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Alumni Success Story: An Interview with Hayarpi Papikyan

The American University of Armenia (AUA) alumna Hayarpi Papikyan (MA TEFL ’08) earned her doctoral degree in history and sociology of education at the University Sorbonne Paris Cité in November 2017, and is currently affiliated with the CERLIS (Centre de recherche sur les liens sociaux) research and scientific center in Paris, France.

Tell us about your roots. Where do you come from?

I was born in Gyumri, as were my parents and grandparents. My paternal great-grandparents came from Kars. They were forced out of their homes after the signing of the Kars Treaty in 1921. My mother’s grandmother was from Van, the only survivor of her large family.

Why did you decide to pursue education in teaching?

I attended school during the 1990s, when after the declaration of independence the educational system of the young republic was in crisis. […] We had textbooks changing every semester, teachers unable to give up their old knowledge and habits, an old and damaged system of education, which was not fit for building the future of Armenia. So, I decided to pursue education in teaching hoping with my teenage innocence that my work could contribute to the transformation and development of education in the country.

Tell us about the most memorable moments during your study years at AUA.

The most memorable, I’d say the most special place for me at AUA was the library. It was for the first time in my life that I saw world literature in the English language gathered in one place. The most vivid memory from those years is the library, the hours, evenings and weekends I spent there.

How did AUA influence your professional growth?

During my two years at AUA I developed the idea that language is a tool to think and live outside the box.

Share your experience of educational projects organized for children from socially disadvantaged families and rural areas.

If you grow up in earthquake- and poverty-stricken Gyumri, reaching out to the children from socially disadvantaged families and rural areas becomes natural. It is only in the UN reports and for the people living in their middle-class bubbles that this kind of engagement seems extraordinary.

Why did you decide to volunteer for the educational initiative supporting socially disadvantaged young women from rural areas to receive vocational education in Yerevan?

Poverty strikes women more than men. Even in Western European countries, when the husband or partner dies, divorces or simply leaves for another person, women become the primary guardians and breadwinners for their children. Moreover, women face issues of unemployment, low-paid jobs, and unequal salary more than men. Whereas, we never prepare our girls to face the real-life problems of the society. All they learn about their womanhood is that they need to get married and bear children. They rarely, if ever, receive practical knowledge and skills, encouragement to earn their life and start a family whenever they feel they are ready for it.

In 2012 you received MA in comparative and international education from Lehigh University, PA, USA. Tell us about the experience gained there.

During my two-year studies at Lehigh, I volunteered for the university’s Women’s Center (it was renamed to Center for gender equity in 2017) and helped to develop and implement an educational project for local high school students. During one semester I took a course about NGO engagement in education and within the frames of that course traveled to UN headquarters in New York City every week to observe and participate in UN NGO discussion sessions. I did a research project for a summer school the university organizes every year. There was another project I did with my classmates for the university’s international center that coordinates study abroad programmes. The list goes on.

Tell us about your doctoral research.

My doctoral research is titled “Education on the Edge of Empire: Schooling Girls and Winning Public Roles for Armenian Women in the Caucasus (mid 19th century ‒ early 20th century).” It brings to light the story of the late-mid-nineteenth century and early twentieth-century education of Armenian girls for the first time by placing it in the context of the general political events that influenced its development. It also examines Armenian women’s work as educators, organisers and sponsors of girls’ schooling.

Tell us about your educational experience in France.

In France when you are doing doctoral studies, the faculty and your fellow researchers treat you as a scholar. They engage with you in intense intellectual discussions without fearing from taboo topics such as, religion, politics or nationalism. I think my experience of doctoral studies in France was unique because of my academic supervisor, Professor Rebecca Rogers, renowned historian of French girls’ education; and of course, the cohort of her advisees with whom we had periodic group meetings and discussions.

What do you do now?

I continue my research. At the moment, I am doing research about  the participation of university-educated Armenian women in the late-nineteenth century political movements. I will deliver a lecture based on the outcomes in Paris this July. Later this summer during the ISCHE 40 [International Standing Conference for the History of Education] in Berlin (at Humboldt University), I will present the pre-school education movement that Armenian women started in the late nineteenth century.