As a second-generation Armenian, born and raised in Los Angeles, my connection to Armenia had always been a deep-rooted desire. I yearned to experience the country not as a mere tourist but as a citizen. My prior visit to Armenia was a brief one and it was 18 years ago, so when the opportunity arose to volunteer with Birthright Armenia, I seized it. In this article, I'll share my unique journey, which unfolded against the backdrop of Armenia's burgeoning tech sector, and how this experience has left a positive impact on my life.
A Path to Armenia through Academics
My journey to Armenia began with my academic pursuits. I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in June 2019, having majored in Economics. While I initially planned to embark on my Birthright journey in 2019, certain circumstances led me to postpone it until the summer of 2023. In the interim, I completed my master's degree in Computer Science and decided to quit my job to fully immerse myself in the Birthright Armenia program.
Forging a Lifelong Connection with Armenia
My journey with Birthright Armenia was the pivotal first step in establishing a profound and enduring connection with Armenia. I harbored ambitious aspirations to contribute to the country's development, primarily focusing on the tech sector, where my strengths lie. My vision encompassed growing Armenia's GDP, elevating the standard of living, nurturing the nation's youth, and preserving the innate warmth and hospitality of the Armenian people—a quality that makes us truly unique.
My Birthright Armenia Work Placements
1. **Think Engineering Summer Camp:** My first placement introduced me to the world of volunteerism in Armenia at the Think Engineering Summer Camp in Hankavan. This week-long camp catered to kids aged 9 to 18, offering programming and robotics courses. Beyond typical camp activities, such as games, the daily schedule involved programming, math, logic, and English classes. Leveraging my computer science and economics background, I supported the camp by assisting in teaching these subjects and answering the children's questions.
2. **TUMO Workshop on REST API Development:** My second placement involved leading a workshop on REST API development with Java and Spring Boot at TUMO during the summer. The curriculum was challenging and comprehensive, covering topics such as REST APIs, Java programming, Spring Boot framework, and databases. I guided the students through lectures, collaborative programming, and independent project design. The students embraced the challenge and expressed their appreciation for the new knowledge they gained. Beyond teaching, I also acted as a mentor, sharing my industry experiences and providing career advice. It was a great and fulfilling experience to design and lead a workshop at TUMO. Having done professional REST API development with this tech stack, it was amazing to have an opportunity to give back.
3. **Armenian Code Academy Workshop on Prompt Engineering:** My third placement had me collaborating with another volunteer, a data scientist named Gary Vartanian, to prepare a workshop on prompt engineering for the Armenian Code Academy. This collaboration not only deepened my involvement in Armenia's tech sector but also allowed me to forge meaningful bonds with fellow volunteers. Prompt engineering, optimizing prompts for efficient use of LLMs, was a subject I had recently begun exploring. Preparing for this workshop offered me the opportunity to delve deeper into this field and engage with industry professionals and students. This was a great opportunity to grow my skills in an area I was interested in that I had not had much experience with before.
Other Work Placements
In addition to my work placements, I am involved in several projects. I'm supporting the development of a website for a construction project in Akunq village, working alongside a team of other dedicated Birthright Armenia volunteers. Additionally, I'm contributing to the early stages of a software project with other Birthright Armenia volunteers which is also led by a former Birthright volunteer, Armen Kherlopian.
Highlights of My Birthright Armenia Experience
During my time with Birthright Armenia, several aspects of the program have been particularly rewarding:
- Networking Opportunities: I've had the privilege of connecting with like-minded industry professionals in the IT sector, local Armenians, and fellow volunteers, and engaging with the local community.
- Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone: Instead of pursuing only a conventional internship at a tech company, I chose the path of teaching programming. This experience allowed me to give back, reinforce my understanding of tech concepts, and discover the rewards of teaching.
- Reconnecting with Family. My time in Armenia has given me the opportunity to strengthen bonds with family members whom I had only met once in my life. It underlines the importance of nurturing and attending to family relationships.
- Exploring Armenia. Birthright Armenia has enabled me to explore historical and interesting sites in Armenia through exciting excursions.
- Language Classes: I've taken advantage of language classes to learn proper Armenian, including reading and writing, enriching my cultural connection with the country and beginning a long-term commitment to learning to read, write, and speak Armenian. It will also help me indulge in Armenian literature including movies and books.
In conclusion, my journey as a tech volunteer with Birthright Armenia has not only deepened my connection to my ancestral homeland but also allowed me to contribute to its development in a meaningful way. Through teaching, mentoring, and collaboration, I hope to play a role in the continued growth and prosperity of Armenia's tech sector while preserving the essence of Armenian hospitality and warmth that makes our country truly special.