Who am I?
That’s the question many of us try to answer or understand most of our lives. For some, it is quite easy to answer (or so they think). For others like myself, it’s a bit more complicated as we continue to live and evolve.
Let me tell you who I was 5 months ago. I will then tell you who I am today.
I was a 32-year-old Parskahay (Iranian-Armenian), a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a marketer with big career ambitions. I was lost. I was unhappy. I forgot who I was supposed to be and couldn’t get a grip on my busy North American life. It was all I’d known for over 20 years. I needed change – a radical one at that, which is what brought me to Armenia through Birthright Armenia.
I have always identified myself as Armenian, even though I was born in Iran and grew up in Canada. And so I felt like I never belonged. I visited Armenia for the first time in 2008 after I graduated from University. It was my homeland. It was beautiful. But alas, I still felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t speak like a Hayastantsi, I looked more Russian than anything, and I dressed like a North American! I felt confused, and those feelings stayed pretty consistent during my next three visits to Armenia.
Fast forward to 5 months ago; I arrived with no expectations but a single goal in mind – to find myself. Whatever that meant. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a plan, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. I decided to have a little faith, and live in the moment knowing that I had full control over my life. That approach has changed my perspective on life. It has allowed me to appreciate the small things, and to find joy in the most unexpected places.
Over the last 5 months, I have surprised myself and stepped fully out of my comfort zone. I have met so many wonderful individuals who have dubbed me “Mom.” Being one of the eldest in the group has its perks, I guess. But it’s these young volunteers who have, in fact, taught me so much (including patience – so so much of it) and have inspired me. They have all been so very unique in their own way, with so much ambition and hope. We have experienced so many things together, some quite emotional. Thinking back to sitting on the floor of the Gandzasar Monastery (Treasure Mountain) on our way back from Artsakh, in a circle, in silence and seeing the emotions, the tears, the stillness – that was monumental. You can thank Sevan for the tears.
Birthright Armenia has given me the courage to try new things without fear, to broaden my outlook on what is possible, and to dream big. In my time with the program, I have mentored young startuppers, judged an all-girl startup competition, appeared on a live national TV morning show, and worked in the world of football (soccer for you North Americans), which was a big dream of mine. I have learned to adapt to a new working culture and to find ways of contributing to projects that bring value long term.
The program has also allowed me to strengthen my Armenian communication skills – which as a diasporan, I always felt less than adequate in. I have negotiated pricing and charmed vendors while shopping at the Vernissage market, managed to get into an argument with a taxi driver and communicated my frustration with him, and even discussed a new pre-incubation program on a live national TV program – all of which I’m all equally proud of. Even though I may speak differently than the locals, I now have the confidence to live amongst them without the fear of not being understood.
I started this journey with a plan to stay for 3 months. Like most volunteers, I extended my stay once I realized that I needed more time to immerse myself in my culture truly. I needed time to be still and to reflect and to feel and to discover. Being away from the stresses of my North American life, I have given myself the freedom to live, to laugh, and to love. I leave Armenia with a different perspective of what is important to me in life. I leave knowing I now have a place I can always call home without feeling like an imposter. This experience has shifted my priorities and what I want from my life. And isn’t that what the journey of self-discovery is about?
So let me tell you who I am today. I am fierce. I am motivated. I am ever-changing. I am grateful. I am happy. I am a proud Armenian.
Thank you, Birthright Armenia, for challenging my perception of my identity and giving me the freedom to rediscover and love myself. What an epic journey it has been. To be continued…