If one of your parents is Armenian and you have grown up in a place where there is no Armenian community and you have had a great desire to discover you roots and learn Armenian what would you do then?
There is no doubt that this was a very important question for Christine Serjenian, a young lady of an Armenian-American origin from New York town of Queens. She got her Master’s in teaching at Pace University and now she works as a college consultant and is also in charge of the events management at the College Success Office of the Children Harlem Zone.
Christine, the youngest in the family, has an elder brother and an elder sister. The family of the Armenian father has come from Istanbul, Ordu, whereas the mother comes from Ireland. When growing up she had no chance to attend an Armenian school or Sunday school, since her native town Waterville hadn’t got such an opportunity. Anyway, she showed a great interest towards the Armenian issues especially after understanding the concept of identification in her teens. This way she began to form her own identification since her teens.
“The birthplace I have grown-up, was not a multicultural one, and the children in my surroundings pointed out my ‘difference’ in an obvious way”, - Christine said. “They often asked me questions about the food I took to school, about my looks that were quite different from others, about my unusual surname and about many other things. When I asked questions or tried to find out the things about me, I was nurtured by both my father and mother with the pride of being an Armenian.”
Together with her half an Armenian classmate Christine often prepared presentations for her friends to teach them the Armenian History. When she first came to Brown University to study sociology, she began visiting the Armenian church of Providence (Rhode Island); she also founded an Armenian students’ Association at the campus. However, it was not easy to integrate into the Armenian community without knowing the language and the traditions.
Christine visited Armenia for the first time in 2008 within the frames of Birthright Armenia project as a participant in the Armenian volunteers’ corps. She lived in Yerevan, in a hospitable family for a few months and did her internship at the Counterpart International. “The country was very beautiful, but it was really difficult to adapt to it since I didn’t know the language,” she said. However, living three months in Armenia, Christine was able to gain some speaking and comprehension skills in Armenian. “I wish to go to Armenia very much again. I feel I am tied to the land and, besides, I have a great desire to use and improve my Armenian,” she added.
After returning to New York Christine began to seek ways to maintain her knowledge of the language gained in Armenia. Just then she discovered the Armenian Virtual College (AVC) through one of Birthright Armenia graduates and enrolled in AVC’s course of Eastern Armenian. She has already studied for three terms: from the beginners’ level up to the intermediate one. “I decided to learn Armenian together with the Armenian Virtual College as very often I do not have the opportunity to speak and think in Armenian and I do not want to lose what I have gained in Armenia,” she said. “My progress in reading and writing and my general skills of learning languages quickly helped me to learn the language by myself.”
AVC’s staff cooperation complied with online instructors and alumni prove the high quality of the program and the ability to make its mission eternal. “It was really pleasant for me to be an AVC student. Marina Khachaturyan, who has been my online instructor for three terms, provided me with a very positive experience,” Christine said. “I think for someone like me who comes from the place where does not exist an Armenian community, these online courses are just invaluable.”
After Christine completes the Eastern Armenian courses and achieves a sufficient level of the language, she plans to take part in the Armenian history courses of the college. Based on her considerable experience Christine has suggested the college to her friends and relatives including her elder sister who also lives in Queens.
Recalling her journey to Armenia Christine remembers her sufferings because of the language barrier. “The volunteers with even a little speaking and comprehension skills in Armenian had a great advantage coming to Armenia as they were able to get involved, to make friends and did not feel like foreigners,” she said. “If I am back to Armenia, I will be so glad to see the difference, when I feel I at least speak and understand, and so I can also get involved in the society.”