Honors Rachael Kelley is spending this Spring semester studying abroad at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). AUGB is located in the small city of Blagoevgrad about 100 km south of Bulgaria's capital, Sofia. Kelley is a sophomore English major in Honors at Appalachian. In this tale from abroad, she shares why studying abroad has been so important for her as an Honors student,
“I've dreamed of studying abroad since I found out it existed. I don't know if I ever imagined my experience to be like this, but now that I'm here and living it, I can't picture it being any other way. I think it's so important for people—especially college students—to escape our bubble and see how big the world really is. There are so many people out there, people just like us, that we sometimes forget.
We can't just be students of Appalachian State University; we need to be students of the world. It's easy to think that the United States is the whole world, but it's not! There are so many cultures, traditions, and lifestyles in the world, and the path we walk is only one of hundreds. When we decide to take a step off our own and explore someone else's, that's when we truly learn how to be a student of the earth.
Photo above features moutains on the 10-12 mile hike to Logodazh Lake. Photo by Rachael Kelley.
I have learned a lot about other people, but I've also learned a lot about myself. It may sound cliché, but it's true. When you're away from everything you call home, your perspective on life is altered. Mine has definitely been changed in a positive way, and I'm so grateful for everything this experience has taught me so far.
Bulgaria, you are amazing!! Thank you for everything!!”
Bulgaria is a unique choice for study abroad such that Kelley has often been asked, Why Bulgaria? Here she speaks to her decision and experience thus far,
“My initial reason for picking a country in Eastern Europe was to travel to countries I haven't been to. I've been to some parts of Western Europe, and I was ready to scratch some new countries off the list. AUBG offered a lot of options for classes taught in English, so it seemed like a perfect fit. After living here for two months, my reasons have changed slightly. The first two still stand, but more and more keep getting added on to why I love this decision so much.
First of all, it's different. Not many Americans can say they've lived in Bulgaria for four months, and I have never been one to follow the crowd. There are other Americans studying here, but unlike the classic European cities (Paris, Rome, etc), Blagoevgrad is not overpopulated by tourists. In fact, I think I've only run into one other American while traveling here, and they were half Serbian. Getting to live in a city and interact with locals (many of whom only speak Bulgarian) has been such an amazing, immersive experience. I'm taking a Bulgarian class here, and learning to read Cyrillic was like opening my eyes. Suddenly, I could make sense of all the strange characters decorating street signs and menus! I still have a long way to go, but understanding just a little bit of the language surrounding me has made this experience so much cooler.
Photo above of Peles Castle in Romania. Photo by Rachael Kelley.
Bulgaria is also extremely cheap to live in. All the money I'm saving on food has gone toward traveling! You can find a relatively cheap bus to pretty much any nearby country, and the Balkans are beautiful. Traveling here is so easy, and I absolutely love it. I've only been to Romania and Macedonia so far, but I have plans to travel to Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Greece, England, Turkey (hopefully), Germany, and Switzerland. My goal coming here was to see as many beautiful places as I could, and I think I'm doing a pretty good job!
Photo above from Logodazh Lake in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. Photo by Rachael Kelley.
One of the best parts about any place I've lived is the community I find there. At AUBG, I've made friends and traveled with people from all over Europe who are studying through the Erasmus program. I play volleyball at a school club, and through it I've met dozens of locals who keep me smiling every time we meet. I joined a hiking club, and last week we went on an incredible 10-12 mile hike starting from our campus and ending at a beautiful lake. I'm also a tutor at the writing center here, and meeting with students to help revise their essays has given me the sense that I'm giving back to this community.”
It is the intent of the International Education requirement that all Honors students become "students of the world!" Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Rachael, and enjoy the rest of the journey.
Top photo features Rachael Kelley at an old fortress in Skopje, Macedonia. Photo submitted.