Written by Shaleni Murugesperan, who studied abroad on exchange at AUBG Fall 2022.
Without a doubt, visiting Bulgaria was indeed an amazing experience of a lifetime. Walking down the memory lane, one of my greatest accomplishments in 2022 was being chosen as one of the candidates to participate in ISEP for the Fall semester at American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). This program was completely funded by my home institution, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI). My journey in the ISEP program was incredible, as I had been longing for this opportunity since 2017 and had been working arduously for several years to prepare for it. The joy and happiness I felt after being informed by International Mobility Center (IMC) that out of 200 applicants, I had been chosen for this program cannot be adequately expressed in words. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to a few of my lecturers, Profesor Madya Dr. Faridah Lisa binti Supian, Associate Dr. Rohaidah binti Masri, Dr. Syazwan bin Zaidin, Dr. Nur Hamiza binti Adenan, Dr. Noor Wahida Binti Md. Junus from the Faculty of Science and Mathematics at UPSI and my host coordinator, Ms. Mariya Handzhiyska from AUBG, for assisting me with the application process, course selection, rescheduling dates for my teaching internships, expenditures, fees, and many other things. Living independently for nearly four months and handling problems without the support of my parents or other family members forced me to grow up in ways I might not have for at least a few more years.
I consider participating in the ISEP program at AUBG to be worthwhile due to several reasons. First and foremost, my biggest motivation for wanting to study abroad will always be the opportunity to travel and experience a completely new and diverse culture. I believe there is no more thrilling privilege in life than the opportunity to travel, meet new people, and immerse oneself in traditions and cultures that are wholly different from your own. I developed wonderful relationships with friends who are so close that I would consider them family, and I created memories that I will cherish forever at AUBG. I am genuinely grateful to have friends from all over the world, including India, Afghanistan, Spain, North Macedonia, Albania, Greece, France, The Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, and even the United States. The chance to interact with people from all around the world broadened my perspective on how things are done in different nations. It is much more valuable because not everyone is given the opportunity, which makes it rare.
Choosing to study abroad has also given me the opportunity to witness and learn about the pedagogical approaches and instructional strategies used by AUBG professors. The educational system in universities abroad was exceptionally advanced given they combine academic and practical learning, and emphasize the value of athletics, the arts, and social services equally. Hence, I was interested in finding out how realistic the educational quality, learning cultures, and methods abroad are as an aspiring teacher. Finally, I also had the belief that the ISEP program would help me fulfill my life's greatest ambition, which is to continue my further education in universities overseas. I did sign up as a lifetime ISEP Alumna to obtain mentorship, guidance, and more rewarding employment opportunities in future.
Another exciting part of my studies abroad was the opportunity to experience the dream of many, which is to visit different countries. During the fall break in AUBG, my friends and I visited two other beautiful countries in the region: North Macedonia and Greece. Firstly, we spent three days in Skopje, the capital and largest city of North Macedonia. We were amazed by the culture and friendliness of the people there that warmed our hearts. Moreover, we were surrounded by the amazing view of the beautiful city and before leaving the place, I was also able to taste some of their traditional food which was so delicious. Following that, we spent another three days in Athens, the capital of Greece. We visited the Acropolis and Parthenon. It was totally a surreal moment to witness the astonishing view and buildings in Athens in real life as opposed to seeing them in books and movies.
Looking back, I can say that the ISEP programme well surpassed my expectations. I was given numerous chances to express my opinions and ask questions, to take part in AUBG activities, to pick up new skills, and to volunteer at a foster care home in the region of Blagoevgrad. I enrolled in several elective classes to fulfill my credit hours, including Introduction to Piano, Introduction to Spanish, Biology, and Environmental Science. All the classes I took there during my semester gave me a wealth of knowledge. Without any prior experience, I was given the chance to thoroughly learn piano and take part in a piano concert in front of many audiences. One of my main concerns as a volunteer was the language barrier. I could not speak Bulgarian and the children there could not speak English. Consequently, I overcame this problem by speaking with them using Google Translate. Before agreeing to become a volunteer, I was afraid that the language barrier would prevent me from showing them affection and communicating with them. However, I was able to illustrate that “love knows no language” because of my immense love and devotion towards the children. They became really attached to me and enjoyed spending time with me.
Additionally, I had a wonderful time with several Indian friends from India who were enrolled as full-time students there. We jointly celebrated the Indian festival of Deepavali. We dressed up in our traditional sarees, made briyani together, and danced the night away to Indian music. The fact that I was able to celebrate Deepavali apart from my family in a foreign nation was a completely unique experience for me. I was also an active member in the Bulgarian Folk Dance club where I was able to learn Bulgarian folk-dance skills in groups. I constantly went for practice and attended rehearsal once a week. I was then given an opportunity to perform Bulgarian Folk Dance in one of the AUBG events.
Overall, being an exchange student for a semester really taught me so much about myself and established a worldview that I would not have had without the experience or would not have evolved until much later. I am extremely satisfied knowing that I have attained self-realization, discovered new strengths, and developed the ability to assess my own weaknesses and come up with feasible solutions to address them. Studying abroad was the very finest choice I have ever made; therefore, I would suggest it to anyone who is considering it even a little bit. I am a better person now because of my time in Bulgaria, which is why I am making such a big effort to find my way back.