The First Palestinian Family at AUBG

Family is more than anything. However, there are a lot of definitions of a family. It is not only related to your nearest and dearest, but to places you feel you belong to, people you love to spend your spare time with, every unforgettable memory you recall with a smile.

AUBG is one of the most ideal examples of a family-like community. It gives you the feeling of being a small but significant part of a hive of buzzing bees, each ready to help you, give you advice, or make your day. It is the place where students find their second family, all the while keeping the first one warmly in their hearts…or on the next floor. Such is the case with Zeina Abu Rumman, Basel Abu Rumman, and Evan Abu Rumman - the small Palestinian family within AUBG.

Zeina, Evan, and Basel Abu Rumman. Angelina Kuznetsova for AUBG Daily.

This is the story of two siblings and their cousin, who are all freshmen at AUBG. They decided to study at the same university because of “a tradition back home which says that if you are close in age siblings and cousins, you go to the same university,” as described by Zeina. She is majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Entrepreneurship, and is the first from the family to choose AUBG as her place of study.

 “In Palestine we went to an American school with all American teachers. We applied to other universities in Europe as well, mostly American, but we were all accepted here,” Zeina said.

Their decision to study at the same university became easier not only because they all agreed to it, but also due to the fact that Bulgaria is close to their home, just a two-hour flight away. Zeina did not make the boys come with her, instead she told them they are free to come if they wanted to. Nobody pushed them to share such an important stage of their lives.

“Although we have different interests, we still hang out, play cards, talk, eat together,” Evan said. This is enough reason for them to support each other and prove that blood is thicker than water.

Evan is the first cousin of Basel and Zeina, who decided to follow Zeina and travel outside Palestine for the first time. However, his choice to come to AUBG was not purely made on the same basis as Zeina’s. “One of the reasons for being here is studying,” Evan said. He has the intention to study Business Administration and has a passion for sports, which is another point he considered when choosing the desired university since AUBG offers a great variety of sports facilities and clubs.

Basel, on the other hand, has his own interests, which mainly revolve around his choice of majoring in Computer Science. The three of them had applied to numerous universities in Europe. Nevertheless, it was AUBG’s spirit, quality of education, and opportunities for future development, which grabbed their attention. This university is closest to their home and offers various majors which fit their interests and goals.

The Palestinian students are as different as chalk and cheese. However, they still support each other and keep their family bonds as strong as they can. Their personalities and interests are the reason why they do not bicker.

“Well, I don’t quarrel with them,” Evan said, “because you are not living with us,” Basel added, laughing.

“We used to fight more, but now it does not happen that much,” Basel said.

“We usually don’t disagree with each other because we are very different people. There is not much we can argue about. We are completely different,” Zeina said.

This is not the full story behind the Palestinian family at AUBG, as it turns out, there are more of them studying at the university. Zeina and Basel’s second cousins, Nicole and George, are also part AUBG’s family but from a distance. Thus, this Palestinian family consists not of three, but of five people looking forward to experiencing academic life in Bulgaria.

Nicole and George. Personal archive.

Zeina and Nicole are really close to each other because they grew up together. The two girls had a final say when deciding “to experience university life together, to live together. That was a big factor,” Zeina said. Yet Nicole and George are still in Palestine because they are waiting for their visas. Zeina, Evan, and Basel all agree that they miss their cousins a lot. However, the on-campus students keep in touch with their temporarily online relatives and always share with them their experience up until now, which “has been difficult, because we actually arrived here pretty late - two or three weeks later,” Zeina said. 

The Palestinian students are adapting not only to the educational transition but also to the cultural diversities between Bulgaria and Palestine. They are ready to face the challenges and share everything that is going on with Nicole and George so that they are prepared when their arrival time comes. In the beginning, the second cousins wanted to start the semester online, but changed their minds later on. Zeina is the one, who tries to keep the bonds tight and help whenever needed. However, she is not that insistent.

“It is their first time traveling out of our country, so I want to help them,” she explains, narrating about her travel experience and participation in the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, which allowed her to study in the U.S. for a year and prepared her for the transition to university. “I don’t give them much advice because I want them to experience on their own so that they can mature” Zeina adds.

When asked about their impressions of AUBG, Blagoevgrad, and Bulgaria, they shared:

“I was surprised that almost everyone speaks Bulgarian,” Zeina said.

“The food in the canteen is pretty different,” Evan added.

“Here you meet a lot of people who have the same interests as you, study the same majors, and you can surround yourself with like-minded people,” according to Basel.

A big difference that they did not expect is the weather. According to them “the weather in Palestine is more stable.”

“When it rains, it rains,” Basel said. “And it is like a desert climate, it does not get that cold,” he added.

Despite that, they continue to live and learn. What is interesting is that Evan already knows some Bulgarian words like “Добър ден!” (“Good afternoon!”) and “две” (“two”). They are all looking forward to making new friends, surrounding themselves with open-minded people, and building their own lives. This way they can bring valuable experiences and knowledge home after they go back to Palestine.

In spite of all the difficulties they faced before coming to AUBG, and their late arrival due to their visas, they have been in Blagoevgrad for four weeks already, waiting for their other two family members so that they will be together again.

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