Success is Measured by the Career Satisfaction Level

14 February, 2020
Ani Avetisyan is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge. Once a student at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Yerevan State University, for many years she has been studying Jewish Studies in educational centers around the globe. She believes that once she is back in Armenia, her knowledge and expertise will give new impetus to the development of Jewish Studies in her Homeland.

The Script Found that Changed My Life

In 2008 I joined the Department of Arabic Studies at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, Yerevan State University. In the third year, we were to choose a second language to learn. After much consideration, I chose the Turkish language. My parents urged me to choose a language that is widely spoken. I will never forget that day. I was entering the classroom when in the doorway I heard the voice of the Head of the Chair, "Have you also chosen the Turkish language?", "Yes", I said. "What if you choose the Hebrew language, no one did. If you really want to acquire a second language, why not give it a try?” he continued. And on that very day my career choice was sealed.

There were three of us at the Hebrew language classes: me, my classmate, and our beloved Professor Lilit Shahnazaryan. It was not only the language that we were studying, but also Israel's history, culture, and traditions. Realizing that Jewish Studies are poorly developed in Armenia, I’ve decided to study it in depth. While studying, I became convinced that Arabic Studies without Jewish Studies seem somewhat incomplete. In grad school, I kept deepening my knowledge. At that time, I was lucky enough to get an internship in Matenadaran (Mesrop Mashtots Research Institute of Ancient Manuscripts).

One day while reading a list of Arabic manuscripts, I came across an Arabic manuscript written in the Hebrew script. I had no idea such manuscripts and the Arabic written in the Hebrew characters ever existed. Imagine my surprise and at the same time my fascination. I got permission to study them. Almost no one knew anything about the existence of those manuscripts. When I told my Professor she was also quite surprised. Arabic manuscripts written in the Hebrew script are rare and of great value. Experts are few. I dedicated my thesis to the manuscripts. Those manuscripts were to open many doors for me in the years to come.

Next Stop – Stockholm

After graduating from the university, I’ve decided to continue my studies at Paideia – The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden. Young Hebraists from all over the world gather each year here to get quality education in basic Hebrew. That was the turning point in my life, as I was both studying and teaching. It was not easy, but I had a purpose and I succeeded.

Next Stop – Heidelberg

At the end of the program, I learned that there is a joint project implemented by the Paideia and the Center for Jewish Studies Heidelberg. One of my Professors suggested developing my thesis on Arabic manuscripts written in Hebrew script and pursuing another Master's degree. I was exhausted, I wanted to go back home. But a week later, my project was ready. I went for an interview, and one of the interviewers (who was to become my thesis Supervisor) said, "Nobody in our Chair studies Judaeo-Arabic, you should definitely join and together we will try to make something great out of it". I moved to Heidelberg. I studied there for two years and realized that I have found my calling.

Certainly, I was following the developments in Jewish Studies in Armenia, or rather lack of it. I had a secret dream of bringing all the knowledge, I received while studying in different countries, to Armenia. In Heidelberg, I kept hearing that I should continue studying the manuscripts, as they were of exceptional value and that I should definitely get a PhD. Deep down I knew they were right. Indeed, I had to continue my studies. I was also supposed to present and reveal Armenia to the world. Each time it pained me to admit that my colleagues had no idea about the Matenadaran and all the wealth kept there. This was yet another reason to spare no effort to present Armenia's scientific potential to the world.

I successfully completed my studies in Heidelberg, but it took another six months to find an Opponent of the thesis. By the way, both in Sweden and Heidelberg I was awarded Jewish scholarship. It's a big responsibility, as you have to constantly prove that you are worthy.

Next Stop – Yerevan

I returned to Armenia with the intention to continue my PhD research. No alternative options were available – the University of Cambridge was out of competition, as the largest collection of Judaeo-Arabic manuscripts is stored there. I applied and was accepted, but I was not able to get half the tuition fee. I thought it was a sign and since I missed my family so much, I decided to stay in Armenia. Later I received a job offer from the Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences, where they wanted to open Centre for Hebrew Language. I have worked for eight months and exerted all the efforts for the implementation of the project, it will be realized soon. We already have six students, which I consider a personal success.

Success is measured by the career satisfaction level.

People often ask what I study and when they hear the answer, confused, they ask what the reason behind is. One thing I can say for sure is that it’s awesome when you are at peace with your choices. One has to be free to choose their career. That is the very secret to success. I am convinced there were various perspectives for me in Armenia both in the development of Jewish Studies and in diplomacy. We will open an Embassy in Israel soon, and hence there is a need for professionals, not to mention the fact that the advancement of Jewish Studies is promising in terms of the development of tourism and culture.

Cambridge: New Challenge

For the second time I received an invitation from the University of Cambridge. And again I faced an issue of finding a scholarship. Luckily, this time all the foundations that rejected me for the first time approved my applications. I also received a scholarship from My Step Foundation and the doors of Cambridge opened for me in September 2019.

The Difference in Educational Environments

One should not underestimate Armenia's education. The biggest difference is the system and the very educational environment. Here student’s freedom and independent choice are key values, and the student is as important to the Professor, as the Professor to the student. One cannot embrace all the assignments given, even at the expense of their sleep. A few weeks later, I realized that the bottom line is to be able to distinguish between the things of primary and secondary importance. Unfortunately, the culture of learning by heart is still widespread in Armenia. On the contrary, to answer a question here, one should read so many books that automatically your mind becomes free, you stop clinging to the book and find your own answers.

The Deeper I Dig, the More I Reveal the Beauty of Jewish Studies

Like any other speciality, Jewish Studies have no limits. One can discover it endlessly. The whole history of mankind is hidden in Jewish Studies. The deeper I dig, the more I feel the beauty of Jewish Studies, realizing that it is the matter of life-long learning. I have not yet fully discovered the Israel Studies, which will enable me to serve Armenia's diplomacy. I do hope that one day we will also have a Chair at Yerevan State University, and I would use my knowledge to the benefit of that Chair.

Next Stop – Armenia

I plan to return to Armenia. I dream of working and practicing my speciality in my Homeland. I just cannot imagine my life in a foreign country. I have strong ties with my family and my home. While studying abroad, my conviction was even strengthened: to serve my Homeland is one of the purposes of my life. As much an opportunity as my family gave to me, my country also did. The Homeland has its own scent and call from afar. I really want to apply my knowledge in Armenia by developing Jewish Studies. I prefer working in my small Homeland (where even one person can make a change) to staying in England and becoming a 351st Hebraist.

Being deeply grateful to all the foundations that gave me a chance to achieve my career goals, I would like to extend special thanks to My Step Foundation. When I tell my friends here that there is a foundation in my country that has provided scholarships to about fifty students in 2019, they get impressed. By the way, I was the only one applying for a PhD. And, I think, the only one who received a scholarship in the Humanities. Although my speciality was not on the Foundation's priority list of professions, I am grateful that the Electoral Commission heard me, believed in me, and supported me.

I dream of happy Armenia, a country where people do not think about emigration, where people enjoy their freedom, where peace is kept, and, of course, where the quality education system is one of the nation’s brands.

14 February, 2020

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