Bianca Bernardi volunteered with Birthright Armenia during the summer of 2014. Since then she graduated from Fordham University with a degree in Political Science. She then decided to come back to Armenia for an extended amount of time to explore the Mock Trial teams and share her personal experience.
Though I was raised in Los Angeles, I grew up sort of disconnected from any Armenian community. So, when I came to Armenia for the first time through Birthright Armenia in 2014, I had no idea what to expect. Aside from infrequent trips to Glendale, my exposure to Armenian culture was reserved to my small family. Yet, suddenly, I was in a country where people spoke Armenian, wrote in Armenian, followed Armenian traditions, just like we did. Needless to say, my first week was complete shock. Yet, with the help of Birthright, I quickly acclimated. My time in Armenia was nothing short of amazing- I met great people, went to beautiful places, and learned so much about a country I had heard stories about for so long. In fact, not only did I learn about Armenia, but also Armenia helped me learn about myself.
As everyone’s time started to wind down, there was a lot of talk about what it meant to volunteer in Armenia. Is there a certain amount of time that a volunteer needs to stay? Is it a failure if a volunteer never returns to Armenia? These were some of the most interesting conversations I had as a diasporan participating in Birthright, and though I never formed a definitive answer for any of these questions, I knew that I personally was not done with Armenia and that as soon as possible, I would be back.
After I returned to the US for my last year of college at Fordham University, I reflected a lot about my time as an undergraduate student. I quickly realized that the most formative part of my experience, and what I would miss the most after graduating, was competing with my school’s mock trial team. Mock trial is a club activity where students imitate a trial by acting as attorneys and witnesses, and compete at several tournaments throughout the year. Through mock trial, I gained some of my best memories and even my closest friend. Mock trial challenged me to think more, work harder, and helped me hone practical skills such as listening, reasoning, and public speaking.
I knew immediately that mock trial was my key to returning to Armenia. After graduating, I moved back to Armenia and have been working to develop a mock trial program that I hope schools across the country will adopt. In the meantime, I’m very excited to be able to help coach several of the ongoing mock trial programs by the law department at the American University of Armenia. Mock trial had a significant impact on my life, and my hope is that mock trial will become more widespread in Armenia, and that students here will be allowed the same positive experiences I was.