The biggest advocate for furthering knowledge in Armenian history, culture, and language, Fresno State’s Armenian Studies Program provides unique experiences for students to better acquaint themselves with Armenian studies.
One such experience is the Summer Study Trip to Armenia. Since 1988, Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian has organized and led numerous groups of students to experience modern-day life in Armenia.
On Tuesday, October 18, 2014, Professor Der Mugrdechian and several of his students presented highlights of their recent Summer Study Trip to Armenia, which took place May 26 to June 11. Professor Der Mugrdechian’s colleague in the Armenian Studies Program, Dr. Sergio La Porta, was a co-leader of the trip. To provide the audience a taste of the Summer Study Trip experience, Professor Der Mugrdechian began the evening with a virtual tour of Armenia as he traced the different locations visited by the group. An image of a familiar local figure appeared on the screen as students posed alongside. The statue of William Saroyan, located in the heart of Yerevan, was one of the first sites visited.
One of the first goals of the trip was for students to understand the Fresno-Armenia connection. Professor Der Mugrdechian also took the group to the statue of David of Sassoun and encouraged them to compare the similarities and differences with the local statue located in downtown Fresno.
Another important goal was getting students “in touch with cultural history,” stated Professor Der Mugrdechian, as he organized visits to the Matenadaran Manuscript Museum, the Museum of Holy Etchmiadzin, the History Museum of Armenia, and more. Exhibits such as the world’s largest and smallest manuscripts, the world’s oldest shoe, the recipe and ingredients for making the Holy Muron, and ancient relics were only a few of the rich artifacts the students encountered.
In between the cultural experiences, students were able to visit ancient Armenian churches and monasteries that have withstood the test of time. For the group, visiting centuries old churches such as the Church of Amberd and Katoghike Church was an important priority, as they “illustrate the devout faith of the Armenian people, without which, much would be lost,” said Professor Der Mugrdechian.
An important message of the evening’s presentation was the idea of giving back to Armenia. Professor Der Mugrdechian discussed a visit by students to the Armenian Genocide Monument where they watered a pine tree planted by a previous Fresno State group in 2011.
The experience was a way to contribute to and reconnect with Armenia, which evoked in the students a desire to build strong connections to Armenia and to return in the future with a purpose.
One of the students on the trip, Hovsep Nagapetian, shared his experiences. He commented on cultural differences, such as the amount of walking done in Yerevan in comparison to Fresno, and he expressed his good fortune in being able to extend his stay in Armenia for one week.
“I was glad to have the opportunity to present and reminisce about the trip. It was a great learning experience and I hope to visit again someday,” commented Nagapetian.
Andrew Esguerra shared his impressions of Yerevan and how it is “on par” with western cities. The number of pet boutiques, cafes, and brand-name stores such as Armani and Burberry were all very impressive.
The visits to museums, historic towns and churches, and the opportunity to meet locals provided Esguerra with a well-rounded experience of Armenia. “The trip incorporated all of what it means to be Armenian for me,” said Esguerra.
The presentation concluded with questions directed at both the students and to Professor Der Mugrdechian, who shared more of their thoughts, impressions, and future plans.