(Racine, WI, USA)
As I sit here on the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence, which happens to also share the same day as my birthday; I finally am able to take a break in my on-the-go life since being back and reminisce on my time in Armenia, and how my 6 months there truly changed who I am today.
I still look back on it so vividly, as if it were yesterday, and I just arrived at Zvartnots, luggage-less, language-less and just confused. Even though I had been to Armenia two times before, this time I was on my own, without that support group beside me.
I always knew I would be back, so when I applied to Birthright Armenia, I was completely content on staying for 3 months, serving my motherland, and returning home. One thing I should have learned by now is how a mother’s intuition is usually right. When I told my family, ‘see you in May, my mother was quick to respond, ‘yeah right, we’ll see about that’ – and she was absolutely right. I was only there a month when I made my decision to extend for an additional three months.
Being a Birthright Armenia participant has opened my eyes to so much and given me so many reasons on why every individual should be able to travel back to their motherland/fatherland/home – however you want to put it.
There is that connection one feels to their Armenian identity and you understand the hardships and daily tasks that must be achieved, in some cases in order to survive. I think a lot of people forget that the country is still so young because our culture has SO much history, and that the riches of Armenia surpass the struggles, at least from my point of view. The country is simply captivating, and you can’t help but walk around with a smile on your face all the time (which could be a personal thing for me as well).
I’m a firm believer that everything truly happens for a reason, and this trip was God given proof of that. Less than two months before I embarked on my journey, my mother’s father passed away. It was the hardest loss I ever had to endure, since he was the rock of our ‘clan’ and my inspiration in having the desire to embrace my Armenian identity more than I already did. His humanitarian work in Armenia for nearly 15 years had a major impact on my decision; and I can honestly say that he inspired me to want to follow in his footsteps. It was very difficult to leave when I did, but little did I know Armenia was the perfect place for me to be at that point and time in my life. I was able to bring my grandfather home, just as he had wished, and be a part of something that was truly all my own.
If I had not extended my stay, I also would have never met my family…my dad’s first cousins, and all of their family. My father’s father was from Yerevan, Kond to be exact, and left when he was 21 years old. He had to leave behind his family, and went to Germany to serve in the Russian Army; and then to Wisconsin, where he has resided ever since. Now at the age of 93 years old, he has not had the opportunity to go back to Armenia. He has never met his family, his sisters’ children, and I was able to be the first one in my family to do so while I was there. It was strange to think I had family in Armenia, because I had never had that connection before; but as soon as I met them, I never felt more comfortable. It was surreal to find my grandfathers’ family that he has never met since he fled Armenia, and felt so lucky to do this for everyone in my family who was not given that chance yet.
The language, the culture, the people, are all full of a wealth of knowledge, and I am so thankful for being able to have had this chance to experience it all. I honestly don’t know how one can say they don’t want to visit Armenia, because for me, I wasn’t ready to leave. It was not until I came to Armenia to volunteer that I felt a commonality in the culture, lifestyle and identity.
I cannot tell someone what to do, or make them feel the connection I felt, and that’s normal, because I would never want to. Every person’s experience is their own, unique to them, and that’s what makes it so special and of such importance. I can simply tell my chapter, and share the opportunity I was given, and hope that they will want to write their own too!