A window inside life at Augustana College

Mémoires of The Serb

Disclaimer: The intent of this blog is not to make you feel old, Class of 2014. This is just a way for me to remind you where you were four years ago, ask what you learned here, and help you see where you will be going from now on. It is a long one. Read responsibly.

The Decision of a Dork

Exactly four years ago, I got a letter of acceptance from W. Kent Barnds, Dean of Enrollment at Augustana College in the state of Illinois (one might refer to it as Augie). Being a native of Belgrade, Serbia and unable to visit all the colleges where I got accepted, I had to look at specific programs that I had an interest in. Based on that, I would decide where I want to go to school and spend next four years of my already enthralling life. This would be a fairly easy job for somebody who knows what they want to study, but that was certainly not my case. In my head, the reason why people go to liberal arts colleges is because they are uncertain of deciding what career path they want to take, and want certain academic, athletic and extra-curricular freedoms that will put them on that path. Thus, what criteria should a degree-seeking, international student from Serbia look into before choosing a small, liberal arts college in the Midwest?

For me, I didn’t matter. In my mind, college was all about red plastic cups and quads full of multicultural students, and getting a degree in Whatever Studies from a Whateverville College sounded just fine. But I was just a senior in high school, and I had no idea what I truly want from my college escapade. My Augie peers might describe me as goofy, dorky and borderline inappropriate at times, but I would call myself mature and adult compared to the high school Vuk. My attention span was worse than that of a goldfish, and not only did I not know what I wanted to study. But it also seemed that a small liberal arts college is just another liberal arts college. For my parents, however, the situation was different. They wanted me to go to school for an experience, not a degree. Not that they would like to see me flunk out because I am “experiencing” too much, but they thought that there is more to it than just getting a degree. When they asked me what do I want from my future alma mater, I was pretty broad and unspecific. I wanted a school that is: accredited and well-ranked, fairly close to a big city but not in the big city, diverse in terms student population, various study abroad programs, lots of different clubs and activities, has a pretty campus, and relatively close to Beloit College, which is where my brother was going at the time. Augie was standing out from all the schools by these criteria, and it seemed like we can be a good fit. Ticket Belgrade-Paris-Detroit-Moline was purchased, and I was in it to win it.

Belgrade to Rock Island – Culture Shock 101

Transition from Belgrade to Rock Island wasn’t an easy one, but  International Student Orientation made it a little easier. The very first term was tough, because I had to listen, talk, write and think in a foreign language. This is not as weird as when I realized that I dreamed in English! I never had a to write a paper in English before and, all of the sudden, that was the only thing we did in class. I sought help from the Reading/Writing Center and worked with Virginia Johnson two times a week for a whole term. There were even smaller, cultural things that nobody told me about that confused me at times. For example, nobody would stand up when a professor walked in to lecture, and I found that to be a little disrespectful towards a person that is holding a doctorate in their field. If there was something that I couldn’t understand culturally, I would just blame it on a different type of education than the one that I am used to: “Professors wearing the Alona shirt to class? Liberal arts. Professor swearing in class? Liberal Arts. Going out on Wednesdays? Liberal Arts”.

However, I surrounded myself with people from different groups on campus: some international students, some kids from classes, some jocks, some frat bros, but mostly people that I felt comfortable around. Transition itself was hard enough, I felt like I can do myself a favor and pick and choose friends from all over the place. In Belgrade, I hung out with people from different backgrounds because Belgrade is the second biggest metropolitan area in the Balkan Peninsula (after Athens). It is the biggest culture, business and nightlife spot in this part of Europe. It might sound stupid, but every day of Fall Term was just a new, mind-blowing experience. As weeks past by, I realized why my parents wanted me to have the experience over just the diploma.

As Winter Term was coming to an end – pledging seemed to be a big deal around Augie. I never knew about “Greek Life” at a US college before coming to school here, and I never considered joining such a group. Two of my best friends and very first people that I met when I got to Augie, Connor Bartholomew from Vancouver, Canada and Berend Janssen from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, were on the same page, but decided to start pledging and see how that goes, all in good spirits of college experience. More so than just my friends pledging, I wanted to do it because it was another exciting thing to try. I was in and out of my comfort zone, and wanted to go with it for the sake of the experience. We all got bids from Omicron Sigma Omicron Fraternity and pledged for 5 weeks. This is a very cliche way of putting it, but joining OZO was the best decision I made in my college career. OZO represents my preferred college life environment: diversity in every way possible. The guys were from different backgrounds, academic fields, sports, ethnicities and interests. Joining such a great group put a perfect twist on my already phenomenal experience. I spent the summer back home and I was very excited to come back to school in August.

Why am I Here? – Academic Identity Crisis

Just before I came back to school I met with friends-of-friends that were launching a marketing blog focused mainly on brand development and evolution, called Branding Magazine. They needed somebody who is proficient in English and has a passion for Marketing, and I could say I was into both. I agreed to be one of five writers, thinking that it could only benefit me and my writing. The whole blogging thing was more of a joke and a personal satisfaction than anything else: the only people that would read our articles at that point were our Facebook friends and you could see it by how many people shared articles. I was just having fun and learning about the Branding industry, and, while doing research for one of my articles, I ran into a guy called Doug Tschopp at the Entrepreneurial Center in Sorensen. I stopped by his office to ask him about a marketing campaign that I was writing about and stayed in there for hours talking about cars, marketing, theater,funny-looking ties, and many more things that we have in common. Doug proposed that I join the club that he is advising – Advertising Developers Club, also knows as ADs. I heard from a few people that ADs is a great way of building a portfolio, but I didn’t even know what that is; and didn’t even care about such a thing. ADs is a club that is focused around a national marketing competition. Companies from the Corporate America have a problem in sales in a very specific segment, and give an imaginary budget to college students from around the nation to solve it. In April, all schools present their work and the one that wins gets to run it. ADs was a ton of fun and I saw the work that was applied there as my potential career path.

Meanwhile, on the Academia Avenue, I was taking Business classes, and declared a major in Marketing. After two terms of that, I felt like  the  business classes diverged from my  interest area.   I still wanted to do something branding-related, but it seemed like a degree in Business wouldn’t give me the skill set to be competitive in the branding industry. I was hitting walls, and had a mid-college crisis of finding myself in a field where classes and practice didn’t match in my book. I was still in ADs and kept taking all the requirements for the Marketing concentration within the Business Administration Department. Winter term was all about Economics classes. This is a whole new chapter of my life.

Economics – Love was in the Ayer

I was taking economics classes for the same reason all the Business kids did – we had to. I always had the idea of economics being this notoriously mathematical set of beliefs that make people spend money,which wasn’t too far from the truth. I was scared of it because people would say that economics is one of those things that you either hate and do poorly in, or you love and do well in: previous experiences with similar situations would put me in the “hate-it-do-poorly” category. However, for whatever reason, economics and I were good friends from Day one. Unlike most of the people in both Macro and Micro, and I felt this weird passion for economics. I would spend my free time on reading about different schools of economic taught, Keynes and Hayek, but also Smith and Ricardo. I took Money & Banking in the Spring, still a little confused of what the field is all about and I figured that this class could be the driest material ever and it could drive me away from the field. I was the only sophomore in a class full of seniors, and loved it. I had no plans for the summer, so I decided to stay on campus and… well, take more economics classes. I took a summer course in International Finance, yet again, notoriously dry and mathematical class that I thoroughly enjoyed. About a week into the class, I came to talk to my professor, Dr. Chris Marme about what would have happened if a certain change occurred on the Serbian stock exchange market. His answer was: “well when a demand curve shifts to the right and”….(you probably don’t care about this)… , “but that is only if interest rates…. but I am not sure. You should check it out”.

After a day or two, I decided to actually check it out; I came up with a thesis for my research. After talking to Dr. Marme, I applied to Augie Choice to get the fund approval for flying to Serbia and collecting data from the Serbian Central Bank of the depreciation of foreign currencies. I was home for about 3 weeks, an my research was based on the depreciation of currencies, and how the weakening of the Euro affects Serbian trade balance. I got back to Augie, and when I got everything together, I realized that I am a minor deep and that I should just take a year of classes and get a degree in economics. However, that is not what I wanted to do. Sitting in a room all day flipping numbers is the real world application, but I needed people to work with.  I still wanted to something with more marketing, but I just didn’t like the major. Hence, I liberal arts’ed this one and, once again, made my own path. Because why not.

Econ Stayed Because I’m bad With Goodbyes

Economics is just a phenomenal field for so many reasons. I think that if you want to be in the business world, understanding changes in different markets is an absolute must. Upper level classes were hard because of all the models needed proofs, and most of the time it seemed like X just didn’t want to be found. Applied math in Economics class is the reason why people drop the major, but that class opened my eyes to why Econ and I started our relationship in the first place. If you take math out of economics, you will be left with covers only, but the beauty of it all is that there is no memorization. There are no exceptions, and economic models apply everywhere. I spent so much time working on these problems that, by the end of the class, Dr. Lonergan was not Dr. Lonergan, she was just Janis. I feel like her kids call her Dr. Longergan!

How do you do Marketing Without a Marketing Major?

That is a $64,000 question. How the heck do I do this? I am almost done with a major in economics, and I want to work in the branding industry. How do I sell myself to this audience? In a nutshell, branding is a relationship between a company and its various audiences, so I figured that having strong interpersonal and creative skills would be something that I need to work on in order to be competitive for jobs on this market. I already took a few Communication Studies classes, so I just kept taking them because they were incredibly useful and helped me grasp why do people communicate and act the way they do. Without any pressure of getting another major, I took communication classes because they were fun. I had a good time and I learned a lot, and I guess that’s the whole point of college. Now the whole idea of “building a portfolio” made sense, because I needed to show that I am capable of working on the crossroad of Economics and Communication Studies. Yet again, summer was knocking on my door and I had no idea what I am doing. By a freak accident, I landed an interview for a summer gig at the Admissions Office and got the job.

Admissions Portfolio

At first, working at Admissions  seemed like a cool summer job, but nothing very challenging on anything that would help me build up my own portfolio after junior year of college. I was giving a couple of campus tours per day and worked on smaller projects for other counselors. It was not very demanding, so I made my own project on the side. Augustana never really had a big international student population. I conducted research to find out why, and how can we attract more international students. I started from nothing and collected data and analyzed it in order to increase the number of international applicants. Finally, I created a new marketing platform that is used for the recruitment of international students.

I combined my majors to evaluate the brand with relation to one of its specific audiences. I used economics to collect data and understand changes in student preference and the amount of scholarship money awarded. On the other hand, I used interpersonal skills gained in Communication Studies classes to reach out to recruitment consulting agencies and network with them. Once again, my work at Admissions would be just a summer job, if I didn’t take the steps to get the most out of it.

East Asia Term – The Peak of my Experience

At the end of the summer, I was departing for a study abroad program in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. I wanted to go specifically on this trip because I wanted to go to Asia and see all these amazing places. Furthermore, I didn’t know many people that were going. And off we go, afternoon flight from Chicago to Tokyo, and then a connection flight to Osaka to our very first destination in Kyoto. Again, experience that I got from the East Asia Term cannot be described with words, but some have tried and you should check it out if you get a minute. I didn’t really know what to expect, so I just let myself get completely trapped in the culture shock of different cultures that I have never met before. I was lucky enough to travel extensively with my friends and family, and the only country that I got to visit in Asia was Turkey, which is both geographically and culturally closer to Europe. This was a something different, and having completed a major in Economics and a minor in Communication Studies, it was a gift for my intellectual development and a way to explore the unknown. Ten weeks later, I was laying on the Waikiki Beach in Honolulu with an coconut in my hand, trying to let everything settle in and realizing what happened and what I got out of it. How does this amazing trip fit into my liberal arts education? In simple terms, it gave me a global perspective on how Japan and China fit into the world. Their rich histories and extraordinary different cultures changed the way I think about global issues. That was worth every penny!

This trip was a chance for me to use all my resources to grow, both personally and professionally. When it comes to classes that were offered on the trip, they were split into two five-week sessions, one in Japan and other in China. In Japan, I took a World Literature class called Japanese Masterpieces in Translation, which gave me a better understanding of the phenomenal writings, as well as their history and culture. I used the opportunity of being in Japan to write an article on Japanese brands and content marketing. This new found interest in Japanese culture inspired me to take a full year of Japanese 100-level language classes.

While in Hong Kong, I met up with my supervisor from the Admissions Office, Liz Nino, and represented Augustana College on a recruiting conference. We got some amazing prospective students to apply, who will be coming to Augie this Fall Term as incoming first year students.

I came back to Augustana feeling so honored that I was a part of the study abroad program that has been running since 1972. Thousands of students went on the same trip, seeing same cities, shrines, temples, architectural wonders of the world, yet we all saw it from a different angle at a different time. I came back to Augustana in second week of November as a different person, because my views of the world were forever altered.

What is Liberal Arts to Those That Experience it?

Four weeks later, I was home in Belgrade for Christmas Break. Sitting in the living room and sipping on green tea that I bought my mom in the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas, my dad asked me a to describe what Liberal Arts is, and what it means to me. I got a little confused at first, because I couldn’t use proper words to describe my life in the previous three and a half years. It bugged me for a few days that I could not explain to my own father what I have been doing and why it is called a “Liberal Arts” education.

However, here’s what it really is. You might need to grab some scuba gear, because this is about to get deep.

Liberal arts, at least the Augustana version of it is when:

Dr. Kramer and Dr. Hooker chain smoke cigarettes by the Old Main arguing about the topics from Aristotle’s Organon and Plato’s Republic as if it was a hot topic from last week’s Newyorker, not one of the oldest publications of all time.

You are a senior and you plan specifically not to have class on Friday mornings, because the best conversations you will have with your professors at Ribco on a Thursday night.

You roll your eyes when people say Augustana, not Augie. Who does that?!

You are familiar with Augie lingo, such as Muesday or Brinner

You think that classes that exceed 20 students are “packed” #firstworldproblems

You still laugh when you see last name of the president of your college

Nine times out of ten when you see the Marme’s going from Olin to Evald they are talking about what kind of Indian food they will have for dinner

Ten times out of ten Mamata Marme picks what will be for dinner

You find Bingo to be a part of your paycheck

You know at least one “foreign kid”, and even though they don’t know you all that well, they told you on a party that you are more than welcome to crash at their house in Serbia/Brazil/Sweden/Holland/Hong Kong/England.

You actually crashed at one of their places

You know who Momsha is, but Dr. Marsha Smith doesn’t ring a bell

On top of your head, you know at least one major thing that you changed your opinion since you got here

You don’t know much about Augustana’s history or its Swedish inheritage, but the little Scandinavian in you wakes up when you say Gävle, Uppsala or Hjalmarsson

One piece of Augustana’s history that you know about is that the very first panty raid happened in Evald

You still don’t know what is the thesis of The Bottlemania, and you feel like you asked yourself “why?” so many times that you actually don’t feel bad about reading it

…Where am I Going With This?

Defining Liberal Arts is like defining the Meaning of Life: everybody has their own thoughts, and even those that don’t will probably be just fine. One thing that it surely does is that it allows you to find yourself in whatever it is that you want to do in your life, professionally or personally.

I had no idea what I wanted to study, however I found a passion for a field and then created my own path of how I want to market and differentiate myself from others on the job market.

I couldn’t write a paper. Tutors needed to clarify the difference between introduction, body and conclusion. I am still a Staff Writer for Branding Magazine. However, today this publications attracts close to 100,000 readers per month, with over 30 authors who are industry experts and contribute to the magazine.

My experience as a member of Advertising Developers Club helped me find my path. I knew roughly what I wanted to, but ADs gave me a real-life, hands-on experience, that, I believe will help me throughout my professional career.

Looking back at previous four years of my life, I cannot believe that the time has gone by so fast. However, if somebody told me that I will get a degree, meet life-long friends, travel the world, change my points-of-view, gain skills, and have so much fun while doing all that, I would advise them to go talk to a professional because they are out of their mind. I didn’t just go to Augustana, I lived it one day at the time. Everything and anything that it has to offer, I and everything that I offered is a key to my development and a reason why the past four years have been the best in my life.

I have been reading blogs like this from graduating seniors, and the theme is the same every year: “Augie is awesome, it helped me do this or that, blah blah blah, go Augie, wooo!”. But only in the past few weeks (when I was diagnosed with severe symptoms of Senioritis) is when I could actually relate to them and figure out what is it that they were talking about. It is not what Augustana’s liberal arts can do for you, it is about what you can do for you with 100% use of the liberal arts education. If you go to Augie and don’t experience all that is has to offer, it is like going to microbreweries in Bavaria and ordering a Keysone Ice. Do yourself a favor and get that. Do yourself a favor and leave your comfort zone! You will be glad you did. While Alumni Relations Office probably begs to differ, I don’t think I will ever be able to pay Augustana back for what I got from it. Hence, Class of 2014, tap yourself on the shoulder, because you’ve done amazing things for yourself and you should be proud of it.

5 Responses to “Mémoires of The Serb”

  1. Vuk, if I could make this blog post required reading for every first-year student, I would. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation!

  2. Vuk! I read nearly the entire blog post, here at work! You’re a great writer. I applaud you for whatever number of paragraphs you skipped writing or pages you skipped reading for class, hours skipped sleeping or hanging around in the throes of senioritis—whatever it was you skipped to create this four-year encapsulation for us. On behalf of Augie and Augie wannabeats, thank you and congratulations!

  3. *applause* awesome 🙂

  4. Love this, Vuk. You have accomplished so much in four years. I can only imagine what the future has in store for you. Best of luck!

  5. You have helped open the imagination of many! Well done!

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