This is the next article in our series this year, ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Jamie Cohen, AFS host mom and volunteer (now), host sister (1980s), and returnee from Japan (1984)
Meet Monika Khachatryan from Ijevan, Armeniae. She is one of five AFS foreign exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Monika. Tell us about yourself.
I’m 18 years old, and a senior at Conard High School. I’m living with a wonderful host family – my host sister is a junior at Watkinson, and I share my family with another exchange student from Ghana. So we share three cultures in our house! I’m here because I won the FLEX scholarship from the U.S. Department of State. I finished my high school in Armenia, but I have to take exams when I return to get accepted into university, where I plan to study to be a Spanish-English-Russian-Armenian translator.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I heard about the FLEX scholarship from a friend who won it and was hosted in Iowa in 2017. I was excited to have the same experience, sharing cultures and living in the U.S. I’m planning to be a translator so the chance to live in an English-speaking country for 10 months is incredible.
Individually, I was hoping it would make me more independent and confident in my own decisions, which it is. My parents were split on the idea – my mother was very supportive, but my father was hesitant. Eventually I convinced him because a lot of doors open up after the exchange year.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Armenia and here?
Surprisingly, I fit so well with my host family that I feel like we don’t have so many differences even though our cultures are not at all the same. I think the biggest difference is the school. Getting up so early is crazy, and changing classrooms and classmates is new to me. But the best thing is to be able to choose my classes for the first time – I love all my classes, especially graphic design and marketing classes. And we don’t have clubs and sports as part of the school, either. I also think that people are a lot more casual here, because we would never wear pajamas to school. Another big difference is that here I have to ask for rides everywhere because there’s not a comprehensive transportation system here.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
For me, West Hartford is actually bigger than my hometown! I think there are so many things to do – I love going to the bookstore a lot. And you probably will find me always at Café Sofia, where the owner is Armenian. The climate and the seasons are really similar to where I live in the mountains of Armenia, so it feels like home. What I really love is that people in West Hartford are really supportive, polite, and welcoming. I’ve made so many friends at school!
What do you do outside of school here?
I’m doing a lot of school clubs: business club, multicultural club, unified soccer and basketball, and stagecraft. I was also in the 10 Minute Plays this fall – and all the theatre kids are so much fun! This spring I want to learn to play tennis.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Armenia: It’s known for its cuisine, it’s culture and gorgeous nature. It’s one of the most ancient countries in the world and has some of the oldest churches and monasteries in the world. My family owns a Guest House available to rent so you can come for vacation!
Hosting an AFS exchange student: It’s a great way to learn about new cultures and new languages. When you host an exchange student, you will have connections from all over the world. Exchange students are active – and if you become a host family, you are no longer an ordinary family – it proves that you are willing to explore and expand your own world.
Being an AFS exchange student: It’s very scary, and it’s a lot of fun. So be brave enough to do it and you’ll not regret it. You will have many more good experiences than time being homesick.
AFS-USA, a non-profit organization, has been a leader in international student exchange for more than 70 years. Its mission is to enhance the global competency of U.S. citizens by providing intercultural learning experiences for individuals, families, communities and schools through a global volunteer partnership. Each year, AFS-USA awards more than $3 million in scholarships and financial aid to U.S. students applying to study abroad, and it maintains a network of more than 4,000 U.S. volunteers who support participating educators, students and families nationwide.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please contact Jamie Cohen at [email protected] or visit afsUSA.org.
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