College: Baruch College
Awards: Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowship, 2017
Fluent in Three Languages -- and Business Management
When she volunteered to teach English and dance in Colombia, her fellow students thought she was an American Latina because of her grasp of Spanish and "my dark features." When she studied at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, they thought she was Latin American - "I spoke to my roommates in Spanish."
Now Kristina Sarkissyan, born in Kazakhstan, raised on Long Island, conversant in Armenian and fluent in Russian, has a new venue to test perceptions about her, thanks to a 2017 Fulbright Mexico Binational Internship.
"My Spanish is maybe 90 percent, but I'm lacking in business terminology," says Sarkissyan, who graduates with a B.B.A. in international business from Baruch this year. Her Fulbright, one of just 16 awarded nationally, provides an internship with a for-profit multinational business or a nongovernmental organization. She also can take courses related to international business at ITAM, the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, a prestigious private university in Mexico City.
"With this internship, I will see how business is conducted in Mexico, how they approach management, situations and meetings," she says. "I'll get a better understanding how they determine what consumers value."
Sarkissyan, her parents and her brother moved to the United States when she was 5. "Coming from a post-Soviet country, I had to balance the ideals and values of my parents with U.S. customs and school. So much was different, like food. Here I found pizza, hot dogs and tater tots. And in school you were expected to voice your opinions. I had to find my identity as an American."
She chose to attend Baruch because of its international business program and its ranking as among the most diverse colleges in the nation. While she had close connections with a number of professors, it was the assistant director of undergraduate admissions, Kristin Pedicone, who became her mentor as she worked all four years as an "admissions ambassador" in the campus Welcome Center, first as a volunteer and, after two years, with pay.
"She's so fluid in the way she speaks with people," Pedicone says. "Imagine her leading a tour: Wouldn't you want to go to the school where she is? And last week I needed someone to jump up on the stage before 300 people who were filling a theater; she did, and answered questions about study-abroad and international experiences."
For Sarkissyan, part of the value in working at Baruch's Welcome Center was seeing it as an exercise in marketing. "It's right there on the first floor, and anyone can walk in. You formulate the proper way to pitch the school, and you speak with parents, which is very different from speaking with students. In terms of consumer behavior, it's like marketing the same product in different parts of the world."