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Californian Zaruhi Aghajanyan Has a “Blast” During a Study Abroad Semester at AUA; “Highly Recommends” Studying in Armenia

YEREVAN, Armenia – It has been a year full of international adventures for Zaruhi Aghajanyan, a fourth-year University of California, Irvine (UCI) student. Aghajanyan left her home in California in March 2015 to take part in two successive Study Abroad programs—a combined University of California (UC) program in Italy and Spain, and another one at the American University of Armenia (AUA).

Aghajanyan arrived in Armenia in August to enroll in classes at the AUA School of Political Science and International Affairs (PSIA) for one semester—three PSIA and two undergraduate general education (GE) courses. Aghajanyan, who is a political science major at UC Irvine, was born in Armenia, but had left the country with her family eight years ago as a 14-year-old.

“Deciding to study abroad in Armenia was one of the highlights of my entire college career. If you’re interested in studying abroad at all, I highly recommend that you take part in AUA’s Study Abroad program,” Aghjanyan said. Her parents were somewhat intrigued by Aghajanyan’s decision to go to Armenia and wanted her to experience more of the rest of the world rather than return to familiar grounds. But Aghajanyan was curious about the changes in her native land since she had left, especially on the education front.

At AUA, she encountered a world that turned out to be more familiar than different than what she had experienced at UCI. “I didn’t feel that I needed to make significant adjustments,” Aghajanyan said. Course delivery, the grading system, the organization of class lectures and discussions, even the presentations on university policies towards academic dishonesty, plagiarism, and cheating were the same, according to Aghajanyan. “AUA offers a great variety of undergraduate and graduate courses; and there are brilliant professors who teach there. It’s the same education at a fraction of the cost,” Aghajanyan said.

One welcome difference was that undergraduate GE classes were smaller at AUA. Rather than attending these classes with hundreds of other students at UCI, Aghajanyan only had dozens of other classmates at AUA. The only challenge she encountered was that “the reading was heavy for the master’s level courses. It was more like upper division classes,” she said.

But what she liked most about her classes at AUA was the opportunity to learn with local students. “Taking classes with locals is important to me. The UC program in Rome and Italy lacked this opportunity. We didn’t get that. We were all UC ‘kids’,” Aghajanyan said. While at AUA, the young Californian cherished being with Armenian students and making friends among them. “I have had such a blast studying at AUA, exploring the city with my new friends, and just enjoying everything that Armenia has to offer,” Aghajanyan said. She and her new friends have already decided to meet up next summer, either in Europe or Armenia.

At AUA, Aghajanyan also enjoyed opportunities for cultural exploration. She had the option to join a student excursion to Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city. She also went up Mount Aragats, the highest peak in present-day Armenia, which she thoroughly enjoyed. Though AUA has a student dormitory, Aghajanyan opted to stay with an aunt. However, Aghajanyan did take advantage of AUA’s cafeteria which “is pretty awesome with meals that taste home-cooked,” Aghajanyan said. “The American University of Armenia is like a giant family that I became part of while studying there. Everyone, from faculty and staff to students were so welcoming and open that I felt right at home,” Aghajanyan added.

Though the experience at AUA was immensely positive, Aghajanyan encountered some hitches during the application and enrollment process. An added challenge was the fact that she was finalizing her enrollment at AUA while away from home, in Spain. In addition, UCI did not have a study abroad agreement with AUA, which meant that Aghajanyan had to apply directly to AUA, sign a contract with UCI, and turn in to the university’s Study Abroad Office a list of ten courses that she might foreseeably take at AUA. UCI approved five of the courses, which will appear on her official UCI transcript and will count towards her graduation requirements; but they will not affect her grade point average.

Though she has already completed her semester at AUA, Aghajanyan’s travel adventures are far from over. Following a short return to home base in California, she will fly out to Washington, D.C., to take part in yet another UC student program there. Aghajanyan is eyeing law school or an LL.M. degree program once she graduates, but not before taking a year off to recoup from the flurry of travel adventures and to study for graduate admission exams.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality, graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.

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