by Adam Levine ’20 and Anjali Verma ’20
Originally from Syunik, Armenia, junior Armen Mkrtumyan, a happy-go-lucky regional chess champion, is a new exchange student here at Sherwood. Staying for the full school year, he is participating in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program.
The FLEX program is funded by the U.S. Department of State. It supports students from Europe and Eurasia with merit-based scholarships as they spend one academic year immersed in the United States experience. Students across 21 countries come to America to gain leadership skills and learn about American culture while also forming new relationships with citizens of the United States and other countries. Mkrtumyan first learned about the program from his peers who had returned from a year abroad in 2015. After hearing his friends rave about the program, Mkrtumyan decided to apply, becoming one of the 25,000 applicants applying from Armenia alone.
While he is here, Mkrtumyan is tasked with three projects. The first is to discuss leadership with a leader in the community. “I chose our principal, Dr. Minus,” said Mkrtumyan. “I had [a] meeting with him, which I learned a lot from.” The second project requires students to find someone who is not from the United States and discuss their cultural differences. Lastly, the third project is a community service-oriented one. “I might do something with like Boy Scouts to do clean-up somewhere.” In addition to projects, FLEX students visit different places monthly.
Mkrtumyan pointed out that Armenian and American culture differed in three main aspects: religion, organization, and communication. “Armenia was the first country to embrace Christianity and our churches are a lot more different … that was one of the culture shocks,” commented Mkrtumyan. “I found that Americans are a little bit more organized … and that’s very interesting … I like that way of living.” He noted that Americans commonly used the phrases “thank you” and “please” more than he was used to, which came as a shock.
Mkrtumyan is staying with an experienced host family, who has hosted a young Ukrainian woman in the past. Furthermore, his host parents lived in Germany, so they are well-versed in the world of exchange. Through his host family, Armen has been able to partake in many new experiences including going swing dancing and playing guitar in a bluegrass jam.
“He is just so incredibly open to new experiences. He’s … come with the right attitude,” said Susan Milner, Mkrtumyan’s host mother. “I don’t think he’s ever turned us down when we’ve said do you want to go do this, do you want to go do that.”
Discovering what makes him happy and becoming more independent everyday, Mkrtumyan maintains a positive outlook on his experience here. Just like any other high school student, Mkrtumyan encounters the toughness of APs and the struggle to stay afloat in this competitive world. His humble and gracious outlook on the United States and his experiences here have brought him a lot of happiness. Mkrtumyan looks forward to his future which may involve college in the States but more importantly a focus in engineering and programming.
“This is [a] great experience,” said Mkrtumyan. “I am [challenging] myself … [and] learning new stuff everyday, and I am just having a lot of fun here. This is great.”