This article was originally published on AUBG Daily’s website.
Photo credit: Vera Arzumanyan.
“Unravel The Abstract,” the TEDxAUBG conference, took place in AUBG’s Carl Djerassi Theatre on April 8, 2023. Starting at 11 a.m., the event kept the spectators glued to their seats until 5 p.m. (with the occasional break for drinks and snacks). Eye-catching, ear-grabbing, and attention-commanding, the conference offered a variety of topics to fuel discussion and contemplation in AUBG for at least next week.
One cannot deny the attention to detail the team must have adhered to in preparation for the event. The lights and smoke on the stage, the circular carpet, the buzzing hall atmosphere, the logo, the banners, the gift bags, and the invitations, the organizers, and the speakers were all a testimony of the club’s hard work. They were also vibrating with color — through the emulsion of red, orange, yellow, and blue seen on promotional materials and through the culturally and sphere-diverse presenters and crew members—which reflected the conference’s theme.
“With our previous events’ topics ‘Escaping The Void’ and ‘Distorted Realities’ we were mysterious and black, black and red. We wanted to add other colors,” Margarita Arsova, the President of TEDxAUBG, shared prior to the event. Together with Reneta Georgieva, Vice President of the club, they talked about their long brainstorming process, choosing the subject for this conference, and their hope of presenting a more optimistic and vibrant perspective. “We wanted the topic itself to contrast what we’ve been doing so far, to be a little different, more positive in a way.”
On the surface, everything seemed to be operating like clockwork—one could praise the event for its punctuality, the diverse options for networking, and the crew’s readiness to guide the audience throughout the event.
When asked about the hardships they faced in preparation for the conference, Arsova and Georgieva gave out a little laugh. “I feel like I could write a book about this,” the Vice President said. She elaborated on difficulties with flying the speakers to Bulgaria and some financial struggles they faced. Arsova shared that the club has also had issues with the printing house. “They [messed] up the banners for ABF,” the President admitted, a secret, she remarked, shared only for Daily’s readers.
Despite the complications, the two board members were optimistic about their club’s creation. “[Organising had its] difficulties. Lots of blood, sweat, and tears. But, in the end, we’ve tried to overcome all [obstacles] and to make it as perfect as possible,” Georgieva said.
TEDxAUBG 2023 opened Carl Djerassi Theatre’s stage for eleven speakers split into three panels. Fiona Chambers, the current President of the International Association for Physical Education in Higher Education (AIESEP), started the TED conversation with a presentation on the need to change educational systems to foster children’s interaction with the real world through creative tasks. She pointed out the problems halting pedagogy today — poly-crisis, tutor talent shortages, and lack of engagement with available technology. She urged the “learners” in the audience to embrace their control, prompt needed change, and lead to “life-centric” innovation through education.
Chambers was followed by Henry Nelson Case, a UK lawyer, and influencer, who discussed how toxic masculinity is impacting male mental health in a negative way. He shared his experience with feeling uncomfortable in a non-supportive work environment and criticized society’s expectations of men and its dismissive attitude toward male vulnerability. Case encouraged people to recognize the need for conversation and empathy, and society’s responsibility towards embracing this as a problem of the community, not of men only. He also called for lifestyle changes like staying social, “not on social media, but in person.”
Next, the stage welcomed Andrey Andonov, a podcaster, writer, screenwriter, and movie director, who elaborated on his experience with cultural diversity. He talked about his journey from his hometown to Ireland and the film industry, about meeting inspiring professionals from all over, and the need to challenge one’s perception of the world. “Let’s challenge stereotypes and promote equity, let’s ask what’s the story, and listen to the many answers we get.”
Dr. Helena Boschi, a psychologist, expert in applied neuroscience, and long-term consultant for top companies worldwide engaged the audience with her speech about the three design flaws of the human brain. She elaborated on people’s perception of feedback and the need for challenging it through a diverse cognitive diet, re-setting expectations, and enabling clarity through focus. Boschi referred to this process as ABC—Acceptance, Break, Challenge.
Heading panel number two, AUBG Professor Darina Sarelska shared her story about ambition and acceptance. She talked about her journey as a woman in a high-level position, the perceived danger of female emotionality, and her method of taking hold of intense circumstances: “Overthinking is a coping mechanism. If I can think it through long and hard enough, I might be able to figure it out, and, if I figure it out, I can control it.” Sarelska commented on trying to “have it all,” and what that cost her and her family: “I was in attendance, not really present.” She urged spectators to look for what finds them without the need to prove themselves worthy of it and devote their time to it.
Professor Sarelska was followed by Patrick Flesner, an investor, board member, and mentor, who provided the viewers with advice on developing an effective business. Using the analogy of a house, he explained that leadership is built on a solid foundation of trust, walls incorporating strong teams, shared values, shared goals, joint plans, accountability, and empowerment, and a roof, which represents the execution of a given task. Flesner remarked that “[w]e cannot control external challenges, but we can control our reaction to them.”
Dr. Niamh Shaw, a highly accomplished STEM communicator, journalist, writer, and performer, raised the question of “[w]hat [does one] do with impossible dreams.” She shared her academic and personal story and her realization that despite everything she had accomplished, she had failed to pursue her childhood dream—becoming an astronaut. “It’s easy to have dreams when you don’t actually touch them,” Shaw said. She then took the audience on a trip to outer space, remarking on how looking at herself as not simply a part of her immediate surroundings, but as a particle of the known Universe, made her realize that she is “alive for a nanosecond” and she had no time to waste. She left the spectators with a statement that urges one to follow in her footsteps: “I am making my impossible possible one day at a time.”
Next, Ivaylo Ivanov, an AUBG senior, explained the role ego has played in his life, the benefits and pitfalls of relying on it, and how to manage it. He acknowledged that this trait helps one be more assertive, strengthens resilience, and fuels ambition. Ivanov warned, however, that one could easily lose control of it as it tends to grow exponentially. “Empathy,” he assured, “is the strongest cure for an overflowing ego.”
The third panel was opened by Sam Jlassia, a founder of a startup, a university professor, and a boxing coach, who accented on the need of finding where one creates the most value and dedicating their energy to that task. He remarked on the importance of motivation, concentration, self-confidence, and emotional control, as well as the significance of taking different approaches to problems and defeat. “Failure today may lead to a great opportunity in the future,” Jlassia said.
Dr. Neli Koleva, an accomplished educator and social entrepreneur, grabbed the audience’s attention by entering the stage with a shovel in hand. After explaining the importance of the little things in battling severe problems, she transitioned to elaborating on the role NGOs play in solving social issues worldwide, their contribution to encouraging volunteering efforts, and the misconception about such organizations in Bulgaria. Koleva urged the community to try to understand the stakes of participation and non-participation, demand change, and support the NGO sector and its efforts.
Elvin Guri, an entrepreneur, CEO of INVENIO Partners, and AUBG alumni, concluded the conference with his speech about the building blocks of innovation. While using examples like Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs, he distinguished between invention and innovation and what it takes to have a working business model.
On top of the speakers, TEDxAUBG introduced a few other organizations to the audience. Visitors were able to witness Blagoevgrad’s Novemo Theatre, a traveling dance-theatrical troupe that presented “South From Home,” a breathtaking short dance and theatre performance. The audience could also interact with some of the conference’s sponsors, whose booths were positioned in ABF’s main hall.
After an exhausting but fruitful day, Margarita Arsova put an end to the event by thanking her crew, the speakers, and the audience for participating. During the closing ceremony, she repeated a sentiment she had remarked upon during the interview.
“I really want our AUBG community to understand that we’re putting so much effort into this for them. [We flew], like, six speakers this year from so many different countries. We made mistakes because we really wanted to deliver an amazing event to AUBG. And if there’s one thing I want people to know, it is that all of this is the result of our respect towards them.”
Arsova also encouraged the audience to prompt discussions about what was presented during the conference. “I think that that’s the main thing that keeps us going, the conversations and the feedback we get from the community,” Arsova stated and Georgieva agreed.
So, pick up on the ideas worth spreading and do so, even outside the framework of TEDxAUBG.