On the 4th of December 2016, a lifelong dream of flying into Yerevan with no departure date or ticket finally became a reality.
Having left Sydney 3 months prior to travel and see the world, the Armenia leg of my adventure had finally arrived.
Despite having no plans, friends or family in Armenia I flew into the country I love to see out winter, fulfill a lifelong dream of spending a long period of time in Armenia and await my entry into the EU to resume.
Though I’d been here twice previously, both visits had been in the peak of the tourist season for the Pan-Armenian Games and I had only been here for tow odd weeks per visit. I knew too well that these visits, as amazing as they were had really been but a tiny spec of the experience this majestic country and nation were capable of offering. Unfortunately, at the time the combination of not knowing how and not having the time meant I came and went as yet another tourist.
My first night back in Yerevan, I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with a group of Peace Corp volunteers in my hostel, we conversed for hours and I was overwhelmed by their answers to all my questions of their experiences, stories, and contributions.
Their answers had me both envious and grateful.
Our conversation leads me to glance over volunteering organizations in Armenia that very night, where I first heard and read about Birthright Armenia.
I was incredibly intrigued and enthusiastic at the thought.
I couldn’t believe I had never considered this before.
It had been almost exactly what I wanted to do and achieve here, to be able to live, work and learn here as an Armenian while simultaneously contributing to a people and country I’ve spent a lifetime proudly call my own.
Having this information and idea fresh on my mind I took one of the most unorthodox but equally courageous steps in my life by walking into the Birthright Armenia office the very next morning and requesting to be a volunteer.
To date the best decision of my life!
As unusual as my circumstances were, true to their nature the Birthright Staff helped me with every step of the process, I ironically completed and submitted my application from within the Birthright office.
The team helped me with everything from job site placements to a host family to live with.
The support and guidance I was given gave me an immediate comfort and sense of belonging and even helped silence some anxieties I was feeling towards the unknown journey ahead.
My original commitment was for the minimum standard of tree months, this suited me just fine as my plans were to continue traveling.
This role with Birthright gave me great joy as I was able to wake up and sleep as an Armenian, commute to work and do grocery shopping like a local and embrace the beauty of the challenging winter and overcome everyday obstacles a normal tourist would naturally keep their distance from. All of this whilst being given the opportunity to volunteer in fields that I’m either experienced in or just plain interested in.
I started my first volunteering role in a primary school assisting Physical Education teachers and even held my own basketball Training for students, I Also volunteered at a local children's hospital where I had an intense but instantly rewarding task of entertaining children being treated.
My volunteering end date came around far sooner than it was welcomed (as most volunteers will agree), so I did what most volunteers do, and I extended.
Despite being eager to get back on the road and continue seeing the world my involvement and understanding of Armenia was far too great and increasing rapidly to walk away from.
I was taking advantage of planned excursions weekly, being introduced to landmarks, historical sites, progressive organizations and adventures I could never have imagined existed in this country.
Being shown the Real Armenia, from nature hikes in Tatev to overnight excursions in Artsakh, exploring world accredited universities in Dilijan to participating in projects of school renovations in Gyumri.
I started my fourth month by volunteering at Yerevan Zoo and holding English classes at the city center library, both experiences like every other I’ve had in this country, life changing and cherished.
I’m now in my seventh month and have extended Yet again, I’ve seen winter come and go, I’ve experienced the most magical Armenian spring that used to be no more than lyrics in song, I saw summer come in and make winter an almost questionable memory, I laid a flower on April 24 and waved a flag on Mayis 28, I’ve eaten khash for breakfast and picked the sweetest apricot straight off a tree, I’ve forged friendships that are immeasurable and unquestionably lifelong, I remember the day I thought to myself, I’m not a tourist anymore, I have both family and purpose here.
I’ve now committed until October 2017, with my month of September planned to be spent in Artsakh,
I can’t quench my thirst of what Birthright Armenia is constantly striving to offer.