investigations will resume immediately. There is no shortage of stories to tell, as she gets back to work in the middle of a presidential election featuring two elderly candidates, one of whom is the oldest president in American history, and his opponent, a former president almost as old, who faces dozens of criminal charges—also unprecedented.

What prepared her for a life like this?

She gives a lot of credit to the education she got at AUBG. “I’m very biased,” she admits. “It’s a fantastic education. It was one of the best experiences of my life.” But her life pre-AUBG helped make the most of her four years on campus. It started with her parents. Monika was eight when the Communist system crumbled. Her parents were well-educated, spoke English, and wanted their children to experience the larger, non-totalitarian world. “My parents were obsessed with me not staying in Bulgaria,” she recalls. “They wanted me to have opportunities they didn’t,” noting her mom studied chemistry in Moscow back in the day. Monika got the travel, living abroad bug when in 1992 she spent two years in Germany whereher mom worked as a scientist. “I wanted to live abroad since I was in primary school. I knew I wanted to study in the U.S. after spending a summer at Loomis Chaffee High School in Windsor, Connecticut in 1999.” She attended an English language high school in Bulgaria. When it was time to shop for colleges, she pursued AUBG in order to start her own legacy.

AUBG: A legacy begins

With some friends, she attended an open house at AUBG. “I loved the vibe, the town of Blagoevgrad, the partying.” Her parents couldn’t afford to send her abroad to university in the states, so AUBG and its financial aid packages were particularly attractive, as was the certification which qualifies AUBG as an American university, not just in name. She also appreciated that students and faculty were from everywhere, another unique benefit.

But would AUBG want her?

“I wasn’t a math genius. My SAT scores were nothing to brag about.” She said she was a good writer and involved in lots of activities, including sports. “I think they (the admissions people) liked that I was well rounded.” Her love of words guided her towards writing courses, in particular journalism. “My parents worried that I might not make a good living in journalism, so I double majored in business.” They needn’t have fretted. She loved her journalism classes and appreciated that her professors were veteran journalists like Laura Kelly and Aernout van Lynden. She worked at the AUBG campus radio, Radio AURA, which was the first privately owned and operated station in Bulgaria. She was a producer for three years and general manager in her senior year. “Working there provided me with real life experience,” she said, without knowing then how real it would become.

In the 19 years since graduation, she’s been back to campus, marveling at the buildings and amenities. She jokes: “When I was there, for my first two years, my dorm was a former Communist era hotel. Now the dorms are flashy.”

She couldn’t say no

During those years she has traveled the world covering wars, elections, mass shootings. She spent six weeks in Ukraine reporting on the agony caused by Russian aggression. She also manages to give back to Bulgaria by giving podcast workshops. Bulgaria’s media is less restricted than that of other countries in the region due in part to membership in the European Union which requires a more open society and democratic governance. She said investigative reporting is vital to maintaining a vibrant democracy in the face of disinformation. “Democracy remains fragile, and disinformation is a very big problem, contributing to frequent elections and political instability.”

Giving back and forward

With her obvious love of country and skills needed there, why did she leave? “I like to think I’m still involved and am giving back. There was a brain drain of thousands of people. There were less opportunities. Now life is different.” Bulgarians aren’t leaving in such numbers. Monika helps young AUBG-ers as part of the extensive AUBG alumni network, which she cites as another powerful benefit of having gone there. “There are over 30 alumni in the DC area,” she said, “and we help each other. I’m mentoring recent graduates and talk to current AUBG students.”

She also donates money to AUBG. “It’s not much but I want to make sure I give back to a place that has given so much to me.” And she is responsible for the first German student at AUBG. It was a bold and unusual choice for the young woman. Now an AUBG alum herself, she works for Google in California.

Monika’s son is only six months old, but would his mom consider encouraging him to attend AUBG? “Absolutely. He’d love it there.” Another campus open house may be inevitable by which time the student body will have increased by at least a third.

By then, there will be more thousands of AUBG graduates, making their mark on the country, the Balkan region and the world.