Looking forward to Armenia


Agethe Fredette

Henrique Cazar

Armenia is a country and former Soviet republic that rests between Europe and China, cradled by mountains, and the Business Concepts and Civic Engagement class will be leaving the U.S. to build houses there for two weeks. The class, consisting of about 10 students, will leave May 15 and return May 28.

Henrique Cezar, JSC Professor of Business and Economics, is teaching the class and will be chaperoning the trip. He has been the chaperone for similar trips every spring since 2008, although this is only the third trip centered on civic goals.

“[The students] are going to go to this place to help poor communities to build houses,” Cezar said. “We go to these countries, and we team up with an organization called the Fuller Center for Housing. They have sites all over the world. We usually just choose one.”

This year, Cezar chose Armenia as their destination. “One day I was talking to a class about Armenia,” he said, “and I say, ‘What do you guys know about Armenia?’ One student said, ‘I know the Kardashians come from Armenia.’ I was like, ‘I think we owe an apology to Armenia.’ I couldn’t believe when I heard that.

“It’s one of those countries that people don’t know much about,” he said. “There’s so much history behind it, but we don’t know much about it. Especially here. So I said, you know, let me show them that there’s more to this place than the Kardashians.

“I do these trips for two reasons,” he added. “One: I’m a very curious person. I’ve been traveling for many years. I’ve traveled a lot. I think that’s a valuable learning component, so I want to share that with students. So one: I like doing this.

“Second: I think that a lot of students, especially in this college, haven’t been exposed to much diversity. I do those trips with the intention to show students how other countries have it, how people behave differently. A lot of students have never traveled before. Some of them have never left Vermont before, so they take one of those trips and they come back and it’s a change for them. I like that component. You can see the students kind of seeing things differently after that trip.”

Cezar said that while the trips in the past have been fun, the trips with civic perspective hold more value and added they were the best trips he’d been on. There isn’t much room for free time, he said, although four or five days will be dedicated to cultural activities instead of building the house.

“They understand,” Cezar said. “Those people that sign up for this, they understand that it’s not a party trip. They’re going to have to build a house.”

In addition to construction, students will have to write in a journal during the trip and then write a final paper to meet academic expectations. They also have to meet three times before they leave to discuss both theoretical concepts of business and the details of the trip.

Many of the details were organized by the Fuller Center, which helped find the class a place to stay. “We just tell them when we want to go, things like that, how many students are going,” Cezar said. “They take it from there. All we have to do is shop for tickets, for airfare, and the rest is up to them. The planning aspect of those trips is quite easy.” Cezar used to organize the trips himself and says it’s not as stressful this way.

His favorite trip so far was last year’s to Thailand.

“You see, although I have an accent and everything, here in the United States I’ve never been targeted as a foreigner because I don’t look like a foreigner, but in Thailand, it was the first place I’ve been in my life which I actually felt like a foreigner,” Cezar said. “They look at you and know you’re not from there. It’s a different feeling. I’ve never had that feeling before because every other place I’ve been in my life — I have a common look so I blend in.

“I also loved the culture. I was fascinated by the whole culture in Cambodia, Thailand and all that,” he said. “It was very interesting how they approach things.”

Kirsty Greeno, a senior taking the class, has gone on the trip to Thailand and on another to Nicaragua. She’s excited to compare her past experiences to this one. “I’m looking forward to meeting the family we will be working with. I’m also looking forward to seeing how they build the houses in Armenia since each country has a different style house,” she said. “In Nicaragua they were very simple and basic. In Thailand, there were more rooms, and they added more flourishes to them. I am also interested to see how this group will work together. Each group works uniquely with each other and some groups obviously work better than others. But we always get more done when we have a strong group. I also cannot wait to be in Armenia and see how the country differs from Thailand and Nicaragua.”

“I am not feeling anxious at all,” she added.

The class is no longer open to students, but it runs every spring.