Conversation with Aleks Roussinov

On the evening of Thursday 1 June 2017, I conversed with Aleks Roussinov – a Bulgarian student studying at UCL. I was particularly intrigued by Aleks conceptualisation of the ‘global good’ and his idea of a “non-Brexit Brexit”. We discussed both Bulgarian and Danubian culture, namely with reference to language and religion. It was a privilege to listen to his recollection of childhood memories and his tales of Bulgarian history. Aleks takes pride in being a global person and feels duty bound to do what he can to make a difference. Indeed, both his long-term desire to settle permanently in London and his hopes and aspirations for the future are at the heart of his proud and passionate identification as a ‘Global Citizen’.

Aleks [P] I am Aleks Roussinov, I come from Bulgaria, I am almost twenty-five years old, I have been in London for 4 years now. Mainly, I came here for studying […] for higher education in UCL doing Computer Science Degree, and I really enjoy my stay by now.
Kushal [I] Why do you enjoy studying in London?
Aleks Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it is a multicultural city, and you can have a lot of different people from all around the globe. Studying their traditions and cultures – and I’ve managed to experience the cultural shock very nicely here, and to adapt faster. The second reason is that the UK is really in front, in the forward with the computing and the industry. Especially, UCL did the first international router for the internet. I think it was in the seventies. And we were ranked as the best computer science institution for 2014 by research.
Kushal What is your hometown in Bulgaria?
Aleks It is the capital city of Sofia.
Kushal How is Sofia different to London?
Aleks Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria. It has been capital during the renaissance period in Bulgaria, from the end of the nineteenth-century. It is a lot smaller than London. It is just a one million, than seven here. And it is way less multicultural […] in terms of […] we have […] you can talk mainly with Bulgarians and – in general – it doesn’t give you that many opportunities as here. Although, the environment is – I would say – is maybe more beautiful because there are a lot of mountainside and it is good for hiking. And you have a lot of different periods in history there that you can’t experience here. And here you have different periods in history that you can’t experience there.
Kushal Now that you are in London, what do you miss the most about Sofia?
Aleks I miss the hiking, going to the mountains. And the Orthodox. I feel that the environment in Bulgaria – although there are churches here for Orthodox – the environment in Bulgaria, in Sofia, is much spread in terms of Orthodox Christianity.
Kushal How do you meet Bulgarians in London?
Aleks There is a Bulgarian society in UCL – where we go out. But, it is not that often, and it needs popularisation. I would say that in my circle, there are not that many Bulgarians – just for this reason.
Kushal Have you met anyone from other parts of Eastern Europe whilst at UCL?
Aleks Yes, I have met a lot of Romanians that are from my degree. I found them similar in behaviour. They can understand my problems better and they can understand my problems better as well.
Kushal What is that connects people from this region?
Aleks In terms of language, most of them are Slavonic. Hungary has a special type of language, I will lie to you what is the origin – we can’t [understand]. But, for example, I will easily understand somebody from Macedonia, from Serbia, from Slovenia – but otherwise it would be hard for me to understand.
Kushal What did you expect London to be like? Are those expectations a reality?
Aleks When you are studying in UCL, you have a large campus … you are in a university shell that is London. I as a student was unable to really really experience London, and go all around. But, my expectations in terms of cultural heritage were met here. I thought that the government would be much more settled down, without the typical problems. But, as we see on daily television and broadcasts it is not the case. Maybe, we are in some ways, similar in terms of government problems and the solutions for them.
Kushal Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016 – we are nearly one year on from this moment. Has anything changed? Do you feel you are being treated differently?
Aleks In my case, I do not really feel the difference. There are things – like secondary. First, many people are scared about leaving. They say: “Oh, we need to have visas really soon” and “We won’t be able to stay” and so on. But, I think that this is a little bit too direct and impossible. Think what Brexit is right. You want to leave this union, and you have the country, the large Britain, that has tons of contracts with each single country – and even Bulgaria – in the EU. And, you have to negotiate these contracts again for these two years right, or less than that. So, if the contract was fine in the terms of the European Union, there might have been many many problems – businesses would not be happy for this to be true. So, I do not think that such a radical change should be expected in the short-term. Maybe in the long-term – from five to ten years – we could expect some big change. What I think will happen will be non-Brexit Brexit, where Britain will formally leave the EU but nothing really changes. For me, how it affected […] the tuitions became lower, the pound went down for a period. A person from Bulgaria could exchange our currency to pound in a more suitable rate, in a more lower rate, which was good. For me it didn’t really affect.
Kushal So, is this is the same London that you came to four years ago?
Aleks If we talk about Brexit, only about Brexit, yes.
Kushal Could you briefly explain your childhood, your family and your future ambitions?
Aleks Okay. I was brought up in Sofia. I was in a family of two generations of engineers, and this involved rigorous training from an early age in the mathematical disciplines. An acquaintance with these subjects caused me to pursue this degree and to have this interest […] We speak Bulgarian. This is the national language in Bulgaria. We have a separate language yes. We follow the Orthodox traditions of Christianity – like Easter, Christmas and everything. I was spoilt with presents, and I didn’t want presents. I really loved my childhood and my stay there. I didn’t really – I was in a lucky position that – I didn’t really experience the turbulences happening across the country. Like two or three riots that fall down the government. Some people were in a very bad situation. But this was not the majority. This was some minority.
Kushal Why are the people in this region connected?
Aleks Basically, before 1989, almost everyone new Russian. This was the second language in schools – now it is English, it had the same priority. You can measure the difference in languages of these countries by the distance between them. For example, Macedonia is really close to us, and the language is very much the same. Serbia is also close to us, the language is kind of the same – but it is more different than that. And, as you go – as you go to the western of the former Yugoslavia right – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hrvatska, Albania, Slovenia – you will get more and more change, as the distance changes.
Kushal So the language changes as we move along the Danube river?
Aleks Yes. I find words in Polish that are quite the same […] As you go western, the more Latinised the alphabet is. So, we have the alphabet that is Cyrillic right. I think that Serbia has an alphabet that is Cyrillic but transformed to Latin alphabet. Macedonia has an alphabet that is Cyrillic still – I am not sure exactly. I think Hrvatska and Slovenia are definitely Latin now, in terms of the letters they use.
Kushal Have you been to a lot of these countries?
Aleks I have been, but just for a few days. Just to travel across.
Kushal Do you see any similarity in the customs between the people?
Aleks Well, I guess, if I do not know the area- the specific area, I could easily be decepted [deceived], that this is not the country. As you go western the more catholic the societies are. So, Slovenia is quite catholic.
Kushal So religion is a big factor?
Aleks Yes, religion is a big factor because of the history. You know that the western Roman Empire expanded to the western parts of Yugoslavia, so they had a huge influence on the religion there.
Kushal Could you tell me a bit more about Bulgarian culture? Maybe something about the food, the music, the dance? What comes to your mind?
Aleks It comes to my mind certain foods, it comes to my mind many revolutionaries that were very crucial for the […] liberalisation of Bulgaria. And in Bulgaria, you know, the culture – we have a lot of periods, so the culture is vast in this sense. There are different authors from different periods that express the movements that are relative to this. We have two slavery periods; we were part of big empires two times, so therefore the culture changed. Know we have a lot of commonalities with other Balkan countries. In terms of Music, it is called Chalga; it has a lot of takes from different countries in the Balkans. A lot of people in Bulgaria do not like the music because it takes a lot from foreign countries than folklore music which is different than the Chalga. But Chalga is more popular in terms of people that hear it. But it is good when you come here, to visit the […] the capitals from the different periods, to see how the country changed across time – which is very amazing.
Kushal Could you tell me a little about that?
Aleks So, there were four important capitals in Bulgaria during the time. The first important capital is from the period six-eight-one [681] to the greater Bulgarian period, which was the tenth-century – this was called Pliska. There you may seem some of the initial nomad kind of things […] this type of culture that initially developed here. Then you go to Preslav, which was the other capital. This is the Golden Century of Bulgaria, which is in the tenth-century, where we expanded on the three seas. And you can see the much […] the vast presence of ornaments and how we got very expansive, and richer and posh. And then you see the […] you will see Tarnovo – this is the third capital. And you can see some, this big castle – it ranges across a mountain. And you have a show, twice a week, with fireworks and lights, it is very amazing when you see it. And then you have the Sofia which is the new central – and you can see a lot of Europeanised architecture from the end of the nineteenth-century. And the Russian influence as well, because they came by to free us – two times after 1886.
Kushal What did you use to like doing in Bulgaria?
Aleks I used to go to these capitals that I described to you. We really liked to go to different monasteries across Bulgaria and visit them. Rila monastery is really good; it is the largest monastery in Bulgaria. The monastery near Varna is really good because it has special architecture in the rocks, and I think it is really amazing to visit […] I did visit these places of culture and heritage, but I was not that active in the dances. I think if I was in a more rural part, I would definitely have taken more attention to the dances, then in the big city. In the middle of the city, everything is new and modernised.
Kushal Is part of Bulgarian culture lost in the urban cities?
Aleks There is something of this I think. But, there are different samples with the people that do go to dance in the big cities of course. But, it is lost in the view. Because in the view you see all of these large buildings, sky scrapers and things – without having an idea about the national. Like here, in London, in Canary Wharf, in the city, I won’t be able to see the traditional British rural culture and dances right. And, I think modernisation a little bit looses the cultural roots of the country.
Kushal How do you identify? Are you Bulgarian? Are you a Londoner? Are you both?
Aleks I would say I would like to be a global person. I would like to be able to understand everyone and be able to work and contribute to the global good. Of course, I respect and I value my roots – Bulgaria – and I would like to contribute in a way to the country. And as well, I enjoy staying here, staying in London – to be in this environment. I think that being here everyday, I become more and more of a global person.
Kushal So, what does it mean to you to be a global citizen?
Aleks It means that one should be able to be open and to be able to communicate in the language of the other. I mean on the cultural language of the other, wherever he goes. To not judge anyone by the speculations and by what he hears, but experience it first hand and then make a decision about any problems. And then contribute to the global good, instead of contributing to the local happiness of somebody that is worse to many more other people.
Kushal Can somebody be both a ‘local’ person and a ‘global’ person? Is there conflict between the two?
Aleks I am not saying that being a local person is bad, I am saying that […] these are people that cannot really get accustomed to a more broaden view and make a radical decision without having any knowledge of the situation, which is not in line with my cause – contributing to the global good. I am not trying to say something against the local people, I am just saying that […] it might be the case that they can be influenced by outside opinion. But, you can do a lot of good in a local area, in your own community of course – definitely. I am just saying that this is the best decision for me.
Kushal So are you proud of the fact you live in London? Was it the right decision to come here?
Aleks Yes, I think it was the right decision for me in this moment – yes.
Kushal What do you mean by ‘the global good’?
Aleks This is […] everyone should have access to the goods and services, and we should aim to unify […] some global citizenship to help and support the one in need. I am sure that will learn more and somebody will learn less, but we should aim towards unifying and towards equalising the rights of the people – make big change. I think that overtime this will happen. I think we are going in the right direction, despite what people say that we are worse than twenty-years ago.
Kushal So, what kind of difference do you want to make? Both in London and in Bulgaria? What contribution do you want to make?
Aleks Well countries in the position of Great Britain, and the developed countries […] we have a lot of responsibility in our possession. I think that combining the best things that people can do can lead to a lot of progress and new inventions that could dramatically amplify the human development index. And we saw that in a lot of countries – especially during the last century, in Asia, Africa and even in Eastern Europe. This means that we could bring our knowledge together and design technology that could amplify the human development index of the countries that have problems and are struggling in life right. And by doing so we are taking a step in that direction. I would like to be in a big organisation, that could help, that could create this kind of technology. Rather than just giving money to groups, you can go and down painting for two hours. Your emotional labour is involved in the cause. You could build a tool that changes the way they live, and then your emotional labour will go towards the cause. For example, we could build systems to extract very economic power supply for villages that do not have any power grids, like villages in Uganda – we did this in UCL two years ago. I think there are different levels of involvement that one should take.
Kushal Do you feel you have a duty to improve lives in Bulgaria?
Aleks Yes, I think it would be really good to improve the sectors. Now, we have this problem with Bulgarian in Latin Characters, and the people say this harms our culture, because it takes a part our language in a sense because it is Cyrillic. They had a big argument a few weeks ago, because somebody high up wanted to add the Latin Characters to the official […] Maybe it would be good to design some way that makes it much more easier to use Cyrillic in technology – use it everywhere, in games, in tools online – because a lot of this, unfortunately, is constrained to English. And therefore people say “Oh, I am using English 80% of the day and I am a little bit […] it is uncanny for me to use Cyrillic and switch everything back to Cyrillic. Maybe this is the emerging issue now.
Kushal Is UCL a “global” university?
Aleks I think yes. Because, as the Global Citizenship Programme, and my programme “how to change the world” two years ago […] there are many […] UCL attaches many causes that are aiming to improve the development of other countries […] they include everyone inside them right. And, this happens […] I think there are thousands of projects happening in UCL that are part of this cause – and they were highly ranked in international rankings. So I think that it is, it proves itself to be. And the other thing that it proves itself to be is it involves its students to the cause, while many other universities do not involve that much every student into such causes right.
Kushal Why are these programmes important? Why are they important for the university to run and for students to participate in?
Aleks They are important mainly because they raise awareness in people. They acquaint the students with the current problems. They give opportunities for the students to go abroad and do a gap year in a developing country. They lead by example the other institutions across the world that are to follow this cause.
Kushal Do you feel at home in London?
Aleks I would identify myself as a Londoner, as I live here and I aim to stay here as well. I plan to stay here because it gives me more opportunities, it gives me freedom, it gives me the necessary comforts – I have got a lot of friends and relationships during my studies, which would be crucial to maintain right now. I would be more open to the world and to contribute more in the future if I stay here.
Kushal Aleks, are you a Global Citizen?
Aleks Yes, I am a Global Citizen.


Hope you enjoy these great insights!

Kushal from Team Bulgaria