The new semester has begun, and we are featuring profiles of our multilingual and multitalented student staff members.
Hi, my name is Mariam Aghayan and I am a sophomore Political Science major. I was born and raised in Yerevan, which is the capitol of Armenia. My family and I moved to Albany, New York, when I was 11 years old in order to give my brother and me a better chance of attaining a higher quality education. I learned English in 6th grade.
In Armenian, there is a saying that how many languages you know is how many people you are. My great-grandfather knew seventeen languages and so far I am fluent in only three: Armenian, Russian, and English. I am certainly hoping to pick up a few more in college; I started learning Spanish once I got to campus and am currently studying Italian. I am very interested in different languages and cultures and hope that my study abroad experiences will broaden my perspectives and make me a better citizen of the world.
Growing up in Armenia, I was constantly aware of the scarring effects of the Armenian Genocide. I grew up listening to the survival stories of my ancestors at bedtime, as recalled by my grandparents, and that has left a lasting impression on me. I realize that the Armenian Genocide is only one of many human atrocities, but it is the one that is closest to my heart and it has fueled my passion to further my own knowledge in the field of human rights.
In 2012-2013, I was selected to pilot the Honors Project at my high school, which meant that I created my own year-long course. I researched the correlations between human rights violations in the twentieth century, exploring the sequence of events leading up to the genocides in order to determine any commonalities that might help us to prevent future human atrocities. Last May, I traveled to Armenia and interned at the Human Rights Defender’s Office, in the department of International Affairs. The experience was amazing and inspired me to become more involved in human rights campaigns and politics.
I became a member of the European Youth Parliament in 2013 and most recently represented my home country, Armenia, in the Thessaloniki International Forum in Greece. One of the most amazing experiences I ever had was debating on whether a strong central government was necessary in the oldest Union Chamber in Europe, where Gandhi and Clinton gave speeches. That experience was made possible through the Exceptional Merit Scholarship that I received to study at the University of Cambridge, which granted me the opportunity to study International Law and Debate. In 2012, I received a Dean’s Scholarship to attend Brown University for the summer and study Community Psychology.
In March, 2014, I was awarded a Project for Peace grant by the Davis Foundation. My Project for Peace grant proposal was submitted by the Center for Public Service and selected from a competitive pool of students from all over the nation. My project was aimed at educating disabled, homeless, and children of war-torn families to teach them English, healthy living, computer literacy, and social skills. I know first-hand the disparity that exists in the educational system that is accessible to children of wealthy parents and children who have to rely on the scarce government funding to secure their food, shelter, clothing and education. There is a huge stigma in Armenia against people with disabilities and it is heart-breaking to say that more often than not they are treated as sub-humans. This project helped build some confidence among these vulnerable children. The objectives were achieved through provision of high-intensity, interactive workshops during 21 days. I was able to lead a team of dedicated people, including a World Health Organization doctor, teachers, and peers, without whom this project would have simply been impossible to implement. We were successful with accomplishing the goals we set out to reach in Kapan and we even managed to expand this project into the neighboring region. I reached out and collaborated with the Governor of Vayotz Dzor Province in Armenia and donated over 100 textbooks and novels to an NGO in Vayk, the capitol of Vayotz Dzor, which delivered the books to children in hospitals and orphanages.