Story time: Rodica Petrusevschi - AUBG Class of 2009




Rodica Petrusevschi is not a drop in the ocean, she is the ocean in a drop.

This is how Rodica’s friend and fellow alumna, Silvana Enculescu, described her in a single sentence. Silvana quoted Rumi because it was difficult for her to encapsulate all the fondness towards Rodi (this is what she calls her) that lives in her own heart.

 Rodica Petrusevschi inside her room in the Skaptopara dorms. Photo courtesy of Rodica Petrusevschi.

Rodica is an American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) alumna, class of 2009, former reporter and editor-in-chief at DeFacto – a university newspaper that has since perished. She is originally from Moldova but currently lives close to Cambridge, UK. She did not think the weather in the UK would be good, but it grew on her: “It’s always green, that’s what I really love about it.” Rodica moved to the UK four years ago, back in 2016, where she lives with her husband, who is Brazilian, and their two-year-old daughter, Sabrina. When she starts missing snow, she travels back to her home country. When she wants to feel the sun on her skin, Rodica goes to Italy. “There is no such thing as bad weather,” she says, “you just need the right clothing.”

Back in high-school, Rodica participated in a debate club and this helped her develop a stronger personality. The club gave her a good foundation for university life, and she was more successful when arguing with her parents. After high-school she moved on to AUBG. Rodica believes that the people she met there – inspiring professors and colleagues with sharp bright minds – shaped her and gave her confidence. As many AUBG students, she went on Work and Travel programs in the US. Going there was a big part of her university journey: “It builds crazy survival instincts.”

She spent four summers on the East Coast, working in Provincetown during her first year and then in Martha’s Vineyard, where she met her husband.

“My landlord in the US, Dave, is like my American dad. He came to our wedding in Moldova. We go and stay with them whenever we are in the States.” She remembers the first time she introduced her husband, then boyfriend, to Dave. “He [my landlord] vetted my husband until he met him and grilled him for 20 minutes with a huge dog next to him.” Rodica reminisces about the past days with a soft smile on her face:

“Dave is quite the character. He used to work on the set of Jaws. He is in the movie actually and has a Harley Davidson. The guy is a rockstar. Living in his house was freaking amazing.”

Rodica joined AUBG to study Business Administration. She did not expect to pursue a Journalism and Mass Communication major at AUBG but one of her professors, Aernout van Lynden, inspired her. She could not resist because the creative vibe of the journalism major had already seduced her. She was shooting movies on the side, writing, and editing for DeFacto. “It’s hard to put my finger on one thing only,” she says, “it [AUBG] made me appreciate friendships, people, jobs in every sector.”

Rodica believes that teaching others the same way people taught her is important. She learned a lot from her extracurricular activities, and she wanted to pass that experience to others. When the time came for her to move on and let go of her projects, it was difficult, but she knew it was for the best: “Sometimes things don’t last and that’s okay, it’s part of the learning process.” She looks to the side for a second, remains silent while all these memories about the newspaper come flooding back. “Every Saturday we had cooking nights, holidays together, just having fun nights with food and wine. Chocolate fights, as I recall,” her smile never leaves her face and she cannot hold back her laughter, “with very compromising pictures.” She still keeps in touch with a lot of people she worked with at AUBG.

Her head turns to the left. Her eyes stare at the items she keeps on her desk, they are not visible through the Zoom conversation, and she immediately jumps back ten years ago.

“One of my fondest memories, as sad or simple as it may sound, is actually bringing very thick accounting books to the lawn behind Skapto II to lie down on a blanket by the river and taking the best nap of my life. Right there. This would happen repeatedly. These were the best naps I would take. Period,” her lips widen and her eyes gleam with the warmth and coziness of bygone times, “Do not underestimate a power nap on an accounting book!”.

Rodica spent four years studying in a foreign country and she ended up falling in love with the place: “I love Bulgaria. I think the culture is close to Moldovan culture. And I love the local cuisine.” She remembers walking down the streets in Blagoevgrad and exploring unknown parts of the city.

“God, I love how you see people always sitting at the terrace enjoying something to eat, having coffee or a cigarette. This is not exactly something that’s very common in Moldova. It’s something that kind of reminds me of Italian culture but at the same time is more like Eastern-European rooted.”

She mentions her Bulgarian friends in the UK and how she often invites herself over when they bake banitsa: “I still dream of ayran and banitsa.” Despite her occasional simple cravings, her friend Silvana, thinks there is one thing Rodica would never do: “Pair food with the wrong kind of wine. She is a connoisseur!”

Digitalised DeFacto issues. Screenshot captured by Georgi Staykov from https://issuu.com/defactoaubg/docs.

While Rodica was still a student at AUBG, she worked on a variety of stories with her colleagues from DeFacto. She remembers a particular story about a professor from the Business department. Her team uncovered that he was wanted in Macedonia for financial embezzlement. He was hired to teach at AUBG, and he was teaching a class about financial embezzlement: “The irony was right there.” They could not publish all of the stories in this chain but Rodica believes they pointed out a bigger issue – the university was not properly screening candidates. She says that the administration was not DeFacto’s biggest fan. However, this is why they [the members of the club] were there – to inform the community: “We had a duty towards the students. Sometimes just asking the questions about it makes people aware that you are digging for information.”

After graduating from AUBG, Rodica knew she wanted to pursue a Master’s in something technologically advanced: “I wanted to up my tech game, while clutching on digital communication.” She needed some experience first, so she went back home to Moldova after graduation and worked at an advertising agency for two years. There were only two Master’s programs that she found and liked – one at Northeastern University in Boston, MA and one in Canada. She opted for the one in Boston and studied Digital Media Management. She worked full time because there were no scholarships for international students. “I had a really good experience and it really opened doors for me afterwards. I am happy that I did it.”

While in the US, she worked at a software company. After having completed her degree, Rodica realized she wanted to work on projects that matter – she knew she had the time and skills. She could not escape the desire to find something more meaningful. It was not enough for her to just work. This is when she found the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI). Rodica is currently working there as a Digital Strategy Officer. The EBI is an intergovernmental organization supported by twenty-eight member states from around the world. “It’s a really cool place,” Rodica says, “but it’s very little known.” They produce tons of data. “Imagine a Wikipedia for chemicals and genes.” Her work there involves trying to make all that scientific research open to the rest of the world so that people do not have to pay to see scientific results or apply for funding to start a lab and collect data. “All of that data is at their fingertips,” she says.

Rodica won’t just work anywhere because she has her own moral code to follow:  “There are certain principles I live by and there are certain industries I do not want to ever work for.” She smiles and stops talking. Some secrets are not meant to be divulged.

Holding a job in the digital field allows Rodica to explore the world of technology. She believes that circumstances related to the pandemic changed the world and unlocked progress that would have taken years to achieve. On the other hand, many people would end up separated from their families. Rodica thinks the travel restrictions might come back during the winter season and she will end up spending more than a year abroad without seeing her family back home in Moldova.

“I am one of those expats that don’t really have a home home. I don’t have a place in the US, I don’t have a place in the UK, I don’t have a place in Moldova.” She imagines her life in the UK in the next five years. Beyond that Rodica is open to opportunities. She might move around Europe and explore new horizons. The important thing for her is to be with her husband and daughter. “My husband is Brazilian. He is like ‘where you go, I go’ and we are in this crazy limbo situation.” Ever since she has been at home with her toddler, she has not had much free time for herself. Sleep has also become a luxury, but she enjoys the change, nonetheless. Rodica is not sure what the future holds but she is not afraid of finding out.

Rodica Petrusevschi with her daughter. Photo courtesy of Rodica Petrusevschi.

Rodica is not one of those people who can pinpoint a favourite book or a movie. She does not believe in things that are unequivocally predetermined. According to her, there are infinity shades of grey between black and white: “I am not an all or nothing kind of girl.”

She does, however, have a special relationship with a couple of music albums. “The last [album] that left an impression on me was Radiohead’s latest.” She scrolls through her music playlist on her phone, absorbed in her search, a song starts, and she keeps looking. “Ah, there it is – “A Moonshaped Pool.”

As our virtual rendezvous is drawing to an end, due to her busy schedule and my deadlines, Rodica’s stories are impatient to come to life. One of them slips right past our watchful minds. She tells me about another professor at AUBG: “Oh, I did wanna mention another really cool professor that I absolutely adore – Michael Cohen. He’s the best. He’s the best. AUBG is very lucky to have him.” She was published in “The Fly” – a student magazine – which is run by Professor Cohen. Rodica fondly closes another chapter: “[Professor Cohen] is great. This is the kind of energy the university needs more of.”

We are both now more relaxed. We know each other a little bit better. This is our second meeting. We will never reach that closeness of a face-to-face two-hour long conversation, but she knows she can share a part of her life with me. I know she trusts me to write about it. Rodica’s right hand is flowing through the air, her wedding ring shines for a brief second, and then her fingers continue – one swift motion after the other. The flat screen in front of my eyes makes it look as if she is now drawing the flowers on the painting behind her. She looks at me, smiles, and says:

“The one thing to do is to be brave, to try as much as you can, because you never know what you are going to be good at,” she laughs, “Wow, I did not know I had it in me.”

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