As I’ve written before, as part of the Fulbright experience I have had several opportunities to speak on topics related to my background and interests. Tuesday, I had another such opportunity as I was invited to deliver a lecture at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), located in Blagoevgrad, about 75 miles south of Sofia.
I left around noon to make my first trip to Sofia’s Central Bus Station. The station is fairly new, and most of the waiting coaches appear to be much newer than the city bus fleet. Most people I’ve talked with have recommended the bus over the train, saying it is faster and more reliable. There is not a national bus company, though, so you have to determine which private carrier is going your direction at what time, and then find their ticket booth inside the station.
Before long, though, we were on the road. Although the distance is relatively short, it took a while to get through Sofia and the road to Blagoevgrad is two lanes with lots of hills. So, the trip took just over two hours. I enjoyed the views of the Rila Mountains, which include the highest peaks in southeast Europe, and reviewed and edited the notes for my talk.
I arrived in Blagoevgrad shortly around 3:30 p.m. and I walked to the Hotel Cardinal, where my hosts had booked a room for me. The professor who invited me stopped by a short time later, and we took an hour-long walk through the city center. Blagoevgrad has a population of about 80,000 and is nicely situated with mountains and hills in every direction. The city center received a major makeover in the 1980s, so many of the buildings have the uniform look of socialist architecture from that era. One of AUBG’s buildings, formerly the communist party headquarters, dominates the central plaza. After a quick stop at the hotel I made my way across the river to the new part of AUBG’s campus.
My talk started at 7:30 p.m. and was well attended. My topic was “The Role of International Justice in Securing Peace.” I chose this topic in part because I knew that many students from a conflict resolution course would be attending, and wanted to try to connect my talk to their course work. I discussed the development of human rights systems and international criminal law in the postwar era – the establishment of the United Nations, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the convening of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremburg, and the revival of international criminal tribunals at the end of the century. I then talked about the relationship of international criminal tribunals to conflict resolution – how well suited courts are to building peace in post-conflict situations, and how they might better do so.
The first part of the talk – the development and goals of the international institutions – was within my comfort zone, but the latter part – the connection to conflict resolution – was somewhat new territory for me. I appreciated the opportunity to go there, though. My main purpose in doing so was to try to connect the topic to student interest, but it also let me learn more about an area that I don’t know as much about. Not only was this intellectually stimulating, it also provides me with some new material to share in my own classes when I teach. At the same time, it is always a bit intimidating to walk into a room with the expectation that you are an “expert” in something; this is definitely increased when talking out of your area.
|Mostly still awake.|
I think we had some good discussion during the question and answer period that followed. The other Fulbright lecturer in Bulgaria this year, my new friend Nancy, teaches journalism at AUBG. Following the lecture, I was even interviewed by one of her students who was assigned to “cover” my talk.
After finishing, I had dinner with several faculty members, including Nancy. It was interesting to me to learn more about AUBG, which operates on an American model. Instruction is in English, and a large number of the faculty members are American. About half of the students come from Bulgarian, while the rest come from neighboring countries and even further away. One of the Americans in our party even said that he had encouraged his niece to consider AUBG because it is less expensive than the public institution in her home state.
After a pretty good night’s sleep, I awoke to one glitch – no running water in my room. When I went downstairs to breakfast I learned that there was a break in the water main down the street. After an interesting Bulgarian variation of a full English breakfast, I met my friend, Nancy, for coffee. I caught a mini-bus back to Sofia, which was a bit faster than the coach on the way.
All in all, it was a very good trip. I enjoyed Blagoevgrad and it was nice to have time to visit with Nancy. My talk went well (at least from my perspective) and the students and faculty who I interacted with were great. I have to admit, though, it was nice to get back to Sofia and my apartment, which really does feel like “home.”