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Nicole Balian
United States 2024 participant
15 Jan, 2024

From Graduation Onwards: My Armenia Experience

3 min read

From the instant graduation passed in May, I was waiting to land at Zvartnots Airport, counting the days until I was in my homeland. I touched down in Armenia on Saturday, September 16th, ready to learn and immerse.

Three days later, on September 19th, Azerbaijan began bombing Artsakh.

For context, the moment my degree was conferred I realized how lost I was. Sure, I had received my bachelor’s in chemistry and planned on applying to medical school, but when and why seemed unclear.


So, In the middle of my Birthright orientation day, when we got the news of the bombings, as worried and enraged as we were, I realized that some things might happen because of a barbaric dictatorship regime who you share a border with, and others happen for a reason. During the 2020 war, a common feeling throughout diasporan Armenians was helplessness. We can raise money and run social media campaigns, but nothing compares to being on the ground. Nothing compares to being in Armenia and helping with your own two hands rather than using them to scroll through social media looking for information.

I can’t even say there was a “call to action” because there was just action. Frontline Therapists, an NGO that provides mental support for all soldiers and their families affected by the wars, posted that they needed volunteers and I was there. Within hours, I was helping their team organize endless donations of clothing, hygiene products, and dry goods. Once people began to cross the border, we began taking phone calls from Artsakh families so that we could organize bags for them with essential items and the entire Frontline office became a makeshift store for those who wanted to stop by and collect items themselves.


As my time with Frontine Therapists came to an end, my actual job site was waiting. I began volunteering at Wigmore Clinic, shadowing doctors, watching surgeries, and assisting nurses. In my free time, I began working with a group of diasporan Armenians collecting donations and distributing them to Artsakh families as they settled into villages nearby Yerevan. Somewhere between learning all the medical terms in Armenian and negotiating prices for 250 socks at Petak, I found a purpose.

If there is anything Birthright has taught me thus far, it is that with enough drive and love for Armenia, you can do it all. I’ve attended countless Forums hosted by Birthright alumni where they show the initiatives and companies they have started in Armenia. Rather humbly, they explain how they took their careers in other countries, adapted them to Armenia, and made a life for themselves here. Listening to them, I’ve realized that one day I wish to be giving the same speech in the Birthright office.


One forum in particular especially inspired me. Dr. Shant Shekherdimian, an Armenian-American pediatric surgeon spoke to us about how he spends half the year performing surgery in America, and the other half in Armenia working to improve pediatric and family medicine. This spurred me to find a second job site working under the Children of Armenia Fund with Dr. Lorky Libaridian, another pediatric doctor working to push public health in Armenia. In the few short weeks that I have been working with Dr. Libaridian, I have learned more than I could imagine. My current project is scouring out which health screenings are conducted in Armenia, how (if at all) that data is tracked, and the reasoning behind the selection of screenings. I am creating the same list for several other countries and the hope is that health screenings done in Armenia can be optimized to reflect other national standards.

Armenia as a country and as a people has been around for a long time. We cannot discount how far we have come, but we need to unite to secure our future. Realistically, Birthright is still just a dot in the centuries and centuries that is Armenian history. I even less. With each volunteer that arrives in Armenia though, the Birthright dot shines a little brighter. Now more than ever, however, it is so important that we realize each dot that we represent, on a map, in history, in our timeline, makes an impact. As I write this I have just about a month and a half left in my Birthright journey. I’ll blink and it will be over. Yet the impact that Birthright has had on my future, will still be with me throughout all the decisions I make going forward.



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