Editor's note: Maria Karapetyan arrived in Wisconsin in 2003, an exchange student on the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program. Through the program she learned about American society and values, shared Armenian values with her community, and developed leadership skills. She has continued to hone her leadership skills through the years and in January 2019, she became a member of parliament in her home country of Armenia.
Give us an overview of your current role and responsibilities in Armenian parliament.
I have been a member of parliament at the National Assembly of Armenia since January 2019. I am a member of the “My Step” political group which has a majority in parliament. I work in the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Public Affairs, so the areas of human rights and the transformation of societal relations in my country is high on my agenda. Also, given my background in and passion for conflict transformation, contributing to the peaceful transformation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in my capacity as a parliamentarian is also very important to me. I am part of the Armenian delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and this is an important platform for parliamentary diplomacy for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
How did your exchange experience influence your career?
Well, first of all my FLEX experience was a powerful social elevator. Thanks to my teachers at Rio High School, my host family, and my friends [in Wisconsin] I was able to succeed in the entrance language exams and receive a state scholarship for my bachelor’s degree at university. I also started working immediately as a language instructor, which helped me earn a living while I was a student. Most importantly, through my FLEX experience, I grew to be an empowered and independent woman, always excited about taking up new challenges. As a child, I dreamt of becoming a diplomat, but I later switched my focus, becoming a linguist and a conflict transformation practitioner. It was only after the Velvet Revolution in Armenian in Spring 2018 that participating in institutional politics became possible for me.
What are your top three pieces of advice for younger exchange students?
1. This is probably the one [piece of] advice that we have heard the most throughout our FLEX experience, but it is really worth repeating it one more time – engage! Engage with your studies, engage with your host family and community, engage with your friends! It is not so much for the sake of wonderful memories for the future as much as your growth as an individual that can happen only if you engage. If you need to, step back and devote yourself to a moment of self-care, but then, get out there and let your curiosity and creativity guide you.
2. Take care of your relationships! Individual relationships, networks, and communities need constant care. We need to support relationships for them to be authentic, fulfilling, and lasting.
3. Support peace! As current or future FLEX alumni, we are privileged to be part of a transnational network. We need to share the knowledge and experience we have built-in dialogue and collaboration as the best ways to deal with conflict.
About the Future Leaders Exchange Program
The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program is a competitive, merit-based scholarship program funded by the US Department of State. FLEX students who pass multiple rounds of testing earn a scholarship to spend an academic year in the United States living with a volunteer host family and attending a US high school.
FLEX students gain leadership skills, learn about American society and values, and teach Americans about FLEX countries and cultures. FLEX is a highly competitive program with over 25,000 alumni who have contributed over one million hours of community service in cities and towns across America. The students return home to active alumni networks that carry out inspiring activities. Learn more at discoverflex.org.