If you're indecisive like me, coming to Armenia can be pretty risky. You come for a couple of months to try out "this Birthright thing," because it sounds like it might be kinda cool. You extend your trip a few months here, a couple more there, and then fine, maybe just one more year... And before you know it, half a decade has passed, you actually are kind of scared of the skvazniak, and you're using էլի in conversations in a non-ironic way.
But seriously, how lucky are we? Even those of us who, like me, grew up as loner Armenians - the only Armenian in school, knowing just a handful of words in the language of our ancestors (for me it was exactly four), those of us whose Armenian identity was always there, but unexplored.
I remember the pangs of jealousy when I first arrived in Armenia and I saw how easily the people who had grown up in Armenian communities seemed to slip right into a culture that was so foreign to me. I felt cheated because I hadn't grown up as a "real" Armenian. I didn't know the history, the songs, the traditions, the superstitions. There seemed to be an immediate connection that I was missing out on, and there was no way I was ever going to catch up.
But actually, now I think that maybe we - the loner Armenians - are the luckiest. Because we get to discover our Armenian-ness from zero. We have no history, no context, no frame of reference. And it's pretty cool to be able to experience it all with a totally blank slate.
And now that I'm settling back into my "home," the US, I can appreciate my Armenian-ness (or lack thereof) for what it is and what it has been in my life. It started out as a vague, nagging someday-I-should-really-look-into-this sort of feeling in my gut. And now, it's a proud and prominent this-is-pretty-incredible sort of feeling in my heart.
Allegra Garabedian, born in Maine, was a BR volunteer in 2011. She chose to live and work in Armenia for five years after she finished her BR volunteer service, first at AUA then moving on to PicsArt. She recently packed up her life in Yerevan and moved back to the United States, where she will continue working for PicsArt as their Content Manager, based in their San Francisco office.