Taniel Gulian ’19: I Like Myself the Way I Am and I Don’t Know If I Was Going to Be like That Had I Not Come to the College
January 10, 2020 by American College of Sofia
I first heard about Taniel Gulian of the wonderful Class of 2019 when he and a team of his peers won the Red Bull Soapbox race with their legendary vehicle “The Teacher” (Госпожата). As I was getting to know the graduating class who are now part of our alumni circle, I discovered that Taniel is a talented maker, engineer, and, well, fencer. He was an integral team member and a worthy ambassador of our community during the third Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) Makeathon which we at the College had the honor and privilege to host in March 2019. In his senior year it appeared that the Student Computer Innovation and Fabrication Institute (SCIFI) had turned into his second home as I have heard stories of him spending the night there on multiple occasions. He is a chief organizer of FISSION and unconfirmed rumors speculate that he is also a talented meme-creator. As Taniel seemed to be a well-rounded student who is taking advantage of our new makerspace and its facilities on a grander scale, I felt like I wanted to get to know him better and share his story with the alumni community. He and I met for an interview shortly before his Graduation in May of 2019, so here is what he told me:
Interview by Alexander Tomov ’04
What is life like for 12th graders like you at the moment?
Well, it is relatively intense. It is a little less so than the previous years, but we surely have a lot of tasks. Yes, I do have more time for side projects, but I am mainly focused on school.
Where do you feel most “at home?”
“Most at home” I feel in Math and Physics. English I will sit for in order to raise my grade, because we at ACS are well-prepared in this area and I think I will do well.
I have my fingers crossed for you on all of them. What SAT are you taking?
Which brings me to the question, what is your plan for after Prom?
The plan for after the prom is, I have a very cool idea, which I’m not sure will actually happen, but I want to try to launch a mobility service in Sofia if I manage to find funding.
I would like to try doing this during the summer, even though it seems impossible. Other than that – the beach, a little rest and after that – mechanical engineering in the UK.
What are your best and worst days at ACS?
Some of the worst days have been those with many tests that had great weight on our grade. There are such days every year and I don’t know what year was the most important for me. If there was a test in Bulgarian that day, it almost certainly contributed to the day being “one of those.”
The best day?
I don’t know. I’ve had many great days, including FISSION. Last year I won it, this year I organized it.
The days after we won the Red Bull Soapbox Challenge, together with the boys and the “госпожа,” were also very cool, because everyone was cheering us and I felt very happy back then. I had the support of many friends.
How did you end up going to ACS?
Well, it was a little accidental. I came here from the Sofia Math High-School (SMG) and it so happened that my whole class didn’t quite like our teachers there and we scattered. Many people from my class, I think 7 of us, applied to ACS and we all said, “Let’s go to the ACS admission exam!” I applied and ended up getting in and my parents wanted me to study French. There is French here. Back then I didn’t want to be in SMG, but I didn’t want to be in a different school either. After all, I ended up at the College. It was a little by accident, but it worked out well. Now I like myself the way I am and I don’t know if I was going to be like that had I not come to the College.
Do you have many SMG friends here at ACS?
Well, it happened that two of the guys I was with back at SMG signed up for French here and, together with the others, we became a whole section. This one guy and I have been studying together from 5th to 12th grade. We missed only one year and we are very supportive of each other.
What do you value most in your friends?
Mainly that they stick with me in both good and bad times.
What would you like to take with you and what do you want to drop right here, right now?
Right now I’m dropping getting up early and staying up late. I am taking with me the knowledge, the friends, and the good times, for sure.
I don’t want to bum you out, but getting up early and staying up late are quite typical for life at university.
I think I will be able to chill just a little bit more.
Or you will have a little better control of your daily schedule.
I hope so.
Every time you are not in SCIFI, you are on a trotinetka, except for when you are with the trotinetka in SCIFI. What’s with that? And is it a trotinetka?
Well, it actually is a trotinetka with an electric motor. Abroad it’s called a scooter, but here a scooter means something else. It has to do with rising early. I discovered that I can get here much faster on the trotinetka, so I could sleep in just a little, and I gradually fell in love with riding it everywhere.
Why do I bring it down to SCIFI? Well, David (Yordanov) for one loves riding it too. This is how it started: I had a project in English where I made a bed from the Elizabethan era and some wood was left over from that. One winter I discovered a pair of old skis lying around, so I decided to reuse the leftover materials. I used the skis and built a sled. As soon as I finished the sled, the snow melted. So I wondered what to do and I unmounted the front and mounted the scooter in its place and the sled turned into a road sled, with power coming from the scooter. It is actually still lying around SCIFI somewhere.
Have you been dexterous and handy since you were a kid?
Yes. My parents love to joke with that. My father is very handy with things. He works with watches and my mother is a musician, so you can guess who I take after. Apart from that, I think in math I’m taking after my grandfather and grandmother who are train engineers. So I have taken a little from everyone in the engineering field. And yes, I’ve been making things since I was very young. I started out with Legos. When I grew a little older, I discovered I liked 3D printing and making models. As a kid I tried to make a remote-controlled boat, and little by little, when I was around 10 years old, I first worked with a drill. My dad helped me and we made sure that my mom was away because she was very worried about me handling the drill.
What else are you doing?
Well, I played the piano and I used to sing in a vocal group when I was a kid, but then my voice changed and that stopped working. What I was really drawn to was fencing and I practiced very hard. When I got into ACS I had to cut down on the fencing. After that, it turned out that the people who I had trained with were heading the fencing club at the College so I was the club’s president over the last 4 years. This is my sport, I like individual sports.
I like to count on myself and that’s why I like these kinds of things.
Which teacher from ACS will leave the brightest memories for you?
If David is a teacher, then David. If he isn’t then it’s the Todorova twins in Computer Science and Math. Even though I’ve had classes with both of them over the past two years, I still can’t tell them apart. They support us a lot and are constantly pushing us to make new projects. With Atanas Pashov of my class we took part in the IT Olympiad where we made an app that tells you how much plastic a product contains and it gives you tips on how to reduce your plastic use.
Both innovative and ecological!
Mr. Dinkov has also been an island of salvation because I like math, his classes were interesting, and I felt quite comfortable in them. He himself is quite an interesting person and it is a pleasure to have him as a teacher.
Do you want to live abroad, do you want to stay here, or would you rather go abroad to study and then return?
Well, I want to come back. This is my home and I like it.
I hope I can help fix things in the future.
What makes you truly happy?
To be able to do what I want and to create things with my hands. This is something I adore doing. And when I’m doing it, I’m in heaven. It doesn’t matter if I’m printing, making, gluing, cutting, or assembling something with electronics, woodwork, or metalwork – as long as I can turn my ideas into reality.
To be a maker makes me truly happy.
Are you going to miss the makerspace in SCIFI?
I will up to a certain point, but I want to build my own makerspace at home. I will bring ideas from here on how to improve my own.
Is there anything that has to do with ACS that you regret?
One of the things I regret is that I quit fencing because I used to have many friends there, but we’ve grown apart over time. We’ve grown together as a team and some of them have fenced successfully. One of the girls is now #3 in the world and was recently awarded her bronze medal. The others are also doing very well, especially in the European rankings.
I could have been there, but I think my vocation is not to be a fencer, but rather a maker.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years I see myself having founded and launched a mobility business in Sofia. Yes, I will be in Sofia most probably, and I will have my own makerspace. I want to be doing what I want to do, and create products that are useful to society. I’m not saying that making the Red Bull Soap Box isn’t cool, but I want to make something that has a greater impact. I am very keen on developing ecological and technological solutions to the problems our environment faces. Otherwise, I’m also drawn to watchmaking, like my father. I don’t know yet what road I will take, but I’m sure it will soon come to me.
How would you like to address the incoming 8th graders?
Get yourselves organized, learn to manage your time and prioritize. I was told the same, but I didn’t believe it back then. Now I know it and I think I managed to get it done.
How does one succeed at ACS nowadays?
It is a lot of work and commitment. You need to be relatively good at all subjects that are taught here; there’s no way for you to perform poorly in a class and pull off a good grade. It is very important that you take time to do your stuff and study..
Fair enough, so not a lot has changed in that respect. In a few days we will be welcoming you to the circle of distinct ACS alumni. What would you like to say to them as a fellow alumnus (at the time this interview will get published)?
It will be very interesting for me to meet ACS alums. They’re all interesting people and I look forward to exchanging our ACS experiences.
At the time of publication Taniel is a student at the University of Southampton, pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is part of the Southampton Formula Student Team and the Human Powered Submarine Team at his University.