This is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, but after 2 months of procrastinating, I'm finally ready to do it.
I’m going to write about my experience with Birthright Armenia; why is such a simple task so hard to do you may ask? Well, I’ll have to relive the best days of my life and remember all of the wonderful memories I shared with amazing people, and while doing so I’ll have to try not to get emotional about it and cry.
I visit Armenia quite frequently as a tourist, but this time I wanted to experience something different, I wanted to be integrated into the local life, so I finally took off my tourist hat and decided to volunteer with Birthright Armenia, I felt like it was my duty as an Armenian to give back to my country.
My first 5 weeks of volunteering was going to be in Gyumri, I was nervous and excited at the same time. Everyone talks about how wonderful and lively Yerevan is, but you don't get the same commotion when it comes to Gyumri, which is honestly very sad. Gyumri is such an underrated and beautiful city, they don't give her enough credit. The people there are so nice and hospitable, they don't make you feel like you're less Armenian because you live in the diaspora and are “Arevmedahay”. The volunteering in Gyumri was pleasant and fruitful, I “shpvel”-ed with a lot of locals, and I understand them and their lifestyle more and I'm so happy that I had an impact on them no matter how little it was. As most people know there is no nightlife in Gyumri, but there is Emili Aregak. We would all go and chill there, drink some wine, talk, play games, and have a good time. Volunteering in Gyumri was honestly the highlight of my trip, from the locals to the volunteering, to the volunteers. Oh and I also met my second family there, the “GYUM GYUM GYUMRI CREW”. My host mom in Gyumri was incredible as well, she made me feel like I was at home. We would sit and talk for hours, she would give me advice about life and we would gossip and laugh. I met her family and neighbors and they all accepted me and loved my “Arevmedahay” accent. She would feed me so much that I'm pretty sure that I put on a few pounds in Gyumri. Saying goodbye to her and her delicious borscht recipe was really hard. A word of advice: If you are volunteering in Armenia, Gyumri is a must!
The transition from Gyumri to Yerevan was easier than I thought. I’m not going to lie it was intimidating at first, but I got an amazing host family and lots of new friends and I also had the chance to work with Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), which was amazing. I got to write special diets for diabetic patients and healthy diets for school kids in villages and I got to visit those villages and spoke to the patients about the importance of nutrition for their health and the students about the importance of eating healthy at an early age. COAF was truly a great place to volunteer, allowing me to feel like I was doing something meaningful with my time. I felt integrated with both city people and rural people which gave me a better understanding of life in Yerevan and in the countryside.
It was my birthday, I was kind of bummed since this would be my first birthday away from my family and friends. I had only known my host family for 3 days and yet they surprised me, they brought me a cake and a present. I was so touched and happy, they made my day very special and memorable. These are the type of people you meet in Armenia, they turn your frown upside down!
Birthright Armenia didn’t just give me the opportunity to volunteer, they gave me the chance to appreciate the beauty of Armenia through the excursions. I also got the opportunity to meet a lot of new people from all over the world, and now I have a global network. I only wanted to feel connected to my roots, but I feel connected to so much more. Thinking about it now I miss everything from the funniest and longest train rides to the singalongs with Hayk during the excursions. The only negative thing I could say about my experience in Armenia is that it was over too soon and one day I woke up and found myself in the airport, with red and puffy eyes, not ready to leave my country, my home! *it took me exactly 2 months to comprehend that I’m not a volunteer anymore and that I’m an alumnus :(*
After everything I experienced in Armenia, I’m ready for the next step: Repatriation.
My journey of self-discovery is officially over, I hope you’ll make time for yours!
So much love to the Birthright Armenia family.