Micaela Ekserciyan and Alexis Koruk didn’t know each other prior to founding the Buenos Aires branch of the Global Leadership Program (GLP), formerly known as the AGBU Summer Internship Program. What brought them together was a connection to AGBU, the will to put Buenos Aires on the Armenian world map, and sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time. Their encounter would go on to change lives for generations of college students looking for real-world experience as their first step to personal and career success.
In 2015, fresh from a summer in London working at Minka, a foundation for people with learning disabilities, Ekserciyan attended a gathering hosted by the Buenos Aires Armenian Youth League, where Koruk, a seasoned GLP participant, happened to be. “That’s where the magic happened,” notes Alexis Koruk with a laugh. Their encounter sealed their fate to become co-founders of the first AGBU summer leadership program in South America for international Armenian college students.
After completing the summer program in London, Ekserciyan discovered her passion for teaching students of all ages and abilities, which led to her current profession as an educational psychologist. “In London, I studied learning disabilities in young people, when in Buenos Aires I had only worked with small children and babies. To teach and learn with them was a really valuable experience.” She is currently pursuing an avenue of psychology where she can work with not only a limited group of students but also her community as a whole. “The program sparked a light inside of me, and I wanted to give back to AGBU so that other young people could experience that same path.”
Koruk, who now runs an e-commerce business for his family’s shoe company, participated in the same program in New York in 2012, after completing his business degree. “The experience was great, especially for someone coming from Buenos Aires, because I could see all the things AGBU offered from a global perspective.” Now pursuing a master’s degree in finance while expanding his e-commerce efforts, Koruk volunteers his time to bring this same eye-opening opportunity to new generations.
Though both Ekserciyan and Koruk participated in internships in different cities and during different years, they both realized the importance and value of diverse work experience, a globalized world view, and connecting to like-minded Armenians. It pushed them to launch GLP in Buenes Aires, an alternative learning ground for students around the world to explore the world of business from a Latin-American perspective, with English as the official language of business.
When planning their first moves, they asked themselves what elements of Buenos Aires would draw a diverse group of young people to their program. Buenos Aires, in fact, is a hub for Armenian culture and education. “Every day, there’s so much happening in the AGBU Buenos Aires center. There’s a primary and secondary school and every Friday we have the Salon Nazarian restaurant—which is amazing. There are so many possibilities for this chapter,” Koruk adds. They immediately began to prepare for the program, modeling it after the summers they experienced themselves, while giving it an authentic Latin American twist.
“We wanted our participants to feel the vibe of a Latin American city and to meet people from different cultures and countries—and become ambassadors of Buenos Aires,” says Koruk. Extracurricular activities include horseback riding with gauchos on the Argentine countryside, barbecues with traditional carne asada, and live tango shows at the world-renowned Colon Theatre. “But we also encourage them to discover Argentina for themselves. We plan a scavenger hunt usually on the first weekend to make them scope out the city and go visit different landmarks.”
We wanted our participants to feel the vibe of a Latin American city and to meet people from different cultures and countries—and become ambassadors of Buenos Aires.
Each cohort is also encouraged to engage with the thriving local Armenian community. “We organize barbecues with our scouts, Armenian dance classes, trips to the Armenian Embassy and host activities at the AGBU building on Armenia Street,” notes Ekserciyan. “All the participants are impressed, especially when they walk by that street. If you go to AGBU Buenos Aires on a Friday or Saturday night, it’s so full of life, because AGBU runs the restaurant, the theater, and the scout house.”
Since the first year, the four-year program has been extended to six weeks with internship placements in the tourism, finance, architecture, fashion, and design industries welcoming students hailing from the United States, Estonia, China, Belgium, Ukraine and beyond. However, both noticed a lack of participants from South America and recognized their next step would be establishing financial resources for South American students to participate in their program. “Many in Buenos Aires may know about the programs that AGBU has, but it can be really costly for them, even if they are eager to participate,” observes Koruk. They’re currently in the process of creating a scholarship to financially support Armenian students throughout Latin America. “As a South American alumnus, I can say that we were lucky to be a part of the programs that AGBU offers. We got to see the experience and reach of AGBU and we want to bring it to our own country and replicate it in some way.”
The latest task on their agenda is to strengthen ties with other Latin American communities, in addition to AGBU’s global network. “When this part of our chapter is fully established, getting the branch integrated and getting people from our world to come to Buenos Aires is our goal,” says Koruk. The program has been up and running for three years, with plans to continue to expand. Evidently, the dynamic duo has proven it takes two to transform a generation.
Banner photo: Micaela Ekserciyan, left, and Alexis Koruk are the founding members of the Buenos Aires Global Leadership Program (GLP). Photo by Jabier Perini