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Christopher Mardiryan
Australia participant
29 Sep, 2023

More Than Eleven Thousand Kilometres Outside My Comfort Zone

2 min read

Deciding to Visit Armenia

When my brother participated in Birthright last year, he began a campaign to convince me to try it as well. He wouldn’t stop about how this would be a great experience and that the opportunity to participate in something that I shouldn’t pass up, especially as a member of the Armenian diaspora. Armenia is such a long way from Australia and being my introverted and stubborn self, I kept refusing until one day, my brother’s argument became just too convincing and I signed up spontaneously. I am incredibly glad he finally convinced me because signing up was one of the best decisions of my life. During my time in Armenia, I have been able to volunteer at a wide range of job sites, which were Popok Animation, Armnomads, the Gyumri Technology Center, Neograph Games, the Miassine Foundation, GoUp 3D Centre, and even at Birthright itself!

Meeting a Sea of Amazing and Diverse People

This was my first trip to Armenia, and not having had a lot of time apart from my family, I felt incredibly alone when I first landed. I immediately regretted my decision but this was simply my honest reaction to literally flying more than eleven thousand kilometres outside my comfort zone. I gave it time, however, and something magical happened. I began my volunteer work and began to meet people; both locals and other volunteers both Armenian and non-Armenian). Throughout the six months, I have been in Armenia, I have not stopped meeting people from America, Russia, France, the Netherlands, Argentina, and more. All of these people have been incredibly friendly and welcoming. I feel I’ve met people with whom I’ll always have a bond and I’m forever grateful. Including my lovely host family, every person I met presented a new viewpoint on the world and it’s been amazing to spend time with these people every day by exploring Armenia with them. This was through going on excursions, trying out new restaurants, experiencing the various amusement parks, and of course visiting the countless memorials, churches, and monasteries throughout the country. I have interacted with more people on this trip than in the last decade back in Australia and it’s been eye-opening.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience in Gyumri

During my stay, I spent some time in Yerevanbut mostly in Gyumri. For any future volunteers, Yerevan is undoubtedly a great place to spend your time but if you think you’d be interested, I also recommend spending time elsewhere and I cannot recommend Gyumri enough. Its culture is very different from Yerevan but the vibe is so inviting and your fellow volunteers will always be happy to spend some time with you outside of your volunteering hours. One particularly notable event that perfectly explains the hospitality of Gyumri families happened only a few months after I landed in the country. I joined a few volunteers one evening to explore the city. After a while, a nice lady saw us exploring and yelled across the way, inviting us in for coffee. Now, I’ll remind you that even with all the socializing I’ve been doing here in Armenia, I’d still consider myself an introvert so walking into a stranger’s house for coffee was certainly not something I wanted to do. As luck would have it though, my group (comprised of at least one much more outgoing person) convinced me to join them for an hour of coffee, apricots, and flawless Armenian dancing(not by me). Since at the time, I was the most skilled in speaking Armenian, the next hour comprised of me translating and keeping up the conversation while the lovely family brought more and more food out. It was definitely quite the experienceand we all ended up having fun. As much as I love Australia, I cannot imagine anything like that happening at home.

All the Support I Needed

The staff have additionally been wonderfully lovely, kind, and approachable throughout my time here. Even when there aren’t any issues, they always make sure to check just to make sure all our experiences are going smoothly. I wish them all well and may they keep doing such amazing work. Overall, while it’s been great to volunteer here and attempt to make a difference in Armenia in any way I could, it was the people I met that really made the experience great. I can’t even describe every experience I’ve had in just one blog post. It was such an incredible year and a spontaneous decision I am 100% ecstatic to have made.


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