By Ani Avetisyan
You have brains in your head
You have feet in your shoes,
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
Laura Vuchase’s feet took her to Armenia, a country where it snowed in the winter, and snow wasn’t something she was used to. In fact, to her Armenia was nothing more than a single dot on the world map … at first. When a friend of hers suggested the American University of Armenia as a potential university for graduate studies, she had to do research. What was Armenia? Where was this country? And maybe this university could give her a chance. And it did. Laura had always had the aspiration of being a teacher. But was Armenia the place where she saw herself teaching?
Coming from a big city, Douala, twice the size of Yerevan, hustling, and bustling with congestion and people and noise everywhere, the life in Yerevan was quite an experience for her. “In the beginning it was difficult,” she says, “… the difference of culture and skin.” The food she was used to, came in different types, shapes, flavors, and spices; Armenian food needed some getting used to, even if this sometimes meant receiving packages of food from back home. You know moms, they would go to such distances as to send food from Cameroon to Armenia. But sometimes homesickness persisted, crawling like a vine and gripping her with its vice grip. At those times traveling out of the city was her refuge. Hiking in the mountains, breathing in the fresh air reminded her of her original hometown in the regions of Cameroon. She felt at peace; it was something that kept ‘the whole of her together’.
Another thing that kept the whole of her together was teaching. All through her childhood, Laura had three future professions in mind. She would become a lawyer, a journalist or a teacher when she grew up. She had tried a bit of journalism in school, but she thought it wasn’t meant for her. “As they say everybody has a calling for something, so I guess teaching is mine,” says Laura. In the beginning, when she had just graduated from AUA and was applying for teaching jobs, people would ask her if she spoke any Armenian. She didn’t. But she knew she could teach without using Armenian at all. People were surprised to hear this, but she deemed it possible. It was possible. So here she was, teaching in an international school without a bit of Armenian.
AUA gave Laura great professors, great mentors who were ready to help whenever she needed help. But as an international student, she was faced with a lack of opportunities upon graduating because she didn’t speak Armenian. She and other international students felt left out because they had to find everything themselves while AUA provided job opportunities to students who spoke both Armenian and English. “I know some people who wanted to come [to AUA] but felt discouraged about it, [I know] someone who’s graduated and hasn’t had the opportunity to work, to start somewhere.” Her vision for AUA is that one day it offers an international platform, a working platform for students who speak English only.
Inspiration is uniquely personal and wonderfully diverse. For Laura inspiration is in her students. “Each time I walk into the classroom and see their faces it makes me feel like I really love doing this job,” she says with a gentle smile. Teaching the youngest students in the school is as fun as it is rewarding. She sees her progress in her students, the way they learn and acquire new things not only academically but also socially. Being appreciated inspires her especially so when this appreciation comes from little children. They are the source of her happiness in Armenia.
Laura has lived in Armenia for around five years – five years of new people, things, places, and experiences. Who knows where it will land her in the end, who knows where her feet will take her next.