Armenian Adolescents and Globalization
By Carol Huntsinger
Have you ever wondered how globalization is affecting adolescents in parts of the world that are more isolated, for example, in countries like Armenia? First, I will situate you in the context of Armenia by relating recent history, recent exposure to computers, changes in the school system, and the genesis of this research project. Next, I describe the practical matters involved in setting up and conducting the research. Finally, I summarize evidence we found regarding globalization influences on adolescents in Armenia.
Armenia is a land-locked emerging democracy surrounded by Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Armenia was the first Christian nation, a fact which is important to the national identity of Armenians. During Soviet times, church attendance was strongly discouraged, and currently, although 90 percent of Armenians adhere to the Armenian Apostolic Church, many rarely attend church (Solomon, 2010).
The official language of the Republic of Armenia is Armenian, classified as an independent branch of the Indo-European language family. It has its own 39-character script, the Armenian alphabet, and its own distinctive phonological developments (Fortson, 2009). Russian is spoken by 94% of the people, and English is the second most common (40%) and fastest-growing foreign language.
The country gained independent status in 1991 upon the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. Beset by a devastating earthquake in 1988, wars with Azerbaijan, and border closings by Turkey and Azerbaijan which cut off Armenian supply lines for most raw materials and energy, Armenia became very isolated and fell into dire economic straits. Unemployment and underemployment soared. In the last two decades, unemployment has been estimated to be from 30 to 68%. Because the Soviet factories closed and jobs vanished, many people in rural towns went back to producing most of their own food – vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, and meat – to survive. It is estimated that thousands of men of working age leave Armenia yearly to take jobs in Russia (Ionesyan, 2010; McGuinness, 2011). Most families, especially in rural areas, live on very low incomes; about half of Armenia’s rural population lives in poverty (Solomon, 2010). The great majority of the residents do not own automobiles and many have never traveled outside of Armenia, a country the size of Maryland.
In 2006, when my sister first moved to rural Armenia to serve as an English teacher in the Peace Corps, most students in rural parts of Armenia had never used a computer. If there were computers available, Internet service and electricity were very unreliable. My sister saw the critical need for students to have access to computers, and she wrote a grant for a small computer lab. In the fall of 2007, the first computer lab (five computers) with intermittent Internet service at Vardenis State College was constructed, funded by a Peace Corps grant. On a visit to Armenia in May 2008, my sister acted as my guide to both the rural and urban areas. I saw firsthand the students’ enthusiasm for the computer lab and my interest in this research was piqued. Since that time, three additional small computer labs (four computers each) and a Computer Applications major have been added.
Prior to 2009, Armenian schools followed the Soviet 10-grade education model. However, effective for the 2009-2010 school year, the Ministry of Education required high schools to add Grade 11, and Grade 12 was added for the 2010-2011 school year. Presently, schools in Armenia are divided into elementary school (grades 1-4), basic school (grades 5-9), and high school (grades 10-12). The local state colleges now offer a
vocational track after 9th grade, and students are allowed to choose the track (academic or vocational) they want to pursue. Most students who intend to apply to universities choose the academic track (Mkrtchyan, personal communication, 2013). Parents want their children to be well-educated and “to study well” (Huntsinger et al., 2011). All boys are required to serve in the military at the age of 18 years, unless they are deferred by virtue of being a daytime student in a higher education institution.
With that background in mind and following an award from the SRA Innovative Small Grants Program, we set out to examine the influences of globalization on Armenian adolescents, in locales both rural (92 adolescents, 50 girls, 42 boys; M = 15.93 years of age) and urban (80 adolescents; 46 girls, 34 boys; M = 15.90 years of age). To our knowledge, this is the first investigation involving adolescents in Armenia. Two native Armenian scholars who are fluent in English, Anna Mkrtchyan Karapetyan and Tatevik Shaboyan, helped to construct the items for the world knowledge test, an indicator of globalization. We also constructed open-ended interview questions to assess information about family, school, friends, free time activities, media use, world popular singers, future career choices, time use, and ideas about future marriage. Anna and Tatevik and our team made every effort to ensure the questions were appropriate for the Armenian culture. The risk of using established Western measures across cultures is that, although the items can be translated into another language, the construct may not make sense in the new cultural context. Anna and Tatevik also translated the questions (from the interviews, questionnaires, and world knowledge test) into Armenian, interviewed the adolescents, and translated student responses into English. The four-month data collection took place from late May until September 2012. Students were recruited from rural sites, which included the state college, a high school, and the YMCA, and from urban sites, which included a university, a college, a high school, a library, and several youth clubs.
Although students were not accustomed to taking multiple choice tests or to completing rating scales, we wanted to try some standardized measures that have been successfully used in diverse cultures. We chose the following measures because Armenia has traditionally been an interdependent society with well-defined gender roles: The Self-Construal Scale (SCS) (Singelis, 1994) which includes independent and interdependent dimensions, and the Gender-Based Attitudes Toward Marital Roles (GATMR) and Gender-Based Attitudes Toward Childrearing (GATCR) scales (Hoffman & Kloska, 1995). We also gave students a 23-item world knowledge test and asked them how often they used the Internet for (1) doing research for school, (2) listening to music, (3) writing e-mails, (4) communicating in chats, and (5) visiting online social networking sites. Alphas were acceptable for three of the scales, but low for the independent dimension of the SCS and the GATCR. Similar to US samples, the independent and interdependent dimensions of the SCS were not correlated (Singelis, 1994), and the GATMR and the GATCR were moderately correlated (Hoffman & Kloska, 1995) for Armenian adolescents.
The surveys were given to small groups of students, and the interviews were individually conducted. Students seemed to understand the survey items after the interviewers gave very explicit directions. Students in rural Armenia (an interdependent society) ordinarily help each other during exams, so we had to be very clear about the protocol for the data collection.
We’d like to share some of our preliminary results. At the time of this research in 2012, most adolescents in both rural (75%) and urban (96%) areas had some access to a computer. That is important because electronic media is often singled out as the momentum behind globalization (Arnett, 2002). Adolescents are more receptive than are other age groups to the influence of media (Arnett, 2002; Dhariwal & Connolly, 2013; Jensen, et al., 2011). Because globalization is generally experienced more strongly by urban youth than by rural youth (Arnett, 2002), we looked at rural-urban differences in outcome variables that we thought might indicate globalization influences.
In sum, the urban adolescents showed the influence of globalization more strongly than did those in the rural area. Adolescents who used the Internet to a greater degree endorsed more egalitarian views toward marriage, viewed themselves as less interdependent, were aware of a greater number of Western singers, and were more knowledgeable about the modern world. However, neither the rural nor urban group moved past the midpoint on the gender attitudes and the interdependence scales, or on the items regarding value of grandparents and intention to carry on their parents’ traditions. Both urban and rural groups appear to be moving toward a bi-cultural identity, not abandoning traditions, but also embracing Western popular culture and values to a greater or lesser degree.
We wondered whether cultural attitudes toward marriage might also be changing as a result of greater exposure to Western ideas. It has been an expectation in traditional Armenian culture for everyone to marry. When the 10-grade Soviet education model was in effect, it was not uncommon for rural girls to marry at 16 or 17 years of age (Huntsinger, Mkrtchyan, & Speake, 2011). In July 2013, Armenia raised the legal marriage age for girls from 17 to 18, but there are some rural groups who plan to ignore the law (Gregoryan, 2013). When the participants in our study answered the question, “Do you think you will get married when you are older?” rural adolescents (96%) were more likely than urban adolescents (77%) to anticipate getting married in the future. Armenian society tends to be a collective society with strong traditions. The relational aspects of family are very important. The traditional Armenian society is patriarchal (McGuinness, 2011; Waters, 2009), and the typical family living in Armenia nowdays maintains traditional conservative values (Solomon, 2010). In traditional Armenian society, marriages were arranged by the families of the bride and groom or by a matchmaker hired by the groom’s family (Armenians-Marriage and Family, 2013). The bride and groom are often acquainted before the engagement, which lasts one to two months. This is the period when the couple may date.We do know that adolescents do not engage in dating in traditional Armenia unless marriage is the clear anticipated end (Solomon, 2010). For 23% of urban adolescents to say they didn’t plan to marry appears to be a departure from tradition.
When asked how they would find someone to marry, adolescents’ responses ranged from the traditional to the more contemporary. Here are some examples of quotations from our respondents:
- Traditional responses:
Boys:“I will marry the girl whom my parents and I like.” “My parents will help me select a girl.” “I will ask others (her friends) about her character.” “I will try to learn about her from her friends and relatives.” “I will find someone from our town.”
Girls: “I think that I must be found.” “Our parents will introduce us, and we will start communications.” “He will find me. It’s not accepted that the girl does the first step.” “I won’t find; the destiny will pair us.”
- Contemporary responses:
Boys: “Probably through the Internet. Then I’ll meet her and make friends.” “Try to meet her and date her.” “I think she will find me. When I meet my goals (a world soccer star), I will be very wanted and famous.”
Girls: “I’m not in a hurry. I’ll find someone after I graduate from the university.” “I don’t think I’ll find someone who will understand me and love me for who I am.”
Globalization appears to be affecting Armenian youth (urban to a greater extent than rural) in the following areas: traditional gender attitudes toward marriage, interdependence, world knowledge, familiarity with Western singers, and customs regarding courtship and marriage. While this study provides some answers, it raises many more questions. Future research questions include the following: What changes in their daily lives do Armenian students attribute to globalization? What are some of their strongest cultural values? How do the adolescents perceive themselves? To what extent are they adopting a bi-cultural identity? How do their reports of romantic desire and romantic experiences differ from those of Western youth? How do they feel about losing some of their traditions? What concerns do their parents and grandparents have regarding the influence of Western media?
Carol Huntsinger, a Graduate Faculty Scholar at Northern Illinois University, received her Ph.D. in child development from Erikson Institute/Loyola University of Chicago. She has conducted two longitudinal comparison studies of immigrant Chinese American and European American families—one of children from preschool/kindergarten through third/fourth grade, and the other of adolescents from early adolescence through college graduation. She has completed two other recent studies in rural Armenia; one investigated parenting of young children, and the other, grandmothers’ parenting beliefs. She likes to garden, take her dog on long walks, bike, travel, play the piano (and pipe organ), and sing.
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From left to right: Tatevik Shaboyan, Carol Huntsinger, and
Anna Mkrtchyan Karapetyan