Hosted by AUA on an Exchange Program: Anaelle’s Armenia Journey3 min read
Anaelle Petre is the first visiting Ph.D. fellow at the American University of Armenia (AUA) Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics (CBE). Originally from Brussels, Belgium, Anaelle is pursuing a Ph.D. in applied economics in the University of Agder, Norway. By virtue of the cooperation between AUA and the University of Agder, Anaelle is in Armenia for a semester-long exchange, which she views as a great opportunity for her growth as a researcher. In the conversation with her, Anaelle shared her impressions of Armenia, her AUA journey, and advice to students.
How do you like Armenia? How does it feel to be a Ph.D. fellow student at AUA?
I’ve been here since early February, and though the time went by very fast, I really got to love Armenia! When I first arrived here, I didn’t know what to expect, because I didn’t have friends or family who had been here before. Luckily, my Armenian experience turned out to be wonderful, and I really enjoyed being a fellow at AUA. Everybody has been very nice and welcoming. This was a great opportunity for me to do research working with scholars at AUA.
Something I very much admire in Armenia is the landscape, the beautiful mountains. I especially enjoyed hiking in different regions of the country. I loved discovering Armenia and learning about its history and culture. This has been a very insightful experience for me. I learned to look at things from a new angle.
As a Ph.D. student, what are your impressions of the Armenian academic environment?
I have had the chance to closely interact with scholars at AUA, and it’s been interesting to see how things work around here. AUA professors are very involved in their teaching and they strive to share with students a wealth of knowledge and expertise to hone their skills in the field. I really liked the College of Business and Economics and I hope that, in the near future, there will be a Ph.D. program there.
What is your research about? Why did you decide to pursue that specific topic?
My research focuses on financial inclusion and microfinance in developing countries, more specifically on the financial and social impact of “savings groups” — informal community-based groups that offer financial services to their members, availing them of access to financial services for unbanked populations.
Savings groups have existed in different countries for a long time. I study those in order to see how they work, what advantages they have, what links they have with formal banking institutions, and so on. I think savings groups are important since they give access to finance, helping people to better plan for and overcome the challenges of emergency situations. Another thing I find really great about these groups is that they’re completely independent. They don’t need donor money because they are financed by their own members’ savings.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on two academic articles on savings groups, one of which I’m writing in partnership with Dr. Aleksandr Grigoryan and Dr. Knar Khachatryan, and the other with Dr. Vardan Baghdasaryan.
During my exchange semester, I also conducted a seminar for AUA students and faculty. The aim was to share with them my research, get feedback, and see what projects we could build together in the future. I was also hosted by Dr. Knar Khachatryan to talk about financial inclusion in her Financial Inclusion course. The students were very engaged and we had a very interactive discussion. I hope they benefited from my talk.
What would be your advice to students in general, and exchange students, in particular?
To students in general: don’t be afraid if you don’t have everything figured out as to what you want to do in life. It’s okay to just start something because you like it and find it interesting. Even if you’re not sure where it’s going to lead you, you will find that out along the way.
To exchange students: be open to opportunities, try new things, take chances!