The Promise

Zepur Simonian
(Whittier, CA, USA)

It has been almost two years since I volunteered in Armenia, but it has been almost two  years since my experiences in Armenia have dictated my life. Over the years, I have been trying to tell my friends and family members to do Birthright Armenia, but the number one response has been “how can Armenia help me – what is the experience going to do for me?”

Quite frankly, two years ago, I had no clue what Armenia was going to do for me. In high school, a Birthright Armenia alumni spoke at an AYF meeting about Birthright Armenia and that was it. I told myself that one day I’ll be doing Birthright Armenia. That “one day” was four years later. So, at the age of 21, between undergrad and law school, I went to Yerevan.

Let me just reiterate an overly exaggerated cliché, “Armenia changed my life!” I’m not being sarcastic. Armenia changed my life in the following ways: 1) it made me closer to my family (more than before); 2) it made me adventurous; 3) it made me speak Arevelahayeren at home; and 4) it helped me find my career path.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of Armenia was living with a host family. When I think of Armenia, I think of my host family. If you ask me how the people are, I will tell you about my host family. My host family changed my negative perception of Armenia. They opened their home to me – a complete stranger – but today I call them my hyoorungal mayreeg and kooyreeg. I miss them so much – I miss staying up until 4 a.m., talking about politics, sports, music, Russian news, anything. I miss going home to prepare the dinner table – it was such an awesome familial environment. We all helped each other – one set the dishes, another made the food, and the other washed the dishes. And, this was every day. This experience taught me the importance of family. We all did our things outside of the home, but once we came home, we made time for each other. We ate, we talked, we did everything together. So I transferred this mentality and lifestyle as best I could when I returned home. I started setting the table, washing the dishes, and eating with my family despite my busy schedule. Now, I am extremely close to my family.

In addition, I have come to loooove adventure and hiking. I love to explore new places and things. The most memorable experience was at Khor Virab. First, my friends and I went to the tunnel to go down the steps, but I freaked out and couldn’t get myself to go down. Instead, I met two old men with whom I spoke for about an hour. I told them that I was scared to go down (yes, I’m a whimp and had my parents been there, they would have made fun of me the entire time). But instead, I had this amazing hayreeg who told me that he would go down with me. He went down before me and of course, being the competitive person, I couldn’t let hayreeg beat me. So, I went down, too. This experience helped me overcome my fear and stupidity, too. But the story gets funnier. My friends and I missed the last bus returning to Yerevan. And I, being the typical type A+ personality (aka crazy), started freaking out. But this hayreeg convinced two cops to drive five people to the next bus station.  So now we had five people cramped in the back seat of a mini car. We had a fantastic experience. As a result of this experience, I have become much more social and able to meet anyone at any place, and really learn to have a good time without any worries.

Moreover, I now love to speak in Arevelahayeren. According to my mother, Eastern Armenian suits me, and I have to agree. Thus, whenever I get the urge, I forego my Western dialect and spit out Russian words with the Eastern dialect.

Lastly, Armenia created my career path. In high school, my teachers told me to become a teacher but I absolutely refused. But of course, in Armenia, my primary volunteer work (other than research) was to teach Armenian high school students academic writing in Armenian. I created a curriculum on academic writing (all in Armenian), including their worksheets, essay prompts, and other required materials. This experience taught me that I HATE research and work in an office/cubical setting. Instead, I LOVE to teach children or older students. As a result, I am currently a Teacher’s Assistant for three classes and I serve as a Dean’s Fellow/Academic Advisor for First year law students. I also work at the Children’s Rights Clinic. I volunteered at the DA’s Office Family Violence Division. And for one year, I will be working at the Children’s Law Center, advocating for the foster youth in Children’s Court. My life revolves around children. But if I look back two years, this passion for helping children really came into fruition when I worked with Armenia’s children. And honestly, they helped me more – they taught me patience; they made me happy; and they showed me that Armenia’s children are Armenia’s future.

So I have a promise –  I will return. It’s just a matter of when. Last month I was researching about Armenia and I discovered that there is a current UNICEF Initiative called “Every child needs a family” which I believe seeks to create a foster care system. Hence, my goal is to get involved in this program in some way. For now, I’m building my expertise or knowledge. This upcoming year, I’m going to be working on adoption, family reunification, and child abuse/neglect cases. And, I hope that I stick with this path so that one day I can transfer these skills to Armenia.

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