Home is Now Armenia: RIC Alum Takes Post at American University of Armenia

RIC alumna Garine Palandjian

RIC alumna Garine Palandjian

Aremenia’s 20-year-old war with Azerbaijan has never been declared over, and minor skirmishes still occur across the border. Garine Palandjian ’07 knew that she would be living in a political hotspot when she accepted a job in Armenia as coordinator of student services at the American University of Armenia, one of the leading universities in the country.

For Palandjian, the threat of danger could not eclipse her excitement about working in this mountainous region.

She was returning home. Her first language is Armenian, and she is first-generation Armenian American. She grew up hearing about the history of Armenia from her father.

She said her father often talked about the Armenian genocide of 1915 by the Ottoman Empire and how her ancestors made it out of the country through the desert to Syria. From Syria, they moved to Lebanon, only to escape war in Lebanon to come to America.

What Palandjian didn’t know when she enrolled at Rhode Island College in 2002 was that its study abroad program would be the bridge that would lead her back to her ancestors’ homeland.

When she began her undergraduate studies at RIC in 2002, her goal was to become an elementary school teacher. Given her ancestors’ ties with Armenia, she was particularly interested in post-Soviet education in Armenia. 

She said, “The Armenian educational system has remained a Soviet system, even after Armenia won its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. To understand education there, I needed to look at the Soviet past and the legacy of Soviet policies in Armenia.”

Palandjian decided she’d like to do her student teaching there but soon discovered that finding a placement in Armenia was not possible at the college.

She then consulted her academic advisor, Richard Weiner, a professor of political science, who was also, at that time, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

She explained to him her interest in Armenian education, and Weiner suggested that she travel to the country as a study abroad student instead.

They discovered that Glendale, Calif., which has the second largest Armenian population in the world, has a community college that offered a 12-week study abroad program in the summer at Yerevan State University in Armenia. To finance her trip, Palandjian applied for and received a Rhode Island College Shinn Study Abroad scholarship.

One of the things she discovered upon landing in Armenia in 2005 is that she could never claim Armenia as her homeland.

“I am from the side of Armenia that is presently eastern Turkey where the genocide occurred and where territories are no longer Armenian,” she said. “There was no hometown for me to go back to, because everyone had been removed from that area or were a part of the genocide.”

At Yerevan State University, she took three courses: Armenian Language, Armenian History and Armenian Art and Architecture.

Upon completing her courses at the university, Palandjian stayed on to explore the country. She shared her insights, via email, with her mentor Weiner.

“I would describe the things I saw that were funny or strange about Armenian society,” she said, “and Dr. Weiner would suggest readings that would help me understand what I was seeing.”

Weiner recalled her queries. “I suggested she read the dramaturgical sociology of Erving Goffman,” Weiner said, “particularly, Goffman’s ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life’ to help give her a framework for what she was seeing. I believe she became more self-confident and experienced at deciphering codes of conduct and social strategies.”

Based on her educational interests in Armenia, Weiner recommended that she apply to graduate school at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania because the school offered a graduate program in comparative and international education.

Immediately after graduating from Lehigh in 2012, Palandjian traveled to Armenia on an International Research and Exchanges Board scholarship to research how, if at all, peace and tolerance are taught in a country at war.

In Armenia she observed fifth-, sixth- and eighth-grade classes and how the subject of peace was being taught. She interviewed the teachers as well as members of the Armenian Ministry of Education and Science, along with curriculum writers and representatives of nongovernmental organizations in the region.

“Though Armenia has had a history of war and conflicts, many have hope for a peaceful future,” she said.

Based on her research, she wrote a policy brief for U.S. foreign policymakers that provides ways to bring the region to a peaceful resolution.

While there, Palandjian applied for a position at the American University of Armenia. On March 1, 2013, she began work at the university’s new center for student support services.

“I’m just happy to be able to contribute,” she said. “There’s no other university in Armenia that provides services like these.”

Palandjian also brings with her work experience from Rhode Island College.

As a student, she worked at Upward Bound and was a member of Amnesty International and the NAACP organizations. She also worked at RIC’s Unity Center, where one of her responsibilities was to bring Middle Eastern cultural events to campus. She said that all of these experiences helped land her a job at the university.

“She has wonderful drive and initiative,” Weiner said. “I am confident that more will be written about her in the very near future.”