I think my experience in Armenia began a little differently than that of most volunteers. During my first week in Armenia, I called my parents to tell them that I wouldn’t be able to endure three and a half months here in Armenia. ''Two months is fine and I will go back'' I said. They responded, ''Melanie, you just arrived. It's normal to feel that way. Just give it a little more time''. And so that same week, I had orientation where the Birthright Armenia staff explained to the new group of volunteers how it is here in Armenia and gave us an idea of how to handle ourselves, our job sites, our host families, etc. Although I was very nervous about the fact that I spoke very little Armenian at the time and only had English to communicate with others, I met incredible people that day from different countries, many of whom I know will always be part of my life...
The first excursion with the group of new volunteers (Alina, Talar, Armen, Max, Araz, and I) was to the Lori region. What we experienced on this excursion was really unique and it gave us the opportunity to get to know the “old” volunteers, as well as each other, better. Because of this excursion, my fears disappeared and now, unlike how I felt in the first few days of being in Armenia, I don’t want these three and a half months to end.
Currently, my volunteer placement is at the Muratsan Hospital Complex. However, I previously worked at the Daniel Varujan School and the Macsedan School where I taught physical education and Spanish, respectively. In addition to working at the hospital, I also worked for Birthright Armenia to translate the experiences of other volunteers from English to Spanish. Reading so many experiences led me to want to do the same and write my own. I thought for a long time about what I wanted to write since you experience so many things when you are in Armenia and you don't know where to start. Take, for example, my host family experience; in my case, I dare to say that I had one of the best families. My parents, Liza and Armen, my brother, Grisha, and my sister, Serine, really made me feel that their house was also mine. They acted as my parents when I got sick and also included me in their important family celebrations. In addition to my family, I could also talk about the experience of living in Armenia with the locals: learning Armenian, the incredible excursions every weekend, hiking through different regions of Armenia, having lunch sitting on the grass next to the monasteries and churches, visiting Artsakh and living together with the people for four days. The list goes on. But finally, I decided to write about something that made up 80% of my trip... being a Birthright Armenia volunteer.
When we decided to come to Armenia, either for two months or indefinitely, we also made the decision to live apart from our families, our friends, and our country for a while. Personally, living alone for three and a half months scared me. But what most people don't know before coming is that new friends and another family are waiting for you here and that they will be with you throughout all times of the day and night - during the good times and bad. You spend your days with these people. Whether it is to eat dinner at night, have coffee in the afternoon, or eat lunch. At night, we almost always ran into the same problem where we didn't know where to eat. It sometimes took us an hour to decide because, while we were brainstorming, we got distracted by talking, suggesting somewhere that one of us hated just to annoy that person or places where we knew that the food was bad. Eventually, someone would say, ''Well, let's go to this place'' and so we would all walk in that direction (which is something that I love about Yerevan –you can walk everywhere). Then, we would go to a bar for drinks or, weather permitting, climb to the top of Cascade where we would sit and talk while admiring the landscape. We were always there for each other, giving the same amount of support whether one of us had a problem or someone just needed a friend.
Another amazing thing that I experienced thanks to the friends that I made here was to organize our own excursions. We would go somewhere outside of Yerevan either on a Saturday, when we didn't have an excursion, or on a Sunday, or holiday. Our first solo excursion was to Solak, near Bjni. We left the Birthright office in two taxis and after about an hour and a half, we arrived and started hiking in the mountains. The view became increasingly more beautiful as we scaled the mountain. My favorite moment of that excursion was when we stopped to rest on a rock, from which we had a spectacular view, and ate lunch while Eddie played “Holy Mountains” by System of a Down on his cell phone. At that moment, we were all silent - listening and admiring the beauty of our Motherland.
The second excursion we independently organized was to the Hankavan “Hot Springs” and Lake Sevan. Although it was a cold and rainy day, that didn't stop us from putting on our bathing suits and getting into the hot water. Then, while we were sitting in our taxis on the way to lunch, we saw three little puppies caught in the rain on the side of the road. We stopped our taxi and took the puppies in - we couldn't just leave them there. They were with us the rest of the day. We named the three sisters Shushi, Sevan, and Vahna. We took them to Lake Sevan, the Sevanavank monastery, and back to Yerevan. Later, our group of volunteers worked together to take care of them and find them homes. Although we were sad to find them in their initial conditions, nothing could beat the happiness of being able to help them.
Unique experiences and friends like these are what you should expect when you come to volunteer with Birthright Armenia.
Now that I am about to leave Armenia and return to Uruguay, I can say Birthright Armenia was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. This life-changing experience makes you grow in every possible way, especially as a person. And for myself, it made me even more proud of being Armenian.
Now I know that I have friends all over the world and a big family in Armenia and Birthright Armenia, which I know will always be there for when I return to my Motherland.