This weekend is homecoming at Graceland University and as usual, the community is anticipating the return of many alumni. Included in this flood of former students is Selatin Softa, a Bulgarian alum from the class of 1994 whose book, Crack in the Curtain, has just been published. Over the weekend, he will be giving an opportunity to Graceland students and staff (both new and old) to attend his book signing on Saturday. Softa also gave some of his time to The Tower when So that I could ask him a series of questions about his book and his life at Graceland.
Can you tell me about your experience at Graceland?
I had a great time at Graceland, and have many fond memories of my time there. I particularly enjoyed all the cultural activities, performances by students and outside groups, theater, dance, music and visual arts. This enriched my time there enormously and gave me a broader taste of American and other cultures. I also enjoyed the small town life which helped to soften the culture shock for me and made adjusting to American life easier.
Why did you decide to come to Graceland and how was your life as a student?
I majored in Business Administration and Graceland wasn’t exactly my choice. I had just returned to Bulgaria from Sweden after 16 months spent there as a refugee. This was around the time of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. The Turkish minority of Bulgaria, of which I was one, had been suppressed and there was an exchange program through the U.S. Embassy set up by John K. Menzies, the 16th president of Graceland, when he was the cultural attaché in Bulgaria in 1991. Being a former Graceland Grad himself, he facilitated it so that 8 Turkish students could attend Graceland on a grant. I was lucky enough to be one of them. While I had no say in coming to Graceland I’m happy it is where I ended up.
Talk to me about your book, what inspired you?
My book is a historical fiction set in mid to late 80s in Bulgaria, during the forceful name change campaign where the ruling communist party attempted to assimilate the Turkish minority of the country. The story is about a young Turk named Osman as he lives through these turbulent times.
What inspired me is my own life, and personal experiences having lived through the name change campaign. This is a moment in history that is not well known throughout the world. Horrible things happen to the Turks of Bulgaria and I felt the world should know and remember those that lost their lives. All the name of Turks, living and dead, were changed. If we resisted, we were sent to prison, a concentration camp, or relocated elsewhere in the country. All aspects of our culture was forbidden; literature, ethnic dress, and even our spoken language. Our history was also changed; they declared we were always Bulgarian and never Turks, even though this area of Bulgaria used to be part of the Ottoman Empire.
How did Graceland influence your life?
Perhaps the biggest influence on my life, thanks to Graceland, is that it is where I meet my wife, Amy (96). It also led me to becoming an American citizen and continuing to live in Iowa. If not for my time at Graceland, my book, Crack in the Curtain, would not exist. Graceland gave me the opportunity to better my life and opened up a world of opportunities and experiences I would not have had if I had remained in Bulgaria.
What advice do you have for the international students at Graceland?
My advice to the current international students is to interact with the American students and the community of Lamoni, as well as international students from countries other than their own. Living and studying at Graceland is an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture and way of life. Education is important for your future, but so is interaction with each other, the key is to find balance.
If you’re interested in learning more about this alumni’s life and new book, don’t forget to come to the Internet café in the MSC for Selatin Softa’s book singning from 9 am to 1 pm on Saturday.