Binderiya Usukhbayar: At AUBG, ‘it is great that there are many opportunities to learn outside of classes’
Website yolo.mn has been publishing a series of interviews with Mongolian students studying in universities abroad. They reached out to Binderiya Usukhbayar to hear about her experience at AUBG. She talks about her application process, the advantages of the liberal arts education and her observations on life in Bulgaria.
The article has been translated from Mongolian and has been edited for clarity.
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Binderiya Usukhbayar. I graduated from “New Beginning” International Laboratory School with Cambridge AS/A level diploma. I speak Mongolian, English, Chinese, and am learning Bulgarian in university out of interest.
Where do you study now?
I study at the American University in Bulgaria with an academic scholarship for my first year. I am planning on majoring in Business Administration and Information Systems.
Tell us more about your scholarship.
When I was participating in the Democracy Ambassadors program by the Zorig Foundation in 201, I first found out about AUBG from an alumna who works in the UN House of Mongolia. I have been interested in the university since then, and finally got accepted in 2019 after submitting my application. When I first got accepted, I received two named scholarships. After admission, I won the online Haiku competition organized y the university and received an activity fee waiver of $610. Despite offering the same quality education as U.S. universities, it costs 5 to 10 times less to study at AUBG as the university is located in Eastern Europe. I hope to be able to receive more scholarships as my first semester GPA was 4.0.
What problems did you encounter while applying for financial aid?
I had to fill the financial aid application about my financial standing and send it through mail. [ The application process for financial aid at AUBG has changed since this interview: all documents can now be submitted online.] I sent my application too close to the deadline using a regular service carrier, so I had to inform the school that there might be delays. There were many questions on the form, and a lot of documents to prove your family income with, so I recommend leaving enough time for everything before the application deadline.
Where did you hear about your scholarship?
My university has many different named scholarships from various donors, and the university team determines which scholarship best suits each applicant. Many factors such as merit, financial need and [in some cases] an essay are taken into consideration for each applicant. Most of the students at AUBG receive some form of financial aid. Each scholarship has its own academic and GPA requirement.
Did you encounter any setbacks during the university application process?
Although I had started learning about the application process since starting high school, I ended up taking the IELTS and SAT [the SAT exam is optional for AUBG] in my last year of high school. You should take entrance tests earlier so that you can focus on your application and essays in your senior year. I was nervous until March of my senior year, waiting to hear back from the universities I applied to. I would talk to my friends who were also applying and tried to stay positive. This is also when I started going to the gym, which helped me deal with stress.
What are the advantages of studying in Bulgaria?
I did not know much about Bulgaria before coming here. I only knew that it was in Eastern Europe and a member of the European Union. Bulgaria has a beautiful nature and a warm climate, which is why many Bulgarians have a calm and easy lifestyle. The advantage of studying in Bulgaria, particularly in my university, is the European and American diploma, and the opportunity to take up to two majors and minors. The rest of Europe is very close, and you can find cheap plane tickets if you want to travel.
What is the best thing about your university?
I don’t have to declare my major for the first few semesters, thanks to the liberal arts education. We get to choose from a variety of general education courses. For example, a Computer Science student would need to take two literature classes in order to graduate. A maximum of two majors and two minors can be declared. I used to think that I would pursue Political Science and International Studies when I first came to AUBG, but now I am switching to an Information Systems major. This may change in the future, as well. We also have professors from different nationalities and the class size is small to encourage discussions. It is also great that there are many opportunities to improve yourself outside of classes.
What do you do in your free time?
Before switching to online classes due to the coronavirus pandemic, I used to have almost no free time doing extracurricular and course work. There were many days when I would leave the room in the morning for class, work during the day and go to a club meeting or study in the library before finally coming to the room to sleep. I have at least two meetings as I am a part of the Business club, Political Science club, and a Student Representative. I either catch up with friends or just rest in my room whenever I have free time. I also try to work out in the gym at least three times a week.
Do you live in a dormitory?
Yes. There are three residence halls called “Skaptopara”. Most of the students live in either one of these three buildings. I live with my roommate in Skaptopara 2.
Are your living expenses covered by the university?
I cover my own living expenses. I can eat meals at the university canteen with our student cards.
Do you have any opportunity to work a part-time job on campus?
I work at the International Student Services office as a Data Processing Assistant for 14 hours a week. When I don’t have class, I go there to print materials and assist international students in applying for the Bulgarian ID card. There are many student assistant opportunities for students on campus. You can also work outside of campus.
How costly is it to live in Bulgaria?
Living expenses are a bit higher than in Mongolia. Groceries, especially fruits and vegetables are cheaper, but other household products and clothes are more expensive.
How do you manage other costs?
Almost everything I need is on campus. I can either eat in the canteen or cook meals in the kitchen.
How much do you miss home?
I used to miss home a lot in the first few months. It feels better when I cook Mongolian food and talk to my family. I started listening to songs I would never listen to back in Mongolia. In general, I learned to love and embrace my heritage more.
How do you deal with difficult situations?
I believe that I will see the fruits of whatever I am doing, no matter how hard it is. My grandfather used to tell me that I would need to be prepared for worse situations whenever I had a setback, which helped me learn how to stay calm and strive to go through the problems.
Do you have any funny stories from university?
Many hilarious things happen all the time. The first thing I noticed when I landed in Bulgaria were the trees because they were much bigger than the trees in Mongolia. I was very amused and excited.
Why did you choose to study in Bulgaria?
I think Europe is generally safer and calmer than many parts of the world. If I was studying in the USA, I probably would have been concerned about racism, shootings and terrorism more often. The last time I was in America, I noticed a lot of covert and hidden racism. My family supported my decision to come to Bulgaria the most as they think of Bulgaria as “the land of fruits”. In the end, what you learn matters, not where you study.
How are your classes different from Mongolian universities?
The Mongolian education system emphasizes on knowing and memorizing. During my 12 years in public school, I learned that any innovative answers are always shut down. This became a problem when I came to university as I realized that I was scared of saying the wrong answer and would stay quiet even when I knew the answer. Now I am not afraid of asking or answering questions, and talking to professors. Every opinion counts in a university setting.
Describe your city, Blagoevgrad.
I live in a peaceful city one hour outside of the capital, Sofia, and the Greek border, called Blagoevgrad. The city sustains and benefits from two universities. There are many pensioners and families with young children.
What are Bulgarian people like?
They are very direct, and know their limits. When the work day ends, they leave everything at work and rush to enjoy their family time. Bulgarians respect their guests to the ultimate, and cook all their best dishes. They may even be more hospitable than Mongolians. Of course, this is a generalization.
What should you keep in mind when studying here?
Remember that you are in a foreign country, where you will experience many cultural differences. Any country has racial issues, and you shouldn’t be too sensitive about these issues.
How did you change after coming here?
I learned how to live more independently. When you’re away from home, you need to plan everything from how to spend time, whom to talk to, etc. I’m grateful for this lifestyle change because I have learned so much.
Will you come back to Mongolia after graduation?
Of course I will come back to Mongolia. It is too early to tell if I want to continue studying or start working after graduation, though. Anywhere it goes, I will make sure to contribute to Mongolia.
Thank you for the interview.