Saint Helena, CA, United States
The first week I was in Gyumri, I was overcome by so many emotions. I felt overwhelmed, nervous and sad that a place so different from my home was going to be my new home for a month. Everything came at me so fast and I found it hard to adjust. The cultural differences, language barrier and lack of knowledge of Armenia were proving to be something I had to overcome. I won't lie, there were days where I didn't want to get out of bed, go to my jobsite or attend a language class. But then there were days where kids at my jobsite pulled my arms to keep me from leaving or when I was finally able to speak a perfect sentence in Armenian. My initial thought was that this place is too different from home and I wasn't sure I could handle it. But I am so glad I stuck it out because I wouldn't trade my time in Gyumri for anything.
I came to Armenia with a major in Human Environmental Sciences and a minor in Food Nutrition and Science. It's safe to say I like, love food. Being able to work with the kitchen staff at Herbs and Honey- a local tea shop in the center of Gyumri- and with kids at the KASA Foundation, was great. With my existing passion for food and love for looking after kids, I found both of my jobsites to be rewarding. I was in charge of creating a healthy lifestyle program for the kids at KASA and presenting the same to the kitchen staff at Herbs and Honey. I thought my presentations were basic. I highlighted important facts about fruits and veggies and encouraged kids to get active 60 minutes a day. But when I finished, both of my supervisors were so impressed and thankful for my work. I thought to myself, "Even though my presentation was basic if I helped one person today then I've done a good job." That mentality stuck with me all throughout my time in Gyumri. I wanted to make at least one person's smile each day.
Having language class twice a week was such a blessing during my time in Gyumri. Shoutout to Armine at the language school because she made my adjustment here a very smooth one. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I looked forward to new words and how I could use them at home or during my days. I am so glad that Birthright provided a language teacher for me. Armine gave me a strong foundation for my Armenian and the confidence to practice my skills in real life. I now can have a basic conversation with anyone which is worlds better than where I first started here!
With my new found tenacity for Armenian, came a better relationship with my host family. We could now speak about our days, ask each other questions and connect on a level that I didn't think was possible. I was so grateful for my host family because they welcomed my terrible language skills. They never let me leave the table without having at least four plates of food and dessert. The entire family created such a loving environment for me that I will never forget.
Last but certainly not least, the volunteers. Ani Kemanian, I want to give you special recognition because I wouldn't have survived Armenia without you. My entire Gyumri crew got me through my tough days and joined me on the amazing ones. From Raffi Bilemjian walking me home at night, Kevork Krikorian taking endless candids of me and Ani, Tina Sarkisian for holding my hand while I got tattooed and Ani Kemanian for putting up with me 24/7; I could not imagine my time here in Armenia without you all. Volunteers including Seerena, Sophia, Nan, Belu, Razmig, Mary, Talar and the others allowed me to be comfortable in a new place. They were not only volunteers but my family. These individuals brought me a sense of home even when I was 7,000 miles away from California. I am eternally changed and thankful!
So was my time in Gyumri challenging? Yes. Did I want to give up some days? You bet. But I will never forget my weeks spent here there. The excursions I went on, the people I've met, the food I've eaten and this new culture has changed me for the better. I have learned so much about my ancestors and the struggles they went through. My goal of embarking on this journey was to feel more connected to my Armenian heritage. I knew little to nothing about 25% of my DNA. Through Birthright, I was able to meet volunteers like me who were searching for their identity. I have never felt this Armenian and that's all thanks to Birthright, the city of Gyumri and country of Armenia. You have changed me forever!