- Vanya's Story
First, what is it that you study and how long do you have left until you graduate?
My name is Vanya Semerdjieva. I am Bulgarian and am about to finish my MA (Hons) degree in Literature in a World Context this year (2015/2016).
How long have you been a student caller and what attracted you to the job?
I started as a student caller in October 2014 and have been involved in two campaigns already. One of the most attractive aspects of this job is the opportunity it gives to current students to touch upon University stories from 30, 40 even 50 years ago.
What has been one of your most interesting conversations with alumni?
This is certainly a difficult question! Generally, each call I've had has taught me something or has triggered some emotion in me. One of the most important things you learn as a student caller is the fact that these are not marketing calls - you speak to real people with real stories to tell and amazing emotions and memories to share. A conversation that I will probably never forget was with a lady from the Highlands and Islands who had graduated in the 50s and hadn't been back on campus since the 70s. It was one of the longest calls I've had and one of the nicest! She asked what I was studying and it turned out that she was in love with literature and philosophy as a student. As you can imagine, the discussion reached unreal depths! 30 minutes and 15 philosophers later she decided to leave her extremely valuable book collection to the University as a way to pass her knowledge onto the next generations. Even weeks after that call I still had this warm fuzzy feeling in me.
Another fun call was during our North American campaign. I called a gentleman in Minnesota who, for some reason, answered the phone in Russian. I, however, speak Russian so I simply replied in the same language which he certainly did not expect. It turned out that he did not speak a word of Russian apart from 'Hello' and was simply trying to prank the telemarketers phoning him almost every night. We had a pretty nice laugh and he promised to learn at least five more words in Russian for the next campaign!
Other than the vital fundraising income, what do you think are the main benefits of the Development Trust’s calling campaigns?
They teach continuity. They remind both the callers and the graduates we phone that the University of Aberdeen is not just a page in your life that you turn and move on. This is a community and even if you’ve left university 4 decades ago, you are still part of this community, this family. Many graduates do not understand why it is important to give back to the university. It’s a chain process. If the current students do not have the opportunities our alumni had, the worth of their degrees will be lower – the rating of the university too. Then the significance of the degrees of anyone who has ever graduated would drop too. This, of course, is not the most important aspect. The emotional side of the calls is much more valuable. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you hear: ‘Thank you for reminding me how much I love my university!’
Certainly, the most precious thing the campaigns bring to the students callers is the nicely balanced mixture of work and life experience: there is a lot to learn from our graduates but there is also a lot to learn from the job itself. It may even lead you to your future career; to something you’ve not considered as a career path before. At least this is what happened to me.
You mentioned the career aspect of being a student caller. How have the campaigns helped you identify your future plans?
To begin with, after the Spring campaign finished last year I was missing my job so much that I applied for a summer internship with the Alumni Relations team. I spent 3 months working on the Reunion Programme for alumni which was very rewarding because I had the chance to interact with even more graduates of the university. As I finished my internship successfully, our new Regular Giving Officer, Sophie Mackenzie, offered me the opportunity to work closely with her on this year’s campaigns. So, just now I am working on the training materials for our new callers. It feels very nice to be able to pass any experience and ideas that fly around in my head onto the new callers. Moreover, I am hoping to get a graduate traineeship with one of the UK universities and continue building a career in fundraising, development and/or alumni relations.
What would you like to say to the donors you have recruited?
THANK YOU! A massive thank you is all I can say! When I first started calling I was rather anxious: firstly, I am not an English native speaker so I was quite nervous speaking on the phone; secondly, sometimes the reaction to telephone fundraising is a bit negative which can be quite stressful for the callers. However, our graduates turned out to be extremely friendly, chatty and open-minded people and it has been a delight to speak to them. Most of the graduates even expected a call from the university! So, thank you for choosing to join us in the effort of improving and developing that what has already given us so much: our university. Lastly, I am very proud to be on the way to join our amazing alumni community and, hopefully, become a donor myself as soon as I settle down.