YEREVAN, Armenia – During the spring of 2017, two California State University, Fresno (CSUF) seniors found themselves 6,000 miles away, celebrating, embracing, and falling in love with life in Armenia. Their trip to study abroad at the American University of Armenia (AUA) was made possible by the Edward M & Jeanne C Kashian Family Foundation, whose leadership in establishing an AUA-CSUF exchange program facilitates a cross-cultural dialogue between students on opposite sides of the planet and fosters the exchange of more than just academics between the two schools.
CSUF students Cecilia Felix and William Trickett spent the Spring 2017 semester studying at AUA in Yerevan, during which they found themselves immersed in an educational experience that fed their hunger for diversity and challenge. Courses like Filmmaking, Italian Language & Culture, Economics & Sustainable Development, and Environmental Science not only : these courses wowed the two seniors in the content and quality of the curriculum. “All the professors I had were extremely passionate about what they teach. This made the learning environment engaging and interesting,” Cecilia explained.
About his impressions of AUA’s educational style, William observed, “I found lectures were much more interactive than what I was used to and students more committed to reading the materials beforehand.” In addition to their regular course load, Cecilia and William also took a beginner Eastern Armenian language class through AUA Extension, which they were eager to practice in dialogue with their classmates and friends. By the end of their exchange, these two had attained a basic command of reading, writing, and speaking Armenian.
AUA’s Office of Admissions organized off-campus tours and excursions for Cecilia and William so they would experience as much of Armenia as possible. They visited some notable monasteries such as Khor Virap, Echmiadzin, Geghard and Tatev and saw the ancient temple of Garni. Later they explored the National Gallery of Armenia, the Sergei Parajanov Museum, and attended an exhilarating Armenia vs. Kazakhstan football game. Cecilia and William sampled spirits on tour at the Ararat Cognac Factory, and soared through the skies on the Yenokavan zipline. William expressed their appreciation saying, “The AUA staff, especially the Office of Admissions, went above and beyond to help us with all the logistics and to schedule different sightseeing trips. These various excursions were a blast and allowed us to see many parts of Armenia that we would’ve otherwise missed.”
When not in class or on school-arranged excursions, Cecilia and William adventured on their own. Whether walking the streets of Yerevan or hitchhiking with new friends through the Armenian countryside—they feasted their hearts and minds on new sights, places, and activities. “I loved taking walks to The Cascade to see the view of Ararat, or just experiencing the different cafes, pubs, and sights that Yerevan has to offer,” William shared.
Initially nervous about going to Armenia, a country neither had visited, where neither had friends or family or spoke the tongue—it was no time at all before the two came to understand why Armenians are renowned for their hospitality. Cecilia explained, “I didn’t know what they’d think of me as a foreigner from the US. I expected language barriers and culture shock; one thing I quickly learned about Armenians is they are welcoming, friendly, and hospitable.” Agreeing, William added, “The people have been the highlight of this trip. Many students and faculty at AUA went out of their way to get to know me, invite me for a meal or coffee, show me around the campus, and more.”
As William and Cecilia found themselves among a diverse group of international students from Iran, India, Sudan, Lebanon, and Syria, this exchange allowed for an experience that, as put by William, “Expanded my understanding of different countries and cultures in this part of the world.” As our world grows more interconnected, these cross-cultural perspectives become worthier endeavors to pursue. Thanks to the Edward M & Jeanne C Kashian Family Foundation, for Cecilia and William, their studies at CSUF have culminated in an inspirational journey to the other side of the world; to the other side of life. Their semester in Armenia forever changed their lives and their aspirations for the future.
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