I live in a city where connection often doesn't come easily. Boston is an amazing place; it's been home since I was little. But winter comes and people zip their coats up past their ears, and suddenly you don't see your friends for two or three weeks at a time because the trek through the snow is exhausting on top of a 60-hour workweek. When I joined Birthright Armenia (BR), I didn't know what to expect. I don't think anyone really does. I had heard from a friend and read in blog posts that it was "life-changing," but it's hard to connect with big, bold statements like that when you read them on a computer screen from thousands of miles away.
Months later, as I sit on the plane ride home and reflect on what this experience has meant to me and for my life moving forward, two things stand out to me. The first is that I feel closer to the friends I made here in 12 weeks than to some people I have known since childhood. Birthright Armenia is amazing, but it's also an intense and challenging experience, especially if you have grown up disconnected from the Armenian community or struggle with the language barrier. We all have stories of frustrating interactions in taxis, restaurants, or work. Being thrown into a totally new environment with 100 people who are going through their own version of the same experience brings people close in a way that I have rarely encountered in my life. I have laughed more in the last three months than at any other time in my life. I've been more open and vulnerable with the people that I met in Armenia than friends I've known for years, and when we say "it's not goodbye," it is "see you later" we genuinely mean it.
The second takeaway is that it's nearly impossible to separate the Birthright experience from Armenia as a country. It's hard not to have an amazing time when you spend 6+ hours with people you love every single day of the week. So when you take the BR-colored glasses off, what's left? For me, there are the drives through the countryside where I looked out the window of an uncomfortable bus that had already broken down once that day (and still smelled a bit suspicious), and saw the landscapes pass by and felt overwhelmingly at home. Or when we knocked on a stranger's door with a bottle of wine and they invited us in and laid out a whole table's worth of food to share with us while their children told us jokes. Or when I said goodbye to my host mom and she told me I could always knock on her door, no matter how long it took me to get back. Armenia is not a perfect country; it has problems just like anywhere else, and it does everyone a disservice to ignore those. That being said, it is truly a remarkable place, and I've felt as much at home here as I have anywhere else in my life.
I can't say if I'll buy a return ticket in May or September, or 2 years or 4 or 10, but I know for sure that I'll be back.