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Hannah Otradovec
United States participant
11 Aug, 2022

Volunteering in Armenia to Reconnect with My Armenian Roots

1 min read

I have always been interested in my Armenian roots, even though I grew up in middle America outside of an Armenian community. I’m half Armenian on my mother’s side and got a taste of the culture from my grandparents. As I grew up, I dreamt of visiting Armenia and Jerusalem, where my family resided after the genocide. A few months before graduating college I still had no idea what I wanted to do, so I searched for opportunities to visit Armenia and stumbled upon Birthright Armenia’s website.

Volunteering in Gyumri

Joining Birthright Armenia was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I’m sad to see it come to an end. I have only been in Armenia for a little over two months and feel like a different person. I arrived in Gyumri at the end of February to volunteer with Gyumri Technology Center, Armenian Caritas, and Birthright Armenia. Around two weeks into my stay, I began volunteering at Nazuk bakery. When I first arrived in Gyumri, I was struck with culture shock and a desire to return to Yerevan and live within my comfort zone, but I am so glad I didn’t give in to my initial fear and discomfort. The Birthright Armenia experience in Gyumri was an authentic, immersive, and enriching opportunity. I enjoyed the slower pace of life and the small group of volunteers who feel like a family to me.

Words cannot describe how much I am going to miss the other volunteers, the Birthright Armenia coordinators in Gyumri, and my dear host mom Angela. They have impacted my life in more ways than one. Angela and I formed a meaningful connection despite the language barrier between us. I came to Armenia with very little knowledge of the language – I didn’t even speak mi-kich hayeren– but now I can read, write, and hold a conversation.

Learning Armenian in Gyumri

I originally came to Armenia discover my purpose and “find myself,” which are goals you can’t fully accomplish in ten weeks or even ten years, because it’s a life-long journey. My experience in Armenia completely changed the path I see myself on in the future. I arrived here thinking that when I returned home, I would pick back up right where I left off. Since living in Armenia though, I know that’s not possible. I plan to continue learning the language and connecting with the other diaspora in my city. I know for sure I will return to Armenia because a part of myself has never left.


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