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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New York-Yerevan Videoconference Connects Armenian University Students
on Many Levels

On March 14, over 40 Armenian university students from five universities
in Armenia and six universities in the greater New York area took part
in the first-ever New York-Yerevan student video conference, organized
by AGBU's Armenian Students Forum (ASF) and the AGBU Young Professionals
of Yerevan.

Representing various college levels and majors, participants came from
Yerevan State University, the French University, the Russian-Armenian
(Slavonic) University, Yerevan State Pedagogical University and the
Yerevan State University of Economics in Armenia, and Columbia
University, Hofstra University, Hunter College, Nassau Community
College, Queens College, and Rutgers University in the United States.
The discussion of issues concerned Armenian students today, with
emphasis placed on the differences between student life in Armenia and
the US.

After a brief introduction, the American students were able to
familiarize themselves with the practices of higher education in Armenia
directly from their peers and to relay to them their experiences of
college learning. Apart from the structure of education, the students
also discussed less formal subjects such as gender perceptions, family
roles, job prospects, the global economic crisis as well as the
elections in Armenia and America and their implications for Armenian
students. Topics such as stereotypes of diasporan Armenians and
"Hayastantsis" (Armenians from Armenia) and cultural differences were
made evident at some points and created some enlightening moments.

Shant Dosttur, a sophomore at Nassau Community College in Garden City,
NY, said, "As we began to speak about things related to school and
leisure time, the awkwardness began to dissolve, and I started to see
that both our groups relate." The students also discussed perspectives
and views regarding Armenian Genocide recognition and its importance on
a global scale, highlighting the difference in the consequences of the
outcome for those living across the border from Turkey, as opposed to
those living an ocean away. The relations between diasporan Armenians
and natives of Armenia weighed heavily in the discussion, and great hope
was expressed for increased collaboration between the two. "Bonds
created among students in different parts of the world will encourage
Armenians throughout the world, especially the young generation, to go
visit their homeland," expressed Nane Ghazarian, a junior at Hunter
College in New York City.

Not surprisingly, after some time, both groups of students soon saw
their discussion proceed along a more lighthearted, humorous vein, and
inevitably the forum was punctuated by a number of witty jokes and
anecdotes. The atmosphere of what evolved into a three-hour cultural
exchange was well described by Henry Dumanian, a sophomore at Hunter
College, who said, "I constantly hear about 'the people of Armenia' as
if they were some distant people. This conference put a face to them and
gave them voices. It also helped us see that even though we live an
ocean and two continents away, we share the same concerns and hopes for
our nation."

This unique event proved to be an excellent opportunity for many of the
students to feel more connected to their peers living on the other side
of the Atlantic and to feel more strongly the bond that is shared by all
students, no matter where they are in the world. "It was a very
interesting experience, a chance to get to know better the Armenian
young people in the U.S. We are willing to participate in another
meeting if there is a chance," Yerevan students Lusine Iskandaryan and
Ani Nargizyan expressed collaboratively.

Formed under the guidance of the University Outreach division of AGBU's
Education Department, the Armenian Students' Forum (ASF) fosters
cooperation among the various university student groups in an effort to
establish a united front of Armenian student organizations. While
helping to raise awareness of Armenian issues, it provides a platform
for future collaborative opportunities. To date, the ASF has drawn
support from the Armenian student groups of seven universities in the
NY/NJ area, having encouraged the creation of two of those groups
(Fordham University and Hunter College). The group meets monthly with
the hopes of creating a viable platform for interaction, communication,
information-sharing, and joint planning of educational, professional and
social events between the constituent groups.

Established in 1906, AGBU ( is the world's largest
non-profit Armenian organization. Headquartered in New York City, AGBU
preserves and promotes the Armenian identity and heritage through
educational, cultural and humanitarian programs, annually serving some
400,000 Armenians on six continents.