From Pasadena to Medovka and Back Again

Khachig Choukhajian (Photo: Mediamax)

There’s a Pasadena-bred UCLA-educated philosopher, who also happens to be a bit of a romantic and idealist, and who’s found his way to Lori Province, Armenia. He’s been there for a year now, teaching History, English, and now Logic and Critical Thinking to 6th-12th graders in a tiny, little village nestled among the hills of Northern Armenia, about a half hour drive from Georgia. He’s closer to Tbilisi than to Yerevan, but he makes the three hour drive down south every week, to dig up new and interesting materials for his classes, and of course to see his friends visiting from different parts of the world. “Living out here I see friends from LA and elsewhere more often than when I was back in the States, and there’s someone new visiting just about every week. The road to Yerevan is long and winding, but the drive gives me time to reflect and the weekly exchanges provide me with fresh ideas with which to develop my education theory and practices,” said the educator. He is a fellow with Teach for Armenia and his name is Khachig Choukhajian.

Khachig is always running around, between Medovka, where he has his classes, after-school English and Film clubs with his students, an outdoor park and indoor gym building project, his home in Stepanavan with three other Teach for Armenia fellows from Yerevan and their Chinchilla, his university in Gyumri where he’s completing a Master’s program in History Education, and Yerevan, where among other things he takes horse-riding lessons and volunteers at a butcher shop. The goal behind the last is to make his own pork with the pig he’s keeping. “I’ve gotten the chance to do the whole farm-to-table thing out here with a very hands-on approach. I’m in a partnership with the school cook. We’re raising pigs together. I’m trying to make the most of my short time here and I’ve realized Armenia has as much to offer as your vitality can keep up with,” said Khachig. The short span of time he refers to is the Teach for Armenia fellowship, a two year engagement, which places inspiring teachers in remote villages to bring quality and equity to Armenia’s classrooms.

“Inspire the future is Teach for Armenia’s motto, and each teacher is trained to bring that motto to the students we work with in our own unique way.  For me, it’s about guiding them to find a sense of self, as well as a sense of national and global historic understanding with my history classes, the ability to think through questions and problems with logic and critical thinking lessons, and an expanding of cultural horizons to bring them beyond the mostly Russian influenced media they consume with the films and songs I introduce them to. Ultimately, they’re the leaders and citizens of tomorrow. Either we’ll see more of the same from them, or we’ll have a wiser, more virtuous and visionary, inspired and inspiring generation of take the helm of this nation of ours,” continued Khachig.

Khachig says that this is the opportunity Teach for Armenia has given him – to commit to Armenia’s development in a more serious and impactful way. “I had been looking for my in and I found it with TFA. A lot of people from around the world are in Armenia doing great things. We all felt some responsibility towards this country, but there was something else there too,” stated the Teach for Armenia Fellow. “We fell in love with this place and want to make it work for ourselves here. And, somewhere along the way, there’s this transition that takes place, from the burden of responsibility to a sense of opportunity. You come to see yourself as an inextricable part of this place and Armenia as an inextricable part of you.”

This particular Teach for Armenia fellow had plans to go into the Education field for some time prior to applying, so that when Teach for Armenia founder Larisa Hovannisian presented the initiative at a UCLA Armenian Students Association meeting a few years ago, it was “the perfect opportunity for me, as if it just fell into my lap out of the sky.” On the other hand, the fellowship offered by TFA is a means to develop leadership skills in oneself and one’s students, so that the experience gained can be used in any field one chooses to go into in the future. “I see a lot of people with leadership qualities in Teach for Armenia’s fellowship who wouldn’t be teachers were it not for this opportunity, and that’s a good thing. I think everyone should teach in some capacity, if only for two years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know if everyone can, because it demands a lot of love, in the Pauline sense of great kindness, patience, and generosity, but if you have that to offer, then you should. You want to test if you know your field of study? Try teaching it, in a language other than the one you studied it in, in somewhat difficult conditions, to kids who grew up in a context very different from your own. If you succeed, then you’ve got a real grasp of your masnakidootyoon – your subject of specialization,” concluded Khachig.

Khachig Choukhajian will be returning to California from September 21st -29th with Teach for Armenia representatives Narek Ghazaryan and David Hambaryan, to present fellowship opportunities and take questions from anyone further interested in Teach for Armenia, Education in Armenia, and his experience of teaching in an Armenian public school. Events include Innovate Armenia on September 23rd at USC, with other events following in Los Angeles, Fresno, and San Francisco.

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