(Dresher, PA, USA)
I have this funny habit of smiling while I run. It’s not that I’m obsessed with running. I didn’t run track in high school and I don’t own a pair of Nike shoes. As a Birthright Armenia volunteer in Gyumri, I started to run in the morning out of necessity. My host mom made it her goal to fatten me up. Recently, some of my running buddies commented on my habit and made a connection not just with running, but life in general and even specifically life in Armenia.
I started off my Armenian experience a little rough. My host mom spoke no English and my Armenian was very rusty. Communication was difficult and I felt like I was running into walls. Armenian class was intimidating and I really got hit over the head with how much I didn’t know. It was a good thing. I eventually realized that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I paced myself and ran with a smile as I sat though every available hour of Armenian class. Learning my mother tongue in my homeland was amazing and I can’t help but feel blessed by the experience.
I spent my volunteer hours at two different youth organizations. As an undergraduate student, I was surprised at the level of work and responsibility I was given. Being in charge of huge important projects was a new concept for me. I was glad to help out wherever I could and I ended up doing a lot of fun computer work designing a blog. My coworkers were so nice and I can’t help but smile as I remember our lunch parties of bread, cheese, and tomatoes.
Two months in Armenia seemed like 2 weeks. I learned so much about community, perseverance, and what it means to be Armenian. The city of Gyumri, with its old-school feel, had so much to offer with one adventure after another. Sometimes the Gyumri way of life seemed backwards to us diasporans, especially when it came to dating and fashion. Some local guys would be considered stalkers in the States and girls somehow manage to walk the beat-up streets in heels and a dress! Our Gyumri Birthright Armenia group this summer became very close and anytime we were away from our beloved city, we would talk about it and look forward to our return.
Even though my time in Armenia this year has come to an end, I’m convinced that the joy inside me can’t help but show in whatever I do. It doesn’t matter if I’m going through life at high speed or slow, running or walking. I will always have a smile ready, excited about what God has next for me and Armenia.