WRIGHTWOOD, Calif.—The All-Armenian Student Association held its annual retreat at AYF Camp in Wrightwood, California from February 10-12, 2016. Co-hosted by the ARF Shant Student Association, the retreat was attended by over 50 college students and recent alumni from 17 different colleges and universities in California.
The theme of this year’s All-ASA Retreat was centered on celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia’s independence. Conversations revolved around challenges that Armenia currently faces and the opportunities that exist for students in the diaspora. The various activities of the weekend were designed to give the students an opportunity to understand their role as members of a global Armenian community. Participants were encouraged to think critically about their engagement with the Republic of Armenia and envision the Armenia they would like to see in the coming 25 years.
The students were treated to a presentation by Mourad Topalian, who emphasized that Armenia’s issues are not novel and mimic those that exist among all nations in the world today. Topalian noted that active engagement, participation, and unfettered innovation were the only means by which we can find sustainable solutions to Armenia’s problems. Vache Thomassian led the participants through an interactive problem solving exercise. Groups were given streamlined problems and were led through a thinking model that parsed out the causes and effects of the problem, in order to lead to effective solutions.
Professor Karina Giorgi from Pomona City College led the participants on a discussion of differing perspectives on identity and nationalism in the Armenian community. The lecture led to a riveting discussion that showcased the wide array of perspectives regarding how Armenian college students identify themselves and the communities in which they grew up in. Thereafter, the students were given an opportunity to interact and converse with several two young professionals who had created engaging opportunities for themselves in Armenia. Dikran Nalbandian presented on his public-health research project in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, detailing on the challenges and rewards of constructing a research project on health care systems in a war zone. Nareg Tashjian, an architect, presented his experiences as a designer and teacher at the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies in Dilijan, Armenia, from the rewarding interactions with his students to the challenges of procuring proper materials in Dilijan.
“This retreat has always facilitated community building on which the All-ASA thrives, bringing together students and alumni that have never been in such a setting, allowing the think more critically of their viewpoints of Armenia and its current state,” said Ripsime Biyazyan, current All-ASA chair and former Occidental ASA member. “This year, we really wanted the students to understand their role in the future of Armenia. We have come a long way since 1991 and we wanted to portray that. Some of the exercises we did such as the mapping exercise will help the students be able to combat issues at their local ASAs as well and really be able to analyze what needs to be done, how to do it, and be effective while doing it.”
There were also many elements of fun incorporated in the retreat program. Students were given Armenian folk dancing lessons, which led to many riveting performances throughout the duration of the weekend. Nora Kayserian from the ARF Shant Student Association also gave a lesson on women’s self-defense techniques. The weekend provided an opportunity for student from various colleges to create networks and interact with their peers.
The schools represented at the retreat included: UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, Cal State Northridge, San Francisco State University, Cal Poly Pomona, Woodbury University, University of Southern California, Occidental College, Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Valley College, and Glendale Community College.
The All-Armenian Student Association (All-ASA) works to unite various Armenian-American college student organizations and serve the greater Armenian-American community through cultural, social, educational, and activist programming. As the largest confederation of ASAs in the nation, All-ASA is dedicated to collaboration among its constituent organizations, leadership development of its members, and community service.