“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship” ~Louisa May Alcott
Reflecting upon where I had been located for the past eight months after making the decision of stepping outside my comfort zone, it still feels surreal to me the immense joy I felt through my international experience in Armenia. It was certainly not an easy decision to leave what I perceived as my comfort zone for a longer-term than I was accustomed to when it comes to travel, but to step into what became my “optimal zone” through this experience, it has helped me become more aware of what it feels like to be aligned with my full potential. As an Armenian American, I made the decision last year to apply to Birthright Armenia feeling the need to reconnect with my ethnic roots, and my stay in Armenia has been more than a Birthright Armenia experience for me. I feel I experienced a Rite of Passage where I have been able to surrender to allowing curiosity to take me on a quest into the unknown. Allowing this curiosity to guide me these eight months has made me feel I am living my life fully and confidently, and I have become further aware of this sense of freedom when I allow myself to be curious and step outside the parameters of comfort. From this perspective, the content I have been feeling throughout this international experience of moving past self-imposed barriers to come to allow myself to ride a current not knowing exactly where the flow is taking me equals a Rite of Passage for me.
Accustomed to what can be described as an autopilot lifestyle, I realized I couldn’t ignore the yearning to sign up for this program even though I felt a level of discomfort of having more questions than answers. I realized I needed to make the choice to accept the not knowing, release attachment to expectations in order to be able to allow my curiosity to lead the way and experience my experiences for what they are. And my experiences have been amazing: more amazing than I could have imagined! What has been especially meaningful for me throughout my time in Armenia is the volunteer work I engaged in and the incredible individuals, I have met along the way. From October 2018 until March 2019, I served as a volunteer with the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF). I developed COAF’s Civic Education Program curricula by creating lesson plans and projects to be implemented in COAF beneficiary schools in villages throughout Armenia as well as launched and taught yoga programs for children in the beneficiary villages of Myasnikyan and Hatsig in the Armavir Province. In Artsakh (also known as Nagorno Karabagh; see description on Artsakh below under “10 Interesting Facts About Armenia”), I volunteered for six weeks in the capital city of Stepanakert at Mesrop Mashtots University and visited village schools throughout Artsakh creating professional development workshops for university lecturers and worked with a professor to advocate education reform through revitalizing curricula to incorporate critical and creative thinking in the classroom. Following Artsakh, I made my way to Vanadzor and joined Teach for Armenia to help organize the Kids Education Revolution Summit which brought together students, teachers, principals, and other stakeholders to gather, discuss and unveil students’ roles as change-makers in the process of education reform. I also worked with COAF, this time at their SMART Center in Debet, introducing and teaching yoga classes for mothers and their children. All in all, I was in Armenia until the end of June 2019 and currently back home in The United States to pursue graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
The individuals who have impacted me the most throughout my experiences in Armenia are the youth with whom I have worked with whose bright smiles and enthusiasm shone forth the joy of learning. The excitement to meet and work with volunteers, Birthright Armenia staff and co-workers made my experience in Armenia evermore enjoyable! These interactions, whether it was in remote villages or cities, have served as moments for me to reflect on the questions I came with and to come up with even more questions. I have come to realize having more questions than answers keeps me curious!
You may be wondering whether I feel more Armenian at this point? What I feel is I belong to a society that extends into a large family. Thus, I feel I am a member of this larger family, known as Armenia. Armenia is a place for me as a Diasporan Armenian that I identify as my home and feel united and free to fully embrace and live my ethnic identity. Being present day in and day out to hearing and speaking the Armenian language, meeting fellow Armenians and exchanging views, site seeing and learning about the Armenian nation’s history and current issues affecting Armenians, I have developed a wider perspective of components that make up the Armenian nation. What I enjoy and feel symbolically celebrates and upholds this unity, belonging and being a member of this extended family is the Armenian Shoorchbar (“Circle Dance”), frequently danced during parties, weddings, among other occasions. Coming together as a group to experience this dance, whether holding hands or shoulders, moving in unison, embodies and solidifies for me the joy of being a member of this extended family. We may step to the left, then right, maybe forward and then back, reverse steps, but we move together, honoring the flow of the dance. Honoring the ease of going with the flow. Journeying through my Rite of Passage in Armenia, whether it is on a current or in a dance, allowing the flow to guide me, I can fully appreciate where curiosity has led me.
So, are you ready to see and experience Armenia for yourself?
10 Interesting Facts About Armenia
- Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia is older than the ancient city of Rome. Yerevan celebrated its 2,800th anniversary in October 2018.
- Armenia is making strides towards becoming an IT and tech hub within the Caucasus region. PicsArts, founded by an Armenian and with a headquarter office in Yerevan, is a leading image editing and collage app.
- American University of Armenia is a U.S. accredited institution in Yerevan offering undergraduate, graduate, certificate and study abroad programs for domestic and international students. Yes, you can study abroad in Armenia!
- Known as the “Armenian Stonehenge,” Karahunj is an archaeological observatory site in the Syunik Province of Armenia.
- A historically Armenian territory, Artsakh (also known as Nagorno Karabakh) is a de facto independent country that declared its independence from Azerbaijan in 1988, underwent a war of independence and entered into a ceasefire in 1994. The tension continues, interfering with conflict settlement efforts as well as with aspects of daily life for Artsakh inhabitants.
- Armenia is the first country as a nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion. The Echmiadzin Cathedral is one of the oldest churches built in the world with the majority of the construction completed during the 4th century.
- Eduard Ter-Ghazaryan is considered to be the founder of micro miniature, a fine art form creating art smaller than the eye of a needle. His work is in display at Ter-Ghazaryan’s Micro Art Museum in Yerevan.
- To visit the Tatev Monastery, you can ride the Wings of Tatev which is the longest reversible cableway in the world (5,752 meters).
- Chess is a compulsory subject taught in schools throughout Armenia. No wonder Armenia boasts having the most chess grandmasters per capita than any other country!
- Armenia celebrates Book Giving Day on February 19th to simultaneously celebrate the birthday of the renowned Armenian literary figure Hovhannes Tumanyan.