Upon first sight, Madlene Minassian Ispirian’s crazy-cute curls draw you in, but it’s her warm smile and even warmer soul that make you want to know more. I first met Madlene when she gave a group tour of social photo editing app PicsArt‘s offices, in the same building as Tumo. Madlene’s history with Armenia is a lengthy one. She’s worn many hats in her 14 years here, but she’s currently PicsArt’s Community Editor and also teaches English and communication at AUA.
Madlene first arrived to Armenia in 1996 via Land and Culture Organization. It’s even surprising to her that as such a sheltered, pampered Los Angeles-raised kid, she fell so intensely in love with the Gogaran village she worked with that summer. So much so that she called her mom and told her she’s not coming home. She did end up returning to LA to finish her education (Sociology and Armenian Studies major at UCLA), then moved back to Armenia in 1999 and worked with LCO. Madlene then moved to New York and worked with AGBU for two years, but the pull toward Armenia was far too strong and back she came in 2001.
That’s when she reconnected with an old friend — her now-husband Arthur — and they decided to get married and raise a family in Armenia. In a decade, Madlene has done it all: non-profit work with Counterpart International (a USAID-funded project), the Cafesjian Foundation, and Smile Network International. It wasn’t always easy, especially as a woman, but Madlene feels she’s been given a microphone and that professional women have a chance to advance here as well.
Madlene and Arthur have two sons, 8 and 9, and to those haters that say that raising kids in Armenia is a bad idea, here’s what Madlene has to say. When it comes to safety, respect for people, friendships, cultural experiences, and even education, Madlene praises Armenia to the fullest. The only downside, she says, is the lack of diversity, but she makes it a point to put her kids in American camps when she goes back home to visit family. It’s interesting, at first Madlene thought she was going to change Armenia, but it turns out Armenia has moreso changed her: both her quality of life, and her sense of family and community.