Marlborough, MA, United States
I was nervous on the plane ride to Armenia. I had never left the country for more than a few days before this trip. I had no return date in mind as I bought the one-way ticket to leave home and travel over 5,400 miles from Boston. Six months later, I can say it has been one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences of my life.
I landed in Yerevan around one in the morning and walked out into the Zvartnots Airport terminal not knowing anyone and surrounded by people speaking a language I couldn’t understand. I had tried learning some words on the plane ride: “Hello” - “Barev”, easy enough. “Thank you” - “Shnorhakalutyun”... uh oh. When I arrived at my homestay around 2 AM, I was greeted by the excited faces of my host family and a meal big enough to feed a family of four. This was the perfect indicator of how my time would be with my host family - I was constantly eating a never-ending stream of dolma and khorovats until I felt like that girl that turned into a giant blueberry in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I’m very grateful that I had the chance to improve my ability to read, write, and speak Armenian through the free language classes offered by Birthright. Learning the language, both the formal written language and the local vernacular was an extremely fun but challenging process. “Tsk”, “mhm”, and “vay” all quickly became regular phrases for expressing myself in everyday conversation. My only advice to any potential future volunteers reading this is to practice every day and not be afraid to make mistakes. There are over one million people in Yerevan who are more than happy to help you practice.
Another aspect of the program I want to highlight are the excursions offered every Saturday that allow volunteers to experience and explore much of the country through well-organized trips full of exclusive stops and meetings that are usually not offered to the general public. One of my favorite memories I made in Armenia was the four-day excursion to Artsakh. Whether it was smoking hookah at two in the morning with the family of 8 living in the next room of our homestay, to being given a bottle of wine and told to knock on random doors in the streets of Shushi until someone let you inside, I loved meeting the people of Artsakh and getting to see firsthand their spirit of community, love, and resilience.
I also had the chance to meet people from all around the globe though thanks to this program. During my six month stay in Armenia, I had the opportunity to meet people from 37 different countries. The chance to become close friends with so many people from all over the world while learning firsthand about what life is like in their countries culturally and geopolitically is something I am very grateful for and will always remember. By far the best part of the entire Birthright experience for me was the friends that I made living here. I made a family here that I love deeply and will stay in contact well after my time in the Birthright Armenia program has come to an end.
One of the most fulfilling experiences of my time in Birthright Armenia was having my mother come visit Armenia for two weeks. My family hasn’t been in Armenia for over 100 years since the genocide forced my great-grandparents out of their homes and out of Armenia. Having two generations of my family here at the same time has filled me with a deeper reverence for the journeys and resilience of my great-grandparents in getting my family to where it is today. I hope they would be proud that even a tragedy with the magnitude and destruction of the Armenian Genocide could not separate our family from Armenia forever. I’m not sure that this reunion would have ever happened if it were not for Birthright Armenia’s generous financial support and public outreach, and I’m so grateful that they provide this opportunity to connect the diaspora with Armenia in such a meaningful and impactful way.
I’m leaving Armenia with a seemingly endless wealth of memories, photos, stories, and friendships that will last well past my time in Armenia. I have already planned another visit for Summer 2019, and with Armenia’s future in the solar energy industry looking very bright, I can see myself moving back for good one day once I finish my education. I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation towards the Hovnanian family and the entire Birthright Armenia family for providing me this wonderful opportunity. From the bottom of my heart, shnorhakalutyun.