I just finished my first semester of graduate school in the Boston area. One of the advantages to which I was looking forward before starting the master's program was the presence of a large and active Armenian community in Boston, dating back a hundred years and more.
Meeting my brethren
There are six Armenian churches, a few schools, a couple of newspapers, and various organizations and community centers. I had never really lived "the Diaspora life," as some would call it, so I was excited about getting to be around my own people expressing our culture (in its uniquely Boston variety).
And it has proved to be very interesting, actually. I have been to a number of events - public lectures, banquets, and get-togethers and the like, not to mention attending church services regularly.
But there's also an Armenian world tied in with my main purpose for being in Massachusetts: the education.
My graduate school actually has a special program that brings in young bureaucrats and professionals from Armenia for six-month courses on politics, society, economics and international affairs. It is really a remarkable initiative, funded by an Armenian-American foundation.
It is just this sort of activity that showcases how the Diaspora can be of meaningful assistance to the country, the Republic of Armenia, so I felt proud to witness it first-hand, as I got to sit in on a few of those classes myself.
Finally, my graduate school has some regular students who happen to be Armenians or of Armenian descent. They formed the third group in my ethnic life, as it were. Ironically, even though I myself fall under that category as someone who grew up outside Armenia (although not in America), these were the ones with whom I had the least interaction, mainly because I shared almost no classes with my fellow Armenian grad students. Maybe that will change this next semester.
What are they like?
It is interesting for me to observe these three groups. They share some characteristics, but they are very different for the most part.
After all, the students are here for the short-term or the medium-term, while the Armenian-Americans live and work here.
The ones from Armenia undergoing the special course are professionals; they have jobs back home, perhaps even families, while the regular Armenian students may be just starting their career, or transitioning from one career to another. Perhaps they are married with kids, perhaps not.
The regular Armenian students may be from Armenia, or not (one of them, in fact, is from France). The ones from Armenia certainly speak Armenian, but many of the Armenian-Americans do not, or they speak a dialect different from the one prevalent in the Republic of Armenia.
All this diversity within one group, within one area, has been quite fascinating. My graduate education experience has ended up teaching me much more about the world and about society than what my professors have been lecturing about politics, international affairs, diplomacy, or law. And in just one semester too.