Jesse Haines, USA: AUBG Gives You an Entirely New Perspective on Life

If you wake up one morning and realize that your roommate is Bulgarian, your history professor is Italian, and your vocabulary expands by several Albanian or Serbian words every day, chances are that you study at the American University in Bulgaria, a small American liberal arts college based in one of European Union’s newest member states, Bulgaria. It will be no exaggeration to say that AUBG is home to one of the most diverse academic communities in the Northern hemisphere, and the experience of studying here is indeed hard to match. It is this fact – in addition to the college’s growing reputation for academic excellence – that attracts U.S. students looking for educational opportunities “off the beaten track.” For many such students AUBG becomes a special place, a path to a successful career, and a unique experience they never forget.

For Jesse Haines, a U.S. student who spent two semesters here, the University has been all of the above. He decided to come to AUBG in Fall 2004 following the advice of a coordinator at the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), a network of 300 colleges and universities in 42 countries that facilitates exchanges, and his own desire to take a closer look at the Balkan region and its cultures. Jesse liked the place and the people so much that he decided to come back to AUBG for a second semester in 2005. After that Jesse stayed in Bulgaria and during the summer of 2006 interned at the Institute for Balkan Studies as a research assistant. His responsibilities included editing articles by doctoral students and scholars from the various departments of the Institute. Jesse’s current employer, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools in Washington D.C., was deeply impressed by his international experience. It is what gave him an edge over all other candidates in the job market, he explains.

Before he came to Bulgaria, Jesse studied in Volgograd, Russia for a semester in 2003 and became quite comfortable with the Russian language. Bulgarian’s proximity to Russian made his subsequent adjustment to Blagoevgrad easy. Easy access to cultural sites in and outside Bulgaria, in addition to the abundance of recreational tourism opportunities Bulgaria offers, made Jesse’s Bulgarian experience all the more exciting.   

But Jesse came to AUBG for more than just a change of scenery and language practice. He came to be challenged, and his expectations were fully met. In the various classes he took at AUBG – which ranged form Microeconomics to Literature – he had to apply himself thoroughly in order to do well. What helped him is AUBG professors’ unique approach to teaching which includes spending time with students individually. “I was impressed by the quality of leadership and the willingness of professors to spend extra time outside of the classroom for help with class work or even just to chat,” Jesse says.

Jesse had a chance to live both in the Skaptopara residence halls and privately in Blagoevgrad, but preferred the former to living off campus. “I enjoyed both, but I believe that if I were to study at AUBG again, I'd remain in Skapto. There were more things to do in the dormitory – friends to meet up with and go out, study sessions, and all sorts of activities,” Jesse says. Living on campus was also beneficial to him because learning to live together with people from different cultures is a skill that you definitely can’t learn in a classroom, he adds.

AUBG remains one of the brightest memories in Jesse’s college experience. His recommendation to future students is to “spend your time wisely at AUBG … [because] the memories you make at AUBG will remain with you forever and give you an entirely new perspective on life.”

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