Armenian Volunteer Corps

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

What My Students Taught Me

Alexis Shahnasarian (United States)

If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be and why?
 I posed this question to my Conversational Club at the American Corner Gyumri. I was 21-years-old, freshly green to Armenia, and could barely say hello in the native tongue, let alone “stop” on the marshootkah.  My wide-eyed students filed into the classroom and silently sat around the long wooden rectangular table, carefully watching every movement I made, waiting for me to say something profound, thought provoking, or even just slightly intelligent.  I accomplished none of these.
“If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be and why?” I asked again.
I’d like to go out on a limb and venture to say that most Americans, if asked this question, could immediately think of at least one, if not more, changes they would wish for their lives. The newest home renovations, longer and more expensive vacations, surgical augmentations, more TV stations… the laundry list of non-complacent “needs” never seems to end. Unfortunately, in the world in which I live, people are engrossed in always wanting, better yet, needing more.
My students pondered the question, and then, one-by-one, answered: “Nothing.” Every student’s explanation was justified with a variation of the same answer— Why would I want to change my life? I have what is most important, my family. I remember feeling my face sear, never failing to turn a bright shade of red at the crux of each of my humiliating moments.
When personally pondering the question, a million different changes had run through my head. I would have taken my GRE prep class more seriously.  I should have helped my Mom and sister-in-law more with the family wedding. I wish I didn’t eat the entire bowl of pasta… and tray of brownies.  Declining the opportunity for change didn’t even cross my mind. I listened to the soliloquy of responses, growing more humbled after hearing each student’s response. Nothing. If my students have the opportunity to change a part of their life, they wouldn’t change a thing. Absolutely nothing. This constant refrain haunted me. Despite the major differences of my students’ maturity level and life experiences— they ranged from 15 - 40 years old— they consistently responded: Nothing.
I understand it was a simple icebreaker; really I do.  Their responses, however, reflected a higher order value system I had yet to even grasp, let alone attain.
To be honest, I have no idea what I taught that day but I am sure it was something insignificant.  What my students taught me, however, changed my perception of life.

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