We all had our reasons for coming, some different, some similar. At the end of the day, we were all united for one main reason, Armenia.
Rewind a year ago and I had a dozen countries on my list of places I wanted to visit in the next five or so years, Armenia was not on it. Why? I am a first generation Armenian-American who’s first language spoken was Armenian, yet I had no interest in visiting my homeland. Homeland, what did that even mean? My parents were born in the Middle East and met in Boston. I went to an Armenian school and even participated in Armenian youth groups. But still, at home we never talked about Armenia or gave it much thought; we had no connection to the country.
I would hear about Hayastan, and meet Hayastanci’s, always struggling to understand their dialect. The gap for me was large and I was happy and comfortable on the other side. I had friends who had visited; summer in Yerevan was supposed to be wonderful, all the diasporan’s go to visit. It still made no impact on me.
So what changed my mind to go? And not only go but to volunteer for an extended period of time? Timing; I don’t have a better answer than it was the right time. A friend had mentioned Birthright Armenia; I did some research and decided it’s now or never. I was nervous; more like terrified, but my gut was telling me it was the right choice and the right time.
I packed for 10 weeks and anxiously made my journey to this foreign land. I have learned so many things about myself and life during my time with Birthright and in Armenia. One of the biggest realizations I have made is to listen to my gut. No matter the circumstances, if I listen to what my gut is telling me, I will make the right choice. With that said, 10 weeks extended to 6.5 months without ever reconsidering.
6.5 months of meeting some of the smartest most interesting people I have ever met, making amazing friendships I hope to never let go of, challenging myself with work I would not have gotten the opportunity to do anywhere else, learn a different dialect of the same beautiful language I was forgetting to speak and begin to speak it even stronger, appreciate the kindness of strangers, learn to breathe during times of defeat and struggle and try to remember that tomorrow is a new day, and to never give up no matter what the journey brings.
Without Birthright Armenia I would not have gotten the opportunity to be placed with an incredible host family for 2 months who taught me about the struggles of our nation and the perseverance of our people. Who showed me love and kindness during times I was physically sick and homesick. Who stayed up late nights and told me personal stories of their lives while we laughed. Who taught me that not everything we see here is always black and white, there are so many shades of grey, don’t be so quick to judge without knowing the facts. During joy and pain, love and loss; I will cherish them for the rest of my life and consider them a second family forever.
I can’t tell you how many times I said to myself, “what am I doing here?” To want to throw my hands up and say, “I can’t do this” or “I don’t belong”. It is almost ironic though because with every bad experience either that day or the next followed a great one. My days would change by the hour sometimes. It’s what kept my time here so exciting and unexpected. In the wise words of my good friend Sylv, it has been a true rollercoaster ride.
I leave 6.5 months later to head back to Boston filled with lots of emotion. I survived one of Yerevan’s worst winters in a long time (or so I was told). I was sick too many times than I want to remember. Dodged falling icicles and practically ice skated home every night on the sidewalks. But wow, have you seen Ararat covered in snow in the winter? It’s breathtaking. I saw a sliver of a beautiful spring with the lush green rolling mountains covered in flowers, right before we got introduced to a hot hot hot summer (apparently it has been hotter, I cant even imagine, I am melting as I type), ate the most delicious apricots ever and got burnt at Lake Sevan, the sun is really strong, ouch!
Everyone has their opinion; the good, bad, ugly, beautiful, discouraging, hopeful. I didn’t want to write this article as a do’s and don’ts based on my experience. If I had listened to everyone’s advice and opinions about Armenia, I would have never allowed myself to form my own opinions, or really ever made the trip. I am happy I came with no expectations and was able to experience everything for myself and make my own conclusions. So I won’t tell you what to do or what not to do while you are in country but if you are like me and have received misleading information I will only say the following:
As I said before, come with no expectations and don’t be so quick to judge. Speak to a local, understand their story, learn about the history, then form your opinion. I have learned this from experience.
I have been taught by good friends that I met here; at the end of the day we are all Armenian, it does not matter where we come from or which dialect we speak. We need to all fight the same fight.
Finally, some diasporan’s choose to move back and live in Armenia permanently. Understand that it is not for everyone and that is OK. But if it’s possible don’t just come for two weeks. Come for a longer period of time and really learn for yourself, you will gain a better appreciation for the people and our history. Don’t over think it, just do it, I promise you won’t regret it.
I will be missing the fall season in Armenia which I have heard is most peoples favorite. To my loves that will be staying, please enjoy it for me! I am leaving behind dear friends that I know I will see again because they are forever in my heart. Whatever the future holds for me, I know that this is not good bye Hayastan, but a see you again soon. I am forever indebted to you for changing me for the better.