AUA Summer Program Connects Armenian Diaspora with the Homeland in an Academic and Adventurous Setting, One Summer at a Time

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YEREVAN, Armenia – Where in the world can a classroom turn into a cave, where a field trip means zip lining through a lush forest, where lunch above a rocky river is part of the curriculum, and dancing to the beat of an ancient drum is part of your final exam? If it sounds too good to be true, then it can only get better in years to come. This is the Summer Program at the American University of Armenia (AUA).

Launched in 2015, the program is still fresh and is sure to rise as the next biggest reason to visit to Armenia in the summer season. Why wouldn’t any international or local university student, want to participate in a program that provides transferable university credits at a US accredited institution, explore an entire country, and immerse themselves in such a unique culture at a very interesting cornerstone in history? This summer Armenia, the “open air museum”, came to life during the courses offered at AUA focusing on Armenian studies.

From July 11th through August 12th, 2016, 11 international students of the Armenian diaspora joined 25 native students (majority from AUA) to take either the Armenian Language and Culture course (joint AUA-UCLA course offering) instructed by Anahid Keshishian and/or the Global Perspectives and Site Stories: The Path from Armenia from the Past into the Future course instructed by Dr. Gregory E. Areshian. Out of the international students, eight were from the US, one from Canada, one from Russia, and one from Turkey.

Taught by the multi-talented award-winning instructor from UCLA, Dr. Anahid Keshishian, through films, class projects, excursions, readings, and other hands-on activities, the five-week Armenian Language and Culture course is designed to build Armenian language proficiency while helping students become conversant in Armenian culture. Dr. Keshishian has an exemplary way of making the students feel comfortable and immersed. In fact, during their final exams students were able to recite poetry, sing, dance, and converse in Armenian to a public audience at the University. Full of vibrant energy, Dr. Keshishian is extremely passionate about multi-faced arts of Armenia. On certain days her classroom moved to the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts, the National Gallery of Armenia, the Hovhannes Tumanyan Museum, as well as the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art, TUMO, the Sergei Parajanov Museum, Erebuni Fortress, and the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex.

In addition, the AUA Summer Program encompasses another course – Global Perspectives and Site Stories: The Path from Armenia from the Past into the Future.  The class is taught by Dr. Gregory E. Areshian, a specialist of Near Eastern and Armenian Archaeology, who conducted extensive research and fieldwork at many famous archaeological sites of Armenia, as well as in Syria, Egypt, Central Asia, and many other locations. The class is a unique and rewarding experience that delves into the historical, cultural, political, global, and economic factors surrounding Armenia’s reemergence as an independent state. In just 50 hours, students became acquainted with the main events and factors shaping contemporary Armenia and analyzed different interpretations of the recent and more distant past as a frame for thinking about current events and even long-term scenarios for the Armenian state and nation, placing an emphasis on global and regional issues.

As per AUA tradition, learning is never confined to just courses. An equally enticing component was the Discover Armenia Educational Tour, during which students took part in five excursions with Dr. Areshian and brought the course lectures to life.  Whether students were zip lining in the Tavush region, climbing castles in Byurakan, celebrating Vardavar (the ancient Armenian summer holiday), or making lavash, each day was an experience where learning jumped out of the textbooks and into their hands.

In her article titled Dear Future AUA Summer Program Students…, Marianna Galadjian, a Summer Program student studying abroad in Armenia, noted that, “one of the most interesting discoveries was the oldest shoe ever found. Our first excursion was at the National Museum of History of Armenia, and throughout our tour Dr. Areshian was able to explain every piece we stopped at with an enormous amount of knowledge and familiarity. When we stopped by the oldest shoe ever found we were all astonished to see that it was still in amazing condition given how old it was, and it was something we brought back with us to our class discussion the next week. Fast forward to week three, and we had an excursion to the Areni Caves where the shoe was found. This experience brought the most interesting artifact in the museum to life.”

Many of the international students found that they shared a common purpose for participating in the program such as wanting to improve their Armenian and obtaining university credits that are transferable to their home institution. But like Marianna they were also able to gain something much greater: a deeper connection with the diverse Armenian culture and with the homeland itself. In effect AUA brought together diasporan and native Armenians, as a result of which students were able to learn more about each other and establish friendships and ties to last a lifetime. With supportive faculty, staff, and fellow classmates the campus quickly became home, and the participants would deem AUA Summer Program 2016 to the best summer of their lives so far.

About the Professors:

Dr. Anahit Keshishian was born in Iran. She repatriated to Soviet Armenia in her early teens and studied theater arts while working in the Ethnographic museum in Echmiadzin. In 1980, Dr. Keshishian moved to the US and started teaching at various Armenian Schools. She later founded an Armenian language School and directed it until 2003. Dr. Keshishian also published in a number of literary art magazines, among them in the very popular Eighties magazine. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Dr. Keshishian produced plays for children and teenagers. In 2002, she founded a literary and theatrical organization called “Arena Productions.” Throughout the past year, members of Arena Productions have been doing theatrical reading in different venues in the Greater Los Angeles Area. She has a Ph.D. in philology from the Armenian Academy of Science and has been teaching Armenian language and literature at UCLA since 1997. She was the recipient of the Distinguished Teacher award by UCLA Academic Senate Committee for the year 2005.

Professor Gregory E. Areshian, Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, is a specialist of Near Eastern and Armenian Archaeology, World History, Comparative Mythology, Armenian History, and History of Empires. He conducted fieldwork at many famous archaeological sites of Armenia, as well as in Syria, Egypt, Georgia, and Central Asia, together with extensive research traveling to Turkey and Iran. He is author of over 160 academic publication published in 12 countries in six languages. He has been teaching for four decades and has taught at the University of California (Los Angeles and Irvine), University of Chicago, University of Wisconsin, Yerevan State University, and is currently at the American University of Armenia.

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