“My dream is that high esteem is rooted in being educated and intelligent in our country”- Hasmik Khachatryan

21 September, 2019
Hasmik Khachatryan is a participant of My Step foundation’s 2018 scholarship program. She was born in Yerevan in 1991 and attended school #114 named after Khachik Dashtents. She graduated in 2008 with honors and was accepted to the French University in Armenia. She graduated from her university summa cum laude with a degree in Law.

Upon graduation, Hasmik attended the American University of Armenia in 2014-2016, receiving her Master’s degree in Law. She became fascinated by economic analysis of law, specifically behavioral law, after being inspired by the work of the world renowned intellectuals such as Richard Posner, Richard Thaler, Harry Berger, and Douglas Beyerd. For this reason, she decided to continue her education at the University of Chicago which is widely considered a pinnacle of law of economics. In 2018, with the support of My Step Foundation, Hasmik began her studies in Chicago, and it quickly became “one of the best years of [her] life.” 

She states that she “finally understood what high quality education means.”

I am a lawyer. I cannot say that I have dreamt of becoming a lawyer since I was a child; up until my second or third semester at French University, I had no interest in the subject. I always thought that I could change my field of study after I graduate, perhaps in Economics or something in the field of Art.

Of course, I studied hard while in university but it was more so to get high grades and receive honors rather than due to an actual interest in the subject. I had always studied and did well in school. I think everything in my life changed after taking a Finance and Business Law class with one of my professors, Varujan Avetikyan. He was a graduate from Harvard University, and for the first time, I understood what high quality education is. His classes extended beyond just textbooks and lectures and were instead filled with discussions about current world events. He truly piqued my interest in Finance and Corporate Law and I can honestly say that it was the first time in my academic life that I was interested in Law.

There is a program at the French University where they provide the best students with the ability to intern at different French companies. I was lucky enough to get chosen to participate and went to Paris to intern at the administrative center in Issy Le Moulineaux. If I’m being honest, I was a bit disappointed. The working environment in France was so foreign to me in every possible way. One year later, I worked as a junior legal advisor at a private law firm in Armenia, TK & Partners. A fresh new change had come about in my professional life because our clients were mostly from abroad. That was something I really loved because we were trying to come up with new, innovative solutions to all of the issues. In other words, we did not just interpret the laws, but instead tried to understand what the policy was under the law.

I became extremely excited about my work, and quickly became a partner at the law firm. In that time, I got accepted to the American university and received my Master’s, which I graduated with honors.

 It was important for me, as an Armenian woman, to break gender stereotypes. 

At the firm, we mostly worked with international clients from diverse backgrounds as well with non-Armenian lawyers. If I’m being honest, I always admired their passion, energy, endurance, work ethic and patience.

This may seem like a constantly reiterated thought, but the treatment of females in the legal world in Armenia has always been an important subject for me. There is a problem with this. In my opinion, they do not treat women equally or seriously. Not always, but often. I, myself, was very involved with this matter. My female friends who are also lawyers also complain about this frequently. For example, when in meetings with male coworkers, if you do not agree with something or interpret the law in question differently, it could result in a difficult situation. I agree that women have overcome a lot of limitations and stereotypes and have become far more involved, but in the legal world, it is still fairly difficult to make progress.

That old mentality towards women still exists. Regardless of when people would say “oh, women are weak, you can’t be a lawyer,” it was always important to me as an Armenian woman to break those barriers. I have never been a member of an NGO or an activist because it seemed to me that I need to do it through my career and professional work. Generally speaking, I think people can make a positive impact on their country by being a good professional.

I decided to study abroad.

While working at this company, I understood that I needed to get an education from abroad. I was starting to deal with very specific scenarios and issues at work that I was not exposed to. For example, there are many circumstances and cases that have never happened in Armenia. In 2015, we did the first securitization of our company in Armenia. Nothing like that had happened before in Armenia, yet it was an extremely useful and widely discussed issue. I was so proud that I was one of the first people to participate in making that type of project into a reality. Later on when I went to America and they would speak to me about securitization, I actually knew what they were talking about unlike a lot of my classmates. I wanted to learn all the new tendencies and habits in my field.

Before I embarked on my journey to America, I had moved to working in the state sector at the Center for Strategic Initiatives. At that point, I became more confident in my decision to study abroad as I noticed many gaps in our education system coming from a professional perspective. 

Perhaps this was one of the reasons why I decided to apply to the University of Chicago. 

The year prior to that, I had been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, but because it was not included in the list of universities that Luys Foundation works with, I did not receive a scholarship. All while the University of Pennsylvania is considered to have one of the most prestigious law schools. Luys Foundation would provide scholarships for, say, UC Berkeley students but not the University of Pennsylvania. I think that the list of universities provided by Luys Foundation were incomplete, so I was just a victim of a poorly designed system.

The year prior to that, I was accepted to a university in New York which also has an extremely prestigious law school. I could not provide the funds to attend it. In other words, I did not leave during those years. So I later applied to the University of Chicago, which is globally recognized to be the founder of Law and Economics. You know, I really do wish that it was more widely recognized in Armenia. To tell you the truth, it was always unfathomable to me how it was such a renowned, recognized university in America but completely unheard of in Armenia. By the way, no student from Armenia has ever studied law at that university.

The University of Chicago has a higher reputation than the universities that are so popular among Armenians such as Columbia University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania. When I was there, I was able to convince an acquaintance from Armenia and fellow lawyer to apply to it who then received My Step Foundation’s scholarship to be able to attend. In a sense, I’m proud that I am the first lawyer to attend the University of Chicago and serve as an example to students to apply to it.

If there is any anything you really want, it may take 6 or 7 times but it will become a reality.

I want to point out that the head of TK & Partners, Alexander Khachatryan, played a huge role in my decision to venture out of the country to study. He really motivated me to really hone in on my skills in my profession and become much more proficient. If I’m really being honest, he has become one of the reasons why I applied to the University of Chicago. I, of course, had been trying to different opportunities to study abroad and had gotten accepted to many different universities including Sorbonne, which I did not attend for ridiculous reasons. I did not receive a Visa because I could not afford to live in a dorm. I was planning on staying with my aunt while attending university, but because her house was far from campus, I did not receive a Visa and was unable to attend the university.

I then got accepted to UC Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania, and New York University and again, due to financial reasons, was unable to attend. It was the fourth year that I was finally successful. I remember that before applying, I had talked to my mom about my plans. As you can imagine, school applications are not cheap; you have to pay for the applications and the English exam and such. My mother asks, “but why are you applying? Don’t you understand that fate is telling you not to study abroad? Everywhere you apply is not working out.”

I had said before; it doesn’t matter. I will apply five times if need be. I will apply as many times as it takes to get accepted because I am truly confident that if there is something you really want, you can make it happen with the sixth or seventh time. All it takes is to really want something and be dedicated to it. These aren't just unnecessary and cliche sayings. Luckily, that was the time that I was successful and got accepted and applied to My Step foundation for a scholarship to attend the University of Chicago law school.

I returned one year later and had been in Armenia for a couple of weeks. Eventually I would work in either the public or private sector. I had a couple of offers, and am considering which one to choose.

Young professionals should be involved as much as possible in the education process.

I want to mention two things. First, the world is moving towards interdisciplinary education. You cannot study one field separately from the rest. One of the advantages of American law schools is that law is connected to all fields, including, for example, businesses and the economy. For example, if you want to be a lawyer in Armenia but simultaneously understand and be educated in finance, it will be a bit more difficult. You have to study law separately and study finance on your own on the side, or just go to another school to study finance. There is no need for that in America because their education is so interconnected, at least in humanities, that when you graduate from school, you have way more than enough knowledge in diverse fields.

While studying in law school in Chicago, I had the ability to also take Business classes and learn from the world’s best entrepreneurs, business executives, and financiers. Simply put, law does not exist on its own; it is connected to various different fields. My friends from law school in Armenia often tell me that they do not want to continue in law because they are not able to create and form ideas independently. I think one of the reasons why it seems that way is due to Armenia’s education system because, unfortunately, students are taught only the scope of the law and the rules itself so what a lawyer knows is fairly limited to just the particular topic. As a result, as the law changes, the lawyer loses its value. In contrast, the American educational system teaches principles of the law which is more timeless.

I think that young professionals should be as involved as possible in the education process. I’ll speak again from a legal point of view; if I’m not mistaken, Armenian university professors are required to have an advanced degree of some sort. There is no such requirement in America. There, unless you are a professor of law, it’s not required for you to have a PhD to be able to teach. There may even be times you do not need a Master's degree. You can be a practicing lawyer and be a professor at a university. It seems to me that a beneficial change in teaching law would be to maintain a balance between the science of law and the actual practice of it so that the student can be able to learn and differentiate between both. And, as I had mentioned before, all the classes must be interconnected.

When I was studying at the French university, I had a list of required classes. I am a lawyer, but there are some courses I haven’t taken like, for example, Economics. At the University of Chicago, we had a course about Behavioral Law and Economics and I understood that there were so many things I did not understand about Economics so I was forced to read and understand on my own what everyone else was talking about. That’s completely unacceptable in an American system and likewise in the European system, I’m sure. There needs to be an opportunity for students to be able to take classes and learn from other faculty members as well in order to receive a proper interdisciplinary education. Of course, I do notice a lot of positive changes in the Armenian educational system but it’s still not enough.

Education needs to be linked to the “now” and what is currently happening in the world. For example, in America, as you're learning about a particular subject, you will be instructed to read a case study or current example in relation to that topic. Law is not an ephemeral discipline; it is timeless and applicable to each time period. If your professor does not apply current world events and examples to the topic of law and you’re merely studying the law and its rules, it becomes unproductive and useless. I am positive that all of the proposed changes I mentioned will bring about positive changes within the law profession.

Those who view Armenia as the center of their interests regardless of where they are should be the ones to receive financial aid.

A student born in America knows that though it is not easy for them to acquire the funds needed to attend university, if and once they do, they will be able to find a good job after graduating and pay off their loans in a few years. The issue is that in Armenia, we are dealing with a completely different education system. In my opinion, the secret to the American educational system is that they treat it like a business. You pay them a large amount, and they do everything for you to be satisfied because if you are unhappy with the service they provided, the university will have less students the following year and eventually lose its prestige and business. Of course I understand that it is unrealistic to believe that Armenia will adopt this sort of system soon.

Honestly, what I would do is think from the perspective of the financier, for example. I would prefer to fund someone who has worked for a couple of years, because one who has no work experience and has simply graduated from university and immediately wants to study abroad has no idea if they truly love their field yet or not. You can only understand why you want to study that field and how it’s going to benefit you in the long run if you actually have experience working in it. I understand that some fields may have excepts, such as medicine.

It’s important to understand that you have applied to a university to be accepted and study abroad, so therefore you are certain what benefits that university can provide for you in the future.

In any case, we know that even if the foundation exists, the scholarships are limited and they should be granted to those who want to serve Armenia’s best interest and want to contribute and make positive changes in the country and community.

My generation.

I agree that my generation is different. I truly believe in the potential of my generation, and not just in terms of any political situation. I compare it, for example, to my parents’ generation and understand that being born in a free Armenia serves as a great benefit because that alone completely impacts one’s mentality. I feel I am much more bold than my parents, and our lack of fear serves as one of our greatest advantages. Armenia became independent just a few months after I was born. When I was in school, I can honestly say that I never once believed I wouldn’t be successful or would not be able to find work or find my place in the world. I believe that regardless of what the political situation is in Armenia, if you have set plans and are determined to make them a reality, you will be successful. Although politics does have a huge impact and can make a lot of things difficult, even for me.

To switch the topic to a more nostalgic one, when I was a student, I always studied hard and was always a honors student which may not have been very popular at the time. This was in my time, I'm not sure how it is now. When I was a student, it did not help your popularity to constantly have good grades. If anything, you would be teased a lot of the time. In that time, being a good student and always being prepared while respecting your teachers had more negative associations. Maybe my experiences are a bit outdated, at least I hope so. Maybe it's because I went from an ordinary school in Armenia to the University of Chicago so I’m looking at it from that perspective. But yes, I did see that in America, being an intellectual and actually preparing for your classes is highly commended.

The kids in our country should know that being educated and intelligent in our society has great honor and pride. 

I have two dreams for the future of Armenia. One, for women to be more involved and interested in the economy, otherwise Armenia looses part of its GDP, as there are still women who are not involved with economy, stay home, don’t work, and don’t strive for higher positions. My second dream is for knowledge and intellect to be highly respected. All of the kids going to school now need to understand that.

I’m so thankful.

I want to avoid coming off as disingenuous or cliche, but I’m truly so thankful to My Step foundation for supporting me. I had a bit of a dramatic experience when I applied to Luys Foundation and had received a reply that they received my application and are in the process of discussing it. It was that year that "Luys" suspended their scholarship program. Frankly, it was one of those moments where I almost gave up and almost stopped believing in my dreams because I thought it would never work out. I had gathered a portion of the funds needed but it was not enough.

I am truly so grateful that through the post revolutionary turmoil, My Step foundation was able to successfully provide the scholarships and students like me were able to continue their education abroad. 

21 September, 2019

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