Seeing was believing for AGBU Global Leadership alumna Zenna Aghajanian
I discovered what is most important to me, all while surrounded and supported by Armenians who celebrate our cultural identity without hesitation or fear. Most importantly, I realized that I am undeniably my father's daughter.
For as long as she can remember, California-born and raised college student Zenna Aghajanian’s father, Arthur Aghajanian, would reminisce about his Manhattan adventures in New York City, thanks to the AGBU Summer Internship Program, now called Global Leadership Program (GLP). This AGBU signature program was such a life-changing experience for the American-Armenian student that he wound up attending not only one cohort but two separate sessions in different years. He credits the program for the opportunity to experience New York’s legendary prolific art scene, which enriched his learning experience.
“I was spellbound by his stories,” says Aghajanian. “His exploration of New York's art galleries, the bonds he forged with Armenians from around the world, and the opportunity to gain work experience in an exciting industry seemed a little too good to be true. Until I had the chance to see for myself.”
It was the fall of her junior year at California State University Northridge when the ambitious undergrad began to yearn for a deeper connection with her Armenian roots that extended beyond the occasional trip to Yerevan to visit relatives. Then she remembered AGBU and her father’s avid endorsement of what the Global Leadership Program had to offer young adults looking to expand their horizons in both the world of work and the Armenian community.
Following her father’s footsteps
“I actually wasn’t sure that this program still existed,” she explains. “A quick Google search revealed that it was not only alive — but thriving. So, I made the decision to follow in my father’s footsteps and embark on my first solo trip to New York with the support of AGBU.”
Fast-forward a handful of months later, Aghajanian stepped out of a taxi and into New York University’s student dormitory, where the journey begins for all GLP participants for nearly 40 years. With her interest in exploring organizational psychology, a branch of human resources, Aghajanian found that the AGBU Global Headquarters was a great place to start.
Valuable work experiences
“While my father was placed at Financial News Network in the 80s, I immersed myself in the nonprofit sector with a placement at AGBU. I got to see first-hand the inner workings of a global organization and how the different departments collaborated together to deliver amazing programs,” she explains. “I gained a profound understanding of AGBU’s mission and the remarkable initiatives in Armenia, such as AGBU EmpowerHer, AGBU Children’s Centers, the AGBU Scholarship Program and the array of discovery and identity-building programs for young children and teens. My appreciation for what the work AGBU does for the international Armenian community deepened, thanks to this first-hand experience.”
Making her own memories
That was by day — on evenings and weekends, Aghajanian was engaging in exciting events and activities with a cross-section of Armenian peers from across the country and around the world. “New York was worlds away from my suburban neighborhood,” she noted. “Being thrust into such a lively city was daunting, but experiencing it through a structured program with fellow Armenians greatly eased my transition.”
Aghajanian also relished the chance to explore New York’s art scene, just as her father did at her age. “With every neighborhood I explored and every gallery I entered I could practically hear my dad’s voice in my head,” she says, knowing he would be proud of her.
Aghajanian is forever grateful for heeding her father’s words. “Describing my stay in New York this past summer as unforgettable doesn't begin to fully capture the experience. The two months were so eventful, that it wasn't until I returned home and shared my experiences with my father that I truly grasped the significance of what I had lived through,” she says. “The opportunities, connections, and self-development I gained during this time made the whole trip worth it. And my father felt the same way.”
Both generations of Aghajanians grappled with their Armenian identity prior to beginning the internship as young adults. “My father also struggled to get involved in the Armenian community, and this opportunity was, as he describes, one of the most memorable experiences of his student days — not only because of its unique location, but also the sense of kinship that he forged with his cohort.”
A summer of self-discovery
Both father and daughter were able to emerge from the program with a revitalized sense of community and identity. “He told me stories of all his outings, a memorable excursion to Lake George, and all about the enlightening speakers who would visit the interns and share their expertise on cultural and historical issues. For both of us, the program was a perfect blend of exploration in the city, visits to neighboring counties and states, and meaningful insights from guest speakers representing diverse industry backgrounds.” She highlights her own favorite moments, like kayaking on the Hudson with her cohort, forming professional connections, attending a baseball game at Yankee Stadium — and, most importantly, working at the AGBU Global headquarters.
“My summer in New York was more than just work exposure or an opportunity for fun; it was a transformative journey. I discovered what is most important to me, all while surrounded and supported by Armenians who celebrate our cultural identity without hesitation or fear. Most importantly, I realized that I am undeniably my father's daughter.”