Slavi Georgiev was 12 in 1989 when the communist regime in his home country of Bulgaria fell. They were in the middle of the school year, he remembers, when teachers came in and instructed them to mark out sections of their state-mandated curriculum textbooks.
“We’re not teaching this anymore,” they said.
Today he is a student at Furman University, working toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration through Undergraduate Evening Studies (UES), taking a class or two at a time around his full-time schedule as a team leader at Publix, and as a husband and father of two small children.
Georgiev’s wife, Nancy, is employed at Furman as the associate director for Study Away and International Education; the two met in Bulgaria when she was there as a Peace Corps worker. They married in 2009, and relocated to the United States in 2011, living for a year in Nashville with Nancy’s parents.
Georgiev’s English was very limited, but he knew he would never get better unless he got out and practiced it. So he started working at Publix stocking shelves at night. In Bulgaria, he had been a regional sales manager for a bakery business, so he thought a grocery store would be a good place to start. As it turned out, working in a grocery store was good for his English, but it was also a crash course in American food culture.
After five years, his English is conversational, and the fact that he is friendly and likes to talk has helped him gain proficiency. Still, when his wife suggested that he take advantage of her employee benefit and go to school, the prospect was daunting at first.
UES is not designed for foreign students to come to the U.S. and study, but foreign-born students like Georgiev who are legal residents may apply like anyone else. Furman uses World Education Services to evaluate global transcripts, and if the student is not a native speaker of English, TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores may be used in the admission decision.
In the two years he attended Furman, Georgiev says his professors have been helpful and encouraging, even strategizing to find ways for him to succeed when his English skills might be a hindrance. For example, when he thought he was going to have to drop a class that required him to read three books in eight weeks and write an analysis of each, he met with the professor and explained his dilemma.
“I’m not a fast reader even in Bulgarian,” he says, “but with English, I have to think about every word. If a word has six meanings, and I know five of them, what if it’s the sixth one I don’t know?”
His professor asked him not to drop the class but to let him think about it. In a few days, the professor returned with a solution to accommodate Georgiev’s language skills that would allow him to continue in the course.
Another aspect of UES that Georgiev greatly appreciates is the program’s small class size—usually 8 to 10 students—which allows students to get to know one another, as well as work closely with each faculty member. Since his fellow students are also full-time workers as he is, Georgiev views his classes as networking opportunities.
Taking just two classes at a time, he still has a few years before he completes his degree, and he is considering a double major in accounting or information technology, along with business administration, to open up more career possibilities. The classes he enjoys most are the business and accounting courses that explain the nuts and bolts of how business works, but he has also enjoyed a photography elective for a change of pace.
“I can’t compare it to other schools since I’ve never been to college before,” Georgiev says, “but Furman is like a family to me.”