Harvard, MIT Graduate Kaloyan Slavov: "I Am the Kind of Person Who Wants to Live in Their Home Country"

For Kaloyan Slavov, a member of AUBG’s mathematics faculty, math is not about teaching students how to get to the top of a tower but how to build a staircase that will bring them to the top with no efforts after the staircase is built.

As a teacher, Slavov tries to build staircases wide enough to take most of his students where they want to go. “The real challenge is to make a math course accessible to a broad range of students,” he says. The right pace is also important, he says. “I want them to learn the material slowly and systematically and not have gaps rather than try to hurry and then realize they miss some foundational stuff.” 

This teaching approach enabled Slavov to teach a Linear Algebra class at AUBG that is more difficult than a similar general education course at Harvard, where he got his B.A., he says.

Slavov’s teaching philosophy was forged over his years as an undergraduate and as a graduate student both at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, where Slavov completed his master’s and doctoral degrees respectively.

The MIT graduate fell for math in eighth grade, after he started to learn more math at school. “Once you learn more details it becomes more interesting, you solve more interesting problems,” Slavov says. In the tenth grade he participated in a prestigious math summer camp at MIT, and the year after that he was admitted to Harvard University. 

As an undergraduate at Harvard, Slavov worked as a course assistant checking exams and teaching tutorials, a job that left a mark. “I loved it, because I like being among people, communicating with others,” Slavov says. In particular, he enjoys finding individual approaches to every mind, restructuring textbook proofs in his own way and making them more accessible to the students.

Although he is a mathematician by passion and trade, Slavov encourages math majors to take courses from other disciplines, so that they have a strong educational foundation. It’s easy building for the rest of the house afterwards, he says.

His attitude to general education offers some clue about why he chose to teach at a liberal arts institution. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he wouldn’t normally focus only on math; he would take one intensive math class, another less intensive math class, and two humanities courses. 
“I was taking Greek Philosophy and a course on Roman Games, which I really enjoyed, although I am not a historian or a classicist. It was good relaxation,” Slavov says.

The Harvard and MIT campuses were great and interesting places to live in, but when his studies were over and his Ph.D. finished, Slavov decided to come back to Bulgaria. “I am that kind of person who wants to live in their home country, I go hiking here a lot in the mountains and my second hobby is Bulgarian folk dancing,” he says.

Slavov says the only information about AUBG he had before coming here was that it was very well located. Now that he lives and works in Blagoevgrad, he says he is truly impressed by the students, who do not differ from the ones at Harvard, and the modern campus. “Sometimes, when I am on campus, I almost feel like I am still in the States,” he says.

Photos by Nataly Fedchenko

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