March 15, 2016 by American College of Sofia
Andrew Robarts taught Geography and Sports at ACS between 1992 and 1994. Upon his return to the States, he maintained his connection to the College through his father, Richard Robarts, who served as a member of the ACS Board of Trustees for 25 years. Andrew Robarts has been a Trustee since 2009. Find out more about him in the following interview conducted by Petia Ivanova ’97.
How did ACS enter your life? What made you embark on the Bulgaria adventure in the first place?
I graduated from college the year the Berlin Wall fell. In the summer of 1990, I studied in Germany and back-packed through Yugoslavia. There must have been something about the atmosphere of the Balkans that got in my blood. A few years later, while sitting in an office cubicle in Stamford, Connecticut, I said to myself, I am too young to be doing this and heard through my father that this interesting school with a long history in Bulgaria was re-opening and that he was involved with it and that I should meet the recently hired Director, Dr. Roger Whitaker. So in some non-descript conference room in Manhattan I sat across the table from Dr. Whitaker (whose passion and commitment to ACS was as evident then as it is now) and told him that I was up for anything and willing to do whatever was needed to help him get the school in Bulgaria up and running. So, he took a leap of faith and hired me on as an intern for one-year and the rest, as they say, is history.
I ended up staying on for another year at ACS teaching Geography and while I did a bunch of other things after I left (mostly in the field of refugee relief and resettlement which took me to east Africa, Azerbaijan, New York, Baltimore, and Washington, DC) I always came back to Bulgaria in my mind. In retrospect, the two years I spent at ACS from 1992-1994 were the two most formative years of my life. It is funny how these things work. I am a teacher again and do research and write on Bulgarian history.
What is your most vivid memory of your time in Bulgaria?
I have many vivid memories of my two years teaching in Bulgaria. The American teachers lived for the first six months up in Simeonovo. Living on the slopes of Mt. Vitosha was a great introduction to Sofia. Following extensive renovations we moved onto campus and I lived in the Pink House which is now called Stoltzfus House. Together with my colleague and friend Tom Dunn (who taught English Language at ACS from 1992-1993 and was an intrepid character to say the least), I plunged into life in Bulgaria and had a bunch of adventures in Sofia and around Bulgaria and traveled through in Romania, Albania, Greece, Macedonia, and Turkey. I fell in love with kiselo miliako and ate that pretty much every day for lunch. I have spent the past two decades trying to find yogurt that tastes as good as that. At the start of my second year, I bought a dark-blue Lada 2107 (I have often thought of writing a short story titled “Buying and Driving a Car in post-Communist Bulgaria”) and I drove that fine piece of machinery all over the country from Vidin to Svilengrad and from Kyustendil to Silistra. I ultimately sold it to Vanya Angleova (the Physics Teacher) before I left.
I could go on with this trip down memory lane… from organizing the ACS First Trivia Bowl, to practicing with the Bulgarian national baseball team, to spending several nights on Cherni Vrah with the volunteer ski-patrol team (we ate a lot of nadenitsa), to picking up and taking students to school in the blue van in the depths of a Sofia winter, to playing baseball on the lawn in front of Sanders as our friends across the street conducted crowd control drills, to climbing Mt. Musala with a group students (in the pre-Green school days), to watching at a friend’s apartment in Mladost 4 Bulgaria beat France 2-1 in the Parc des Princes to go to the 1994 World Cup in the US, to arguing with a sky lift operator in Pamporovo (in the best Bulgarian I ever spoke) that my lichna carta entitled me to pay the local (not the foreign) rate for a lift ticket, to getting to know many wonderful Bulgarian colleagues (several of whom still teach and work at the school including Stefka Papazova, Maria Angelova, Vanya Angelova, and Ani Ivanova.) Above all, however, I will never forget the collective pioneering spirit of the ACS teachers, administrators, and students from the early 1990s. Yes, we had some trials and tribulations, but there was this sense that we were all in it together. I have been fortunate to re-connect over the past few years with some of my former students and no matter what has transpired between then and now, when I see them I am transported back to those days, when my beard had more pepper and less salt…
When and why did you join the ACS Board of Trustees?
I stayed in touch with Roger and Susan Whitaker as the intensity of those two years in Bulgaria forged a friendship that has been sustained for 20 years now. In 2007, in connection with my pursuit of Ph. D. in History from Georgetown University, I did a year of archival research at the NBKM and BIA and (building upon my father’s 25 years of service to ACS) I got to know some of the Members of the ACS Board of Trustees during their annual visit to Bulgaria. In 2009, Roger asked me to join the Board and over the course of the last several years I have appreciated the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the workings of the college. As a bonus I get to return to Sofia and ACS every year in the spring.
What are you currently busy with? What has made you happy recently?
Being an east coast of the US kind of guy, I never thought I would end up in California, but for the last five years I have lived in the lovely little college town of Claremont, California (which is about an hour east of downtown Los Angeles). For the last three years I have taught at the University of California, Riverside and will be teaching next year at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. My wife, Amy, is a Paleontologist. We met in Baltimore when I was the Director of a Refugee Resettlement Center and she was getting her Ph. D. at Johns Hopkins University. She is now a Professor of Anatomy at a local medical school in Pomona, California. We have a five-year old daughter Claire who is the joy of our lives and keeps us in line and on our toes. She has a growing collection of ACS and Bulgaria-themed shirts and hats. I look forward to bringing her to Sofia and ACS at some point in the near future.
Do you have a message to our readers, the ACS alumni?
Despite the many challenges presented by the variable economic and political environment in Bulgaria, the school continues (as it has for 17 years now) to graduate top students who attend the very best universities in the US and Europe and are well-equipped to thrive in a globalizing world. While the future course of the school remains uncharted, it is quite clear to me (as I continue to learn the ropes as a Member of the Board) that the educational mission of the school is well-supported by a committed, accomplished, and visionary group of Bulgarian and American Trustees. The ACS community is strong and getting stronger and I look forward, in the spirit of my first meeting with Dr. Whitaker in 1992, to doing whatever I can to help the school as it continues to grow and evolve in the coming years.
This material was first published in May 2014 as part of the ACS Alumni Magazine.