YEREVAN—Each year, the American University of Armenia hosts exchange students from every corner of the world, in keeping with its mission of providing a world-class education to students from diverse backgrounds. This August, AUA welcomed a cohort of seven students from California State University, Northridge, and California State University, Fresno. The five from CSUF are recipients of the Kashian Family Foundation scholarship, which provides students with the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Armenia covering a large part of their daily living expenses in the country, thereby advancing the AUA/CSUF partnership.
The AUA sat down with their new exchange students to find out more about their motivations to study in Armenia, similarities and differences with their home university, and more.
Born and raised in Fresno, California, Victoria Avedikian decided to spend the last semester of her senior year at FSU in Armenia in order to connect with the land of her ancestors and learn Armenian. “That’s mainly why I wanted to come: to look around and see people that resemble me. I’m starting to feel that now, in a place I call home away from home,” she says. Though AUA does not currently offer courses in her major in psychology, she is taking courses that count against electives. The Armenian Genocide course in particular has helped her find out more about what exactly happened to her great-grandfather and his family over 100 years ago. While adjusting to a new environment, Victoria has come to appreciate the authenticity and family-oriented demeanor of locals. “They speak their mind and think before they speak; I can tell,” she observes. Academically, the smaller class sizes have also presented a change of pace for her, but an advantage she appreciates. “The teachers here seem more involved with the students, and I like that. I feel more of a personal relationship with them,” she remarks.
A fourth-year student at FSU, Mistique Davis is a kinesiology major and seasoned exchange student, having previously completed a month-long fellowship in Ireland. “Any opportunity I have to get on a plane, I’ll be there,” she notes. In addition to her adventurous inclinations, she was inspired to study in Armenia thanks to Dr. Matthew Jendian, her advisor at FSU NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). “He never hesitates to be immersed in our culture or dialogue, so it was only right for me to place myself in his culture and his dialogue, to sit in those spaces. I just wanted to do that on his behalf,” she explains. When asked to compare AUA to her home university, she contends, “I don’t really think I look for similarities. I’m always questioning the differences: what to take away and share with professors back home. It’s always good to learn from somewhere else.” In terms of her objectives at AUA, she harkens back to her approach to life. “I have a motto of leaving something better than what I found, so I’m thinking about how I’m going to leave AUA better than how I found it.”
A few weeks after visiting family in Armenia this summer, Mary Krdikashyan is back in the country to begin her third year of university at AUA. A forensic behavioral sciences major and psychology minor at FSU, she is studying politics and governance here. Having family and prior experiences vacationing in the country has facilitated her transition to living in Armenia, but certain aspects of her academic experience at AUA stand out. “The biggest difference is actually doing paper assignments instead of just submitting them online. A lot of the tests are paper-based and not online. Usually, at FSU, we are required to complete tests online within a certain time limit,” she notes. Her favorite class is the Music in the 20th Century course. Mary’s parents taught her to speak, read, and write Armenian at home, skills which have served her well as she adjusts to life in the country. “It’s really special being in my home away from home, because our family is closely in touch with our culture. It’s just nice to be surrounded by that,” she reflects.
A political science major at FSU, Edward Thurbe chose to start the first semester of his senior year at AUA. Born and raised in Fresno, he has always desired to come to Armenia. The Kashian scholarship presented him with the perfect opportunity to realize his dream. So far, he has been exceptionally pleased with the professors at the University, noting their enthusiasm for teaching. “There’s a distinct excitement to teach and educate here at AUA. You can disagree with professors and engage in productive debate, like an intellectual exercise. I think that’s very important,” he notes. When asked to pick a favorite professor at AUA, he paused for a minute, then continued, “I really like my business professor, Robert Mesrob DerMesrobian. He’s funny, and he teaches the subject well. I laugh all the time because he has funny little one-liners,” he chuckles. He likewise appreciates the sense of humor of Dr. Asbed Kotchikian, whose course in Middle Eastern Politics is his favorite. Outside the classroom, Edward derives deep satisfaction from the feeling that he is in his homeland. “I think it’s a really important experience to visit my ancestral land,” he says. Though he didn’t arrive in Armenia speaking much Armenian, he is able to communicate well enough to get by, which motivates him to continue learning the language while he’s here.
Born in Guam and raised in California, Tyler Badua’s interest in Armenian history inspired to spend the first semester of his junior year at AUA. “This stems from a class I took last semester at Fresno State called ‘Masterpieces of Armenian Culture,” he explains. “It started off with the mythology: Hayk, Bel, Ara the Fair. I’m a huge mythology nerd.” Indeed, though he and his family are not Armenian, they share a keen interest in the origins of the Armenian people, especially as regards the adoption of Christianity in 301. Though AUA does not yet offer a history major, Tyler is able to continue his studies taking related courses such as Understanding Genocide and The Armenian Genocide. While the language barrier has presented a few challenges, Tyler is excited to learn Armenian and appreciates how patient and helpful locals have been. “My first time going to a supermarket here, the store attendant was following me because maybe I looked like I was gonna steal something. But after she realized I didn’t know what I was looking for, she helped me shop for things,” he recalls. Being in Armenia has awakened in him his newfound interest in photography. “It’s just a very beautiful and rustic place,” he notes. “You can see new buildings alongside older ones. I love taking pictures of old cars, especially with the buildings in the background. I also really enjoy taking landscape photos.”
A sophomore at CSUN from Los Angeles, Mkhitar Getikian is continuing to study computer science at AUA. He decided to make the move in search of a new environment and novel experiences. It’s his third time in Armenia and the second this year. He was surprised to find AUA so similar to an American university, a lot more than he had expected. The high point of his time at AUA so far has been meeting new people. “There are lots of different, interesting people here,” he notes. His goal is to stay in the country as long as possible, perhaps for up to two semesters.
Born in Tehran but having lived in Los Angeles most of her life, being at AUA in Yerevan is Narineh Novasartians’s first study abroad experience. She finds the business program at AUA to perfectly complement her business management major at CSUN. The small campus stands out in contrast, she says. “At CSUN, the Nazerian College alone or the business department has its own building. Here, all departments are in the same building. It makes it easier for me to figure everything out,” she notes. Her favorite discovery about Armenia is how sociable the people are, asserting, “They are ready to help anyone who needs assistance.”