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Study Abroad in the Balkans

One of the most complicated, and incendiary, collections of cultures on earth is in the Balkans. Bulgaria, a country situated both geographically and culturally at the gates of the Orient, paradoxically displays the sophistication of emerging Westernization. The proud symbol of this phenomenon is the American Univ. in Bulgaria (AUBG), a liberal arts institution made up of graduates of the top Bulgarian, Yugoslav, Romanian, and former Soviet secondary schools.

Its location is one of the most important contributors to its charm. Blagoevgrad, about 100 kilometers north of the Greek border, is small, numbering less than 100,000 inhabitants. The high Rhodopia mountains engulf it on all sides, making not only for a very pleasant climate all through the year but for all kinds of hiking and skiing opportunities. Two top ski resorts are within 60 kilometers of Blagoevgrad. The town, through the university offers access to a modern swimming pool, tennis courts, etc. As one of my Bulgarian friends said, "The town would not exist if it wasn't for the university. And now that the university is here the town lives the experience to the fullest."

The university offers courses designed to prepare "the future leaders of the region." You can study political science, international relations, economics, history, business, and many more subjects-all from an Eastern European perspectives. The professors, though mostly U.S. citizens, have usually spent the better part of their careers studying this paradoxical portion of the world. AUBG is probably the only place on earth where you can see students representing peoples who are at war with each other become friends and lovers and peacefully exchange ideas in and out of classes on issues that affect them most.

Diversity is also reflected in the social life at AUBG. At least every other week you can attend a typical Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Albanian, Russian, or Moldovan party. People are extremely friendly, perhaps because of the diversity. As a fellow Romanian used to say: "I'm going with my friend from Kazahstan to buy a present for her Bulgarian boyfriend's boyfriend. She wants my advice because she saw what I got for our Serbian friend on her birthday, and she thinks I know about these things. . . . With so many different people brought together and interacting closely, I'd say it's the most concentrated essence of real life I've ever experienced. And it will be with me all through my life."

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