Cranston, RI, United States
When I first applied to volunteer in Armenia I assumed that I would be living and working in Yerevan. However, when the Birthright staff suggested I split my time between Gyumri and Yerevan, I quickly accepted the opportunity and I am incredibly happy that I did.
One of my favorite parts about Gyumri were the people. The other volunteers, the people on the marshrutka's, in stores, at my workplaces, and my students were some of the kindest people I have ever encountered. The crowded marshrutka rides were not very pleasant but it was always so nice to see the men and women offer you their seat or to hold your bag while you stood or to squeeze in so one more person could fit on the seat. I was also pleasantly surprised by how prideful all of the “Gyumretsi” people are. My students at the university loved teaching me about Gyumri’s history and the majority of them said they would never leave their beloved city. I also loved the close connections the Gyumri volunteers were able to form with one another since there were only ~25 volunteers.
My host mom named Anna, and I were able to communicate despite the language barrier (hand gestures and google translate helped a lot…). Each morning Anna’s neighbor, also named Anna, came over for soorj; she became like a second host mom to me. She didn’t miss one morning for the entire two months! On some evenings, we baked cakes together and she had me write down the recipes as we cooked so that I could bake them when I return home to remember her. One of my favorite memories was the night we went to neighbor Anna’s house for coffee and then they suddenly cleared the furniture and started having a dance party. They put on “Despacito” just for me.
I feel that I got the “true Armenian experience” by volunteering in Gyumri. I learned about the tragic past of the city, improved my Armenian language skills, saw the art and culture of the unique city, and experienced the hospitality and warmth of the people. I am so thankful for my time in Gyumri and I strongly encourage future Birthright participants to volunteer in Gyumri as well.