Even with 1,100 Admissions Blog posts behind me, there are always topics I regret not having written about. To correct for one of those omissions, I asked Hovhannes Nikoghosyan, a current student in the Tavitian Scholarship Program, to write about his experience. Hovhannes and I were connected by blog friend Amy Tan, and Hovhannes graciously agreed to share information about his time at Fletcher. I should note that this is the 15th year when Fletcher has hosted Tavitian Scholars and, as background, Hovhannes told me that all the participants in this special six-month program are Armenian government employees with a minimum of three years, and an average of six years, of professional experience, with prior graduate education. They represent various government agencies, the Central Bank, and the President’s Administration. This year, the class also includes a Member of Parliament. Here is Hovhannes’s story.
It was a hot summer evening in Yerevan, late August 2013. I was sipping an icy gin and tonic, when I received a call from Dr. Ara Barsam, who has been skillfully administering the application process for the Tavitian Scholarship Program for a number of years. He was calling to tell me that I had been selected for the Class of 2014. I don’t exactly remember the part of the conversation that followed the words, “I congratulate you,” (Sorry, Ara!), but after that lucky day I lived in anticipation of my Fletcher dream coming true.
The academic wonderland of the Fletcher School embraced all 15 students in the Class of 2014 as we landed at Boston Logan Airport and found ourselves in the caring hands of Dr. Joyce Barsam — the Vice President of the Tavitian Foundation — who supported us from our arrival in Boston and through the six months to follow.
Following a few days of jet lag recovery, and a few more days of orientation, classes started and we were injected into Fletcher life — I think with an even heavier curriculum than regular students experience. With the program designed to offer coursework equivalent to a full academic year, Tavitian Scholars complete four or five classes every five weeks, each of them ending with a final exam — take-home or in-class — which puts extraordinary pressure on each student.
One of the strengths of the Tavitian Scholarship Program that I would highlight is that the fellows soon become knitted into the Fletcher Community, and experience the life of a typical student in a leading American university — anything from enjoying a fresh morning coffee in Mugar Café to finding ourselves in the library at 12:50 a.m., ten minutes before it closes. True, the Tavitian groups are in their own classes, yet there is hardly any difference with regard to workload or grading system, including the professors showing no mercy for late exam submissions! Also, group work and in-class activities create an atmosphere of academic exchange and interaction between the fellows themselves, which is enriching not only within the academic process, but far beyond it — creating the fabric of a future network throughout the public service in Armenia. In classes, we observe that this is how a diplomat learns the basics of public finance, or how an economist learns the difference between the Cold War and “Game of Thrones,” or those small differences between a “House of Cards” plot and real-life political campaigning.
More seriously, through all the disciplines we are taught here, we learn to look at our local problems in perspective, which makes them seem smaller and not really unprecedented. Rather than blaming Armenia’s geography or destiny, we learn to roll up our sleeves and meet the challenges. And this is perhaps the greatest strength of the program, which was originally created more than a decade ago to support and educate tomorrow’s decision-makers in the Armenian government.
Extracurricular activities are where students may find additional value from their time in Boston. Not only the Museum of Fine Arts or whale watching tours, but also auditing extra classes at Fletcher and other world-leading universities and schools in town are opportunities not to be missed. As in previous years, most of our Class of 2014 has chosen to audit courses at Fletcher, MIT, and Harvard’s Kennedy, Business, and Law Schools.
Outside the classroom, I am exceptionally glad we succeeded in putting together a roundtable discussion on April 28, “In the Pursuit of Peace,” looking from an academic perspective at the 20-year-long peace process that has followed the ceasefire in Nagorno Karabakh. The keynote speech by Nagorno Karabakh Republic Representative Robert Avetisyan, unparalleled and as-always-thought-provoking remarks by Professor Michael Glennon and Ambassador Rouben Shougarian — moderated by Professor Alan Henrikson and Associate Dean Deborah Nutter — have not only enriched our understanding of the smoldering conflict, but also benefited the wider Fletcher community.
As we are now approaching the end of our journey, the 2014 Tavitian Scholars thank The Fletcher School for maintaining and supporting our educational “moveable feast.” Of course, all this would remain a distant dream for many of us without the true generosity of Mr. Aso Tavitian, who teaches perhaps the most important lesson to each of us — that offering opportunity to those who cannot afford it themselves is the ultimate form of humanitarianism, and I thank him for this lesson from the bottom of my Armenian heart.
Now, as we will graduate in a week, the life-long mission for each of us in the Class of 2014 resumes with greater responsibility: to bring more good, and change, through our service to the Republic of Armenia.
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