UWC Dilijan alumnus: "Meeting Tom Catena re-awakened me"

We spoke to UWC Dilijan alumnus Mikayel from Armenia (UWCD’16) about his experience at the College and the impact it had on him as well as about his life after graduating. He is currently studying Arts and Management at Luther College.

Please tell us about your experience in UWC Dilijan. What impact would you say these two years had on you? What would you like to highlight?

It is impossible to summarize my experience in UWC Dilijan in a few words. A boarding school with such a challenging curriculum and transformative environment made a lot of impact on me. Initially, I was extremely struggling with the academics and with adopting to the new environment as such. Also, since my English was mostly self-taught, I would barely understand what the classes were about. It took me a while to become comfortable in writing. However, now that I live alone in the US, I have realized that I have so many academic and life skills, which I mastered in UWC Dilijan. Within these two years, my core beliefs and perception of life changed fundamentally. As a result, I became more of an open person, without any rigid dogmas.

My most memorable moment from UWC was meeting George Clooney. I grew up in Ijevan, and never in my life I would think I can meet someone so famous. Now, such things became normal. Last year I was at the LA Fashion Week surrounded by successful people - it is less shocking now.

What scholarship did you receive for studying at UWC Dilijan?

At that time, the Aurora Scholarship was not yet born, and the scholarship was provided through the National Committee, by very generous sponsors who believed in the power of the students. Receiving a scholarship was definitely life-changing for me, as without it I wouldn’t be able to afford studying there. I hope in future I can make my own investment in the school when I am financially capable. I would particularly like to provide scholarships for students with disabilities, so the school prioritizes more inclusion and infrastructural changes to accommodate more diversity.

What are you studying now in Luther and what are your future plans? Do you ever meet other UWC Dilijan alumni there?

I am studying Arts and Management, with a particular focus on fashion design. It is a small liberal arts college, but I like the Art department. Besides the academic curriculum, I also work at a Costume Shop, where I make costumes for the theatre. Words are not enough to describe how I enjoy working there. The college even created a short video clip about on-campus student works where I am also featured.

I mostly make plans for the foreseeable future, concentrating on the current opportunities. After graduation my dream is to get accepted to Instituto Marangoni in Milan or Paris. However, I am certain that in five years, I will be working for my favourite brand Chanel. At Luther there are other UWCD and we have pretty good relationships. I am also in touch with my UWCD friends who are all over the world.

You visited the Armenian Embassy in the US recently where you met with Tom Catena - Catholic Missionary physician in Sudan and Aurora Prize Laureate. What did it feel like?

Initially, I was going to do an internship at the Armenian Embassy, but then I was transferred to the Armenian National Committee of America. The Embassy invited me to an event, where Doctor Catena had a speech about his impressive and inspiring work. Meeting him was an honour and a very impactful experience. Living so far from home, a lot of international students constantly experience a state of “survival”, including me, which makes us feel disconnected from others. However, after meeting him, I re-evaluated my role as a human being and how I connect with other people. I believe that meeting him re-“awakened” me.

You visit Armenia almost every summer and do internships here. What can you say about this experience of being back home?

Coming home feels nice. Regardless of our age, I believe that we all like being close to our parents. My first internship was at Bridge of Hope NGO in Ijevan. At that time I started exploring psychology and wanted to major in that field, so I was very interested in working with children with disabilities. However, later I changed my major to Arts and Management, as I have found a great passion for that.

This summer, I had a chance to participate in several projects. First, I travelled to Georgia to participate in a Youth Lab on Democracy, organized by the Ebert Stiftung Foundation. The next remarkable event was traveling to Berlin, as I was selected for a project-competition organized by the European Academy of Berlin. Surprisingly, the blog that I have collaboratively created was one of the winning projects, so I had a second visit to Berlin in December. Another summer fun was Mardamej Innovative Camp, which made me realize how progressive and intelligent the youth in Armenia is. All they need is support to bring their ideas into life. Every year I leave Armenia with more hope for a positive change.