GLENDALE — Glendale resident Mayreni Abajian recently returned from a year abroad in Tokyo, Japan, where the unexpected highlight of her trip was introducing the Japanese people to aspects of her Armenian culture.
Classmates and friends instantly understood that she is an American, but they were surprised to learn about her Armenian heritage, most of them having no real concept of Armenia: its location, history, or culture. Abajian was happy to build bridges to their understanding by sharing information about Armenia with friends and preparing Armenian meals for them. Many of her friends quickly became interested in learning more about Armenia, some even expressing a desire to visit the country.
While studying in Mitaka, Tokyo, Abajian was introduced to “Glocal Mitaka,” an organization whose aim is to bridge the gap between the local Japanese community and foreign exchange students. Mayreni participated in a number of volunteer projects with Glocal Mitaka, including picture-book readings, a slide presentation, and language lessons. Mayreni and some of her classmates would occasionally read picture books to children, which she did in English, Japanese, and Armenian. Abajian developed a brief, interactive language lesson by which she introduced local youths to the Armenian language and alphabet.
Abajian’s most rewarding project was the publication of a new picture book, designed to introduce Japanese children to cultures around the world, including Armenia. Abajian and other foreign exchange students volunteered with Glocal Mitaka to design the story. Each student personally illustrated the pages for his or her culture. Her original drawings depict various aspects of Armenia, including Mt. Ararat, an Armenian church, a girl in traditional clothing, and a table offering foods such as lavash, pomegranates and apricots. Abajian then organized a visit to the Armenian Embassy in Tokyo, where she and Glocal Mitaka introduced the picture book to Ambassador Grant Pogosyan, who offered to promote the project. In May, the embassy displayed excerpts from the picture book at the Armenia Culture Week exhibition in Tokyo. After meeting their fundraising goals, Glocal Mitaka published the book and donated copies to local libraries.
Abajian, a graduate of CV High School, is a senior at the University of California at San Diego where she studies computer science.