By: Christine Soussa
While in Armenia, I had the pleasure of meeting with Gayane Davoyan, Financial Aid Manager at the American University of Armenia (AUA). A leader and advocate for education, Gayane encourages all students to believe in themselves and to remember that education is the best asset one can invest in. She urges all to never stop reading or learning. It is our pleasure to continue to partner with AUA through the AIWA-SF scholarship for female students. The scholarship is unique as it is paired with a mandatory internship. I had the opportunity to interview Gayane and am pleased to share some of our dialogue and her inspiring story.
What inspires you about working in Education?
Education changes lives. I love seeing that first hand everyday at AUA. Education has opened many doors for me and has changed the trajectory of my life many times. The first time this happened was when I had the opportunity to participate in a foreign exchange program named FLEX. I was among the first students to participate in its inaugural year. At the age of 15, I lived with a host family in North Adams, Massachusetts. It was 1993 and of 1,000 applicants 35 students were chosen, I was one of them. The experience changed my life forever. My first observation was that people can be difference; that love and tolerance can exist and actually thrive in diversity. It opened my heart and mind to varying perspectives and taught me that opportunity is everywhere and for everyone. If you want to do something then simply do it. If you believe in that thing, then it can be done.
What is an experience that really stands out to you?
I have many, there are a couple that I tell regularly. A few days after I had arrived to America, my host parents said that we were going to go to a Whitney Houston concert in Albany, New York. This was a big deal because in Soviet Armenia, Whitney Houston was forbidden. Can you imagine! Me?! A girl from Soviet Armenia at the age of 15 at a Whitney Houston concert in New York?! I could never imagine that in Armenia.
Another vivid memory is going to school with diverse people. In Armenia everyone in my school was Armenian, and in many ways we were all the same. In America, however, my class was very diverse. I never thought I could go to school with different people or be friends with them. It was a really wonderful experience and learning for me. I also realized that many of the things my friends and I talked about back home were the same things discussed in the United States. I realized that we are all very similar.
Did you know English before participating in the FLEX program?
Yes. My parents were visionaries and saw the importance of fluency in English. From 4th grade I had private English lessons. So by the time I went to the United States I spoke English. For college, I went to the University of Foreign Language Bryussov and got a Masters in English and German language.
How was it when you returned home 1 year later?
We had a really positive welcome when we returned. We were viewed as positive agents of change. I got to tell my friends and family how similar we all are. How it is possible to make friends with people in the United States and that we actually have a lot in common. I got to tell them about our trip to the White House and was able to share with them the dynamics in the household. Some of which, I instill in my children; I have a 15 year old daughter and a 9 year old son. For example, in the United States, I had responsibilities. In Armenia, my parents and grandparents did everything for me. All I had to do was study, I wasn’t expected to contribute. But while in the United States, I learned the importance of planning ahead and accountability. I learned to be responsible for my actions and the importance of contributing to the household. I also learned financial literacy and responsibility. I was given $100.00 and I was responsible for how I spent it.
How long have you been working at AUA?
My dream always was to work at AUA. I used to say, “One day, I will work at AUA.” That day happened when I saw a job opening for an Office Coordinator. I applied and got the job. I was delighted! Since that day, I have been at AUA; 16 years have passed. In 2004 as an employee, I was also inspired to get a Masters in Law. There were many reasons why I should not have furthered my education at that time. I was working and at that time my daughter was 2 years old. But I wanted it so bad, so I listened to the voice inside; I believed in myself and I did it! I graduated from the AUA Law Department as a working-Mother in 2005. In 2008, I started working as a Financial Aid Coordinator. I was promoted to a Sr. Financial Aid Coordinator and just last year I was promoted to Manager when the Office of Financial Aid became its own unit.
What is your favorite part about your job?
Like I said earlier, education changes peoples lives and I love seeing that. AUA has about 2.000 students of which, up to 50% require some type of financial aid, this can be need based, academic or other. It gives me great pleasure to know that in my role, I’m helping students achieve their dreams and become future leaders in their own right.
The Armenian International Women’s Association is a dynamic global 501(c)3 dedicated to empowerment, education and enrichment. Through many projects and initiatives, AIWA is dedicated to enriching social, economic and personal advancement of Armenian women worldwide through educational and other community activities that promote gender equity, and emphasize our Armenian cultural heritage. To learn more about AIWA, please visit http://www.aiwainternational.org. To get involved with the AIWA-SF affiliate, please visit http://www.aiwasanfrancisco.com or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.