The AUBG Campus – a bright and shiny diamond on the crown of the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). With three Skaptopara residence halls, gorgeous gardens and lawns, Panitza Library, and a wide variety of student facilities, it looks like the perfect place to have a movie-like university experience. Yet, while some students worship the idea of living on the AUBG campus, others are ready to leave the place for good. So, why did students move out?
As stated in the AUBG Undergraduate Catalog, every full-time student is required to live on campus unless they live with their immediate family locally or have permission from the Director of Residence Life to live off-campus. Kristina Stamatova, Administrative Assistant in Residence Life and Housing at AUBG, said that this requirement exists because the university is a residential institution by practice and philosophy.
“We believe that living on campus and participating actively in campus life is a critical part of our educational process and is, in fact, one of the key things that positively differentiate AUBG from other universities in the country,” Stamatova said.
However, for the fall semester of 2020, with respect to the COVID-19 safety precautions, an off-campus living alternative was introduced along with the full-time online education option. Stamatova explained that the first priority of the management was the safety on campus. “We wanted to reduce the population density in the residence halls a little to increase social distancing, which would give us some rooms to use for quarantine or temporary isolation,” Stamatova said.
The housing situation was discussed throughout the whole summer. After some serious conversations, the university leadership decided to offer the option to live off-campus to all students no matter their academic standing, because according to Stamatova every individual has their own concerns about the virus.
Although they had the free choice to leave the campus, a lot of AUBG students decided to stay and study as a community. Mirela Yovcheva, an on-campus AUBG student, said that she chose to stay because that way she could take advantage of all the university facilities a student may need.
“Also, I am very lucky to be living with my sister, so I haven’t experienced any problems that may come with living with a stranger,” Yovcheva said.
According to her, life in Skaptopara is great - the staff in the residence halls does everything they can to take care of students' needs, the atmosphere is pleasant and cozy, and the staff is indeed kind and helpful. “I think the living conditions here are great, the lack of noisiness at night helps students rest well and concentrate on their work better, and I am very glad that I don’t have to deal with all sorts of bugs every day like in other residence halls in Bulgaria,” Yovcheva said.
However, there are things that can be improved, according to Yovcheva. Having in mind that the kitchens still remain closed, the campus is left with very few options when it comes to meal alternatives. According to her, the surprisingly small number of microwaves around the residence halls is problematic.
“Given the housing fee we pay and the fact that we are not allowed to have our own microwaves in our rooms, I think there should be more of them, one per floor seems reasonable enough,” Yovcheva said, “having to carry my meal downstairs to the hallway and back just to reheat is ridiculous.”
In August 2020, shortly after it was announced that there is an option to live off-campus, many on-ground AUBG students decided to terminate their residence on campus grounds and started living in a different accommodation in Blagoevgrad. Living independently is of great importance for Doruntinë Aliu and Boris Dechev – off-campus AUBG students – and is something that definitely influenced their decision to move out. They both agree that there is more freedom in off-campus life and it is a way cheaper option for unemployed young students.
“You definitely have more opportunities to work, read, do assignments, and things in your own time. Also in general there’s more freedom in terms of what you’re allowed to do,” Aliu said.
Dechev emphasized on the opportunity to have privacy in the place you live in.
“There’s just too many rules on campus and no privacy,” Dechev said, “off-campus you get to live with whoever you decide on, it’s much cheaper, you have your own personal kitchen, but the most important thing is that I get to have my own room.” According to both of them, living off-campus gives a person the sense of independence and responsibility, which is significant to every young adult.
“You learn to live independently and most importantly you learn how to cook,” Aliu said.
However, even with the long list of advantages off-campus living gives you, Aliu and Dechev share that like any other thing, living outside of the campus can also have its downsides. Students may sometimes feel left out of all the campus activities and have less communication with other students.
“Life on campus is crazy and fun, and sometimes you might miss that,” Aliu said. She added that living off-campus might send you towards the path of adulthood sooner, so she would recommend it more to junior and senior students.
An inconvenient part of off-campus life is that the student facilities on campus become so far away from home that students stop using them. Walking to campus buildings for classes can sometimes take you 10 to 15 minutes, whereas the distance between Skaptopara III and Balkanski Academic Center is not more than three minutes on foot.
“Another con in line with the COVID-19 situation is that we don’t have access to many buildings, and, for example, we can’t request JMC equipment if we don’t use campus WI-FI,” Dechev said.
It is curious whether the option to live off-campus will remain after the Coronavirus crisis ends since it is a temporary decision taken in times of a pandemic for the safety and comfortability of all students. According to Stamatova, there is a possibility that the off-campus alternative will remain only for the near future. She explained that in normal times the housing is about 100 spaces short to accommodate every student, who does not live permanently in the Blagoevgrad area, so some students would still be allowed to live off-campus.
“In the longer run, we hope to increase the capacity of our residence halls so we can accommodate everyone on campus,” Stamatova said.
As of this moment, it is uncertain whether the COVID-19 crisis will end soon, or when things will return back to normal on campus and in general. Aliu and Dechev shared their thoughts about how they would react if living on campus became mandatory for them again. Aliu had taken a leave of absence after the fall semester of 2019 and she was living off-campus for months anyway.
“I would prefer to stay off-campus since I’ve decided this before the COVID-19 pandemic started,” Aliu said. Dechev commented on the probability of his return to campus by saying “They could wish.”
As it turns out, campus life is just not for everyone.
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