Astrid Mai Barsegjan
After finishing my bachelor’s degree this spring, I knew I wanted to take a gap year to travel, but also in the meantime gain some work experience in my speciality. I’ve grown up in a small country named Estonia, where the only Armenian I knew was my dad and the other half-Armenian my brother. There has been no active community here, at least I have not found any. Telling my father about this idea to go and explore the world, I was very intrigued by his suggestion to volunteer in Armenia. This was also a great chance to re-awaken my genetical memory and visit Armenia for the very first time.
Applying to Birthright Armenia was one of the best choices I’ve made in my young life. Looking back at this experience, it surely did not only offer me the insight of what it feels like to live in Armenia, but also grew me as a person: I feel much more grounded, clarified and ambitious.
I got to see that there are diasporan Armenians with very varied backgrounds: some, like me, who have had no connection to being an Armenian in their lives (other than eating lavash and seeing your parent make green beans with eggs), all the way to people who are fluent in the language and have visited the country many times before. Never the less, I found friends for life just within almost 3 months.
Being in the program is so much more beneficial than just visiting the country as a tourist or with a work project. All the excursions and actvities are planned out so that volunteers get to see the „hidden“ part of the country or should I rather put it in another way: the upmost real and naked Armenia. I found myself discovering just how ancient and tough this country is and one can simply do nothing else than to fall in love with it.
Having the chance to work side by side with the locals 5 times a week, learning something new from them and seeing how things are managed in another country taught me more in 3 months than 3 years of school did. Being able to manage our own projects and reach out to local experts was something I feel utterly grateful for. This was a great way to boost my confidence and meet some amazing people, whom I know will greet me back anytime.
I will try to keep it short, because every volunteer’s experience is of course different, but if I asked my co-volunteer friends what they had gained, then almost all had reached their personal goals that they had regarding this volunteership. The same applies to me – being classically confused what to pursue in life I feel like the question got answered due to this decision.
So, even if you are scared that you have no idea how to be an Armenian (like me, haha!) then I still strongly urge you to grab a hold of this program and break out of your routine. Once you’re standing on a mountain gazing at Ararat I promise you: your heart and soul are at peace and thankful for your decision.