By Sheona Sauna
For Hasmik Najaryan, who has come to Smith from Armenia to study American Studies and Digital Media, and Mohsen Jalali, who is here from Iran to study Philosophy and International Relations, the life and educational system they are discovering at Smith is completely different from their past experiences at home. Both agree that Smith is a very different college experience from the one they are used to. Hasmik explains that “it’s a little bit hectic,” and Mohsen agrees, adding that he barely has “any free time,” and it seems that his days are spent going from “dining hall, to study, to dining hall, to study.”
Despite the hectic pace, they are both enjoying the education system here. According to Hasmik, in “Armenia you just go to the university and they give you the schedule that they think is appropriate for you.” Hasmik and Mohsen appreciate being able to choose the courses they want to take here. And though students “do ask good questions” in Armenian Universities,” explains Hasmik, “that is only in the small classes, and since many classes are large lectures, there just isn’t time to ask many questions or have discussions. “ “It is nice,” Mohsen adds, that “here professors are really informal; you can have a really friendly relationship with them. You can talk or joke with them and its very casual [but] at the same time they are serious in their job. Even if they are friendly it doesn’t mean you can escape from assignments.” It is a contrast to Iran, where professors seem to be “the god of the class” at times. Though this, he explains, has more to do with the fact that the government finances universities in Iran. Here, universities depend on alumni donations, and so “everything,--the facilities, the access to books, the [way] professors [treat students]-- seems better here to encourage people to create a bond with their school, so they help it later.” Because students are paying so much, the professors here “have to be nice and can’t act aggressive.”
For the future, Hasmik is looking to book publishing and media. She also wants to design covers. She has already gotten a book published, Out of the Arc, translated from the original Armenian to English. It is about the experiences of an Armenian woman who suffered through the genocide in Armenia. Mohsen, on the other hand, is studying politics, interested in the relationship between “the US and Iran, and to examine differences between them…[like] the role of religion in [their] governments.” Perhaps he will go into politics, or maybe teach, but he wants to go back to Iran, to “help [his] country.”
About differences in cultures, both agreed that their countries are more traditional. Hasmik explained that in Armenia, people “are very family bound [not like here where] people leave the house at 18.” There are many customs and traditions. Though Mohsen added, “people are the same everywhere…[they] have different cultures, but basically…they are the same.” When I asked Hasmik if she was interested in politics she laughed: “No. I’m not interested in politics at all.” It appeared that I had found a major difference between them, as Mohsen jumped in at this statement, finding it hard to believe someone could not care about politics. Hasmik explained that she does not like it because “as you get into politics you have to forget about certain things…you have to be a machine.” Though Mohsen agreed with this, he continued to defend politics, agreeing that “of course there is an immorality, but…you can change the politics of your city. You should be involved…[don’t] try to be away from it.” Hasmik remained unconvinced, saying, “you don’t need to be in politics to change something in your countries. You can get into literature, or media.” I was quite upset when our interview was over; I was really enjoying their debate, and talking to them.