By Carrie Garrison | The Duquesne Duke
In 2003, upon his move to America, Boncho Dragiyski had to make a choice: accept an invitation to attend medical school or pursue a doctorate in Iberian Studies. With a strong desire to help people and a love of reading, he chose the latter; eventually deciding to pursue a career in teaching.
“I have absolutely no regrets,” Dragiyski said.
Now a language professor at Duquesne, Dragiyski led last summer’s six week study abroad program in Salamanca, Spain. Tori Bateman, senior theology major at Duquesne, took part in this program and said she returned with a broader Spanish vocabulary and an even greater appreciation for her professor.
“[Dragiyiski] is the mission statement of Duquesne,” Bateman said. “He serves students in everything he does.”
In 2013, upon completion of his graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University and Washington University in St. Louis, Dragiyski applied to several schools with hopes of obtaining a teaching job. After interviewing at Duquesne in 2013, he felt the school was the right fit for him.
“When I visited Duquesne what struck me the most was the mission. I really identified with it and thought ‘This is the school for me,’” Dragiyski said. “I can tell you one thing, when I received the call from Dean Swindal, I was in New York at the time, I did not hesitate … it was the position I really wanted.”
Dragiyski is not only a professor, but also an immigrant. Born in Bulgaria and raised in Barcelona, Dragiyski was brought up by Catholic parents of Spanish and Bulgarian descent. They instilled in him the Catholic values that he believes have helped him fit into Duquesne’s environment.
“I was brought up in a family that had a very positive outlook on life,” Dragiyski said. “I had a wonderful childhood.”
Dragiyski said his students are always at the forefront of his mind.
Dragiyski, referred to by his students by his first name, welcomes his students, current and former, to any and all of his office hours.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job as an educator is knowing that somewhere, somehow I have been able to make a difference in these students’ lives,” Dragiyski said. “My experiences with students have been unforgettable. I remember all of my students’ names.”
Dragiyski’s specialty is European Medieval Studies. His knowledge of medieval ideas has shaped his teaching style and added to his planning of the trip to Salamanca, Spain where he led a group of 33 students in 2015.
“There’s that medieval idea of teaching through enjoyment,” Dragiyski said. “As an aspiring medievalist, this idea has been leading me in all of my decisions on the Salamanca trip.”
This ‘teaching through enjoyment concept’ led most of Dragiyski’s decisions in planning the trip. For instance, he taught about medieval Spanish culture while the study abroad group dined in a medieval castle.
“This program is very close to my heart,” Dragiyski said. “My favorite part was being with those students for six weeks.”
Dragiyski led the program with fellow Duquesne Spanish professor, Arlette de Jesus. A native of Puerto Rico, Jesus praised Dragiyski’s leadership qualities.
“He is very active, dynamic and organized,” Jesus said. “He’s a very good leader.”
On the Salamanca trip, students were placed with host families and studied at the Universidad de Pontificia de Salamanca, a private catholic school in the heart of Salamanca. The intense immersion was a shock to Bateman.
“You just stare at them until they figure out what you’re trying to say,” Bateman said of learning Spanish from professors who do not speak English.
Bateman’s favorite part of the trip was the surprise activities Dragiyski had planned. He remained silent about trip destinations to keep students on their toes.
“Boncho is the cutest because he loves surprises, so we had our 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. grammar and conversation-style class … and on days when we didn’t have the culture class Boncho would plan these little surprise trips for us,” Bateman said. “He was always so ambiguous about it, so we’d bring clothes for all occasions.”
Bateman enjoyed Dragiyski’s spontaneity during their travels around Spain. She especially enjoyed the trip to the Duero River.
“I think almost everyone’s favorite was when we went to this river that runs through Spain and Portugal,” Bateman said. “The bus driver dropped us off at the edge of the cliff and Boncho was like ‘we’re here.’”
Dragiyski’s vibrant personality and friendly nature made the trip enjoyable for the students.
Bateman said by the end every student was calling him “Tio Boncho”, meaning Uncle Boncho.
“He’s just like that uncle that spoils you,” Bateman said. “Every time we would go to a rest stop he would come back on the bus with five boxes of cookies.”
Dragiyski said he is happiest when spending any time with others. His favorite parts of the Salamanca trip were when he was interacting with students.
“The best part was getting to know my students,” Dragiyski said. “I’ve had amazing experiences with them and I would never replace that, and I would do it in a heartbeat again.”
He currently resides in Squirrel Hill and enjoys the neighborhood’s restaurants and diverse culture.
“I really like Pittsburgh,” Dragiyski said. “I like the landscapes, the hills [and] the rivers.”
Dragiyski said he loves working with students at Duquesne University. With his natural upbeat personality he reflects on his past with gratitude and a smile.
“It has been a fun ride!”