I used to ask myself, “Why would I ever leave Glendale to go to Armenia?” Today I ask myself, “Why would I leave Armenia to go to Glendale?”
The first time I visited Armenia in 2016, there was some charm to it, which I never expected. It was nice to hear people pronounce my last name correctly. I loved being able to see my dad’s home in the 1970s before he moved to America. I didn’t even mind eating tomatoes and cucumbers every day! (But really, I could eat Armenian apricots all the time).
More than halfway into graduate school, I felt lost and out of place. In a way, I felt like America wouldn’t give me a chance. Birthright Armenia was the first place I felt accepted and given a chance to jump-start my career and to discover more of my likes and dislikes. It felt like Armenia needed me, but oddly enough, I didn’t realize that I needed Armenia too.
If You Speak Armenian, Learn More!
Despite being “street fluent” in Armenian, one of the greatest challenges I had when I first arrived was having conversations I’ve never had before. My kitchen sink, Internet, laundry machine, hot water, and key in my apartment did not work. I didn’t even know how to pay the utility or cell phone bills (hint they’re orange kiosks located all over). I had to really scrape every bit of the language out of my brain to explain my issues to people.
Even having grown up in Glendale my whole life, people still mix in English words while speaking Armenian. So, if I don’t hear the proper word in Armenian, I have no idea that it exists!
Note: Sometimes Russian-izing certain words works! (i.e. Ibuprofen: EYE-B-pro-fen; E-BOO-pro-fen)
Befriend Your Neighbors/Locals to Get Insider Info
Getting to know some of my neighbors has been one of my favorite parts of my experience in Armenia. I got to know my downstairs neighbors who are a sweet elderly doctor couple who always invite me over for coffee. I even had my moments where I got sick and would knock on their door for advice. They even have two dogs! Nikki and Michelle. Yes, I share a name with a dog.
Don’t be Afraid of Public Transportation, It’s so Affordable!
Public transportation in Yerevan is actually pretty great. Most forms of transportation only cost 100 drams. The street trolly is only 50 dram. Although Google Maps does not really provide any routes, there is an app called A2B Transport that only works for Androids, that provides bus/marshrutka routes.
Don’t shy away from taking the marshrutkas (AKA mini-buses). They’re not that bad! If you’re uncomfortable in the beginning, start with the subway. That’s more rigid and easier to understand. Save the cabs for when public transport shuts off in the evening (11 pm).
Note: The subway stations are the best places to cool off in the summer!
Never Shy Away from a Kef, You’re Always Invited
Armenians LOVE to party and the word to describe that is kef. Kef refers to the joy of a celebration. It generally means a big party with khorovats (Armenian BBQ), vodka shots, people you care about (even strangers), dancing, and upbeat music. I’ve had so many Kefs in Armenia, and each one sticks into my memory. Each kef was hosted by people I had never met before, who treated me like family. Kefs are an absolute treasured memory that will always remain in my heart.
Things Aren’t Backwards Here, Just Different. And That’s Okay
People sometimes say, “things are so backwards here. I feel like I’m in the 1950s.” But, I think people sometimes forget that there is beauty in “backwardness.” There’s something truly smile-worthy about eating fruit picked from someone’s yard being sold on the street. There’s total charm in not having a dryer and hanging your clothes on the line hoping your underwear doesn’t fall 5 flights. I know it can be hard to maneuver around certain comforts from home, but the best thing I’ve ever done for myself is realizing the total cliché, every cloud has a silver lining. Insofar as women’s rights, yeah there’s some work to be done. I’m still not used to being asked whether or not I’m married (My response generally is that I’m still a child). While I know this might be a total American move on my end, spreading feminist ideals isn’t the worst thing I could be doing in Armenia. I have no shame in that. Yes tuna mnatsadz chem (I'm not a spinster).
The “R” Word
Repatriation had never crossed my mind until I came to Armenia. The echo from my childhood still rings in my head at times, “Why did you leave Glendale to go to Armenia?” “Why did you leave Glendale to go to Armenia?”
The fact of the matter is that I feel important in Armenia. I feel loved, embraced, and rarely alone. That is absolutely something special. And while my entire family is in Glendale and there are plenty of Armenians to make me feel “at home,” there is a certain special charm to Armenia that Glendale can never have.