blog inner top
29 Feb, 2024

Home is Where the Heart is: The Host Family Experience with Birthright Armenia

5 min read

At the heart of our volunteer program lies a unique opportunity for diasporan Armenians to immerse themselves in the warmth of Armenian culture by living with a local host family. This experience is more than just accommodation; it's an opportunity to learn customs and traditions, build lasting relationships, and feel a part of something bigger.

Our volunteers, Matthew from Canada and Samantha from the United States, share their firsthand experiences, allowing us to see the impact of their stays with host families.

Pre-Arrival Jitters and Warm Welcomes

Matthew reflects on his initial concerns, admitting he had some fears before living with his host family. “At the time, I didn’t speak any Armenian and had little knowledge of customs and traditions." His fears, however, were quickly allayed by the family's understanding, illustrating the program's foundation of mutual respect and cultural exchange.

Similarly, Samantha was worried about the language barrier. “I didn't know any Armenian other than 'Barev!' (Hello!) and 'Inchpes es?' (How are you?),” she says. Samantha weighed her options about living with a host family that spoke English. Ultimately, she chose a family that didn't speak any English to challenge herself and improve her language skills. Although this decision made the initial adjustment difficult, it proved to be rewarding. “It has been rewarding to witness the growth of my language skills, allowing for richer and more meaningful conversations “with my host family,” she notes.

First Impressions: A Gateway to Armenian Hospitality

From the moment they arrived, both Matthew and Samantha were enveloped in the genuine warmth and hospitality of their respective host families. Matthew's journey began in the early hours: “I arrived in Armenia around 3 a.m., so my initial impression was how welcoming my host family was, greeting me warmly despite the early hour. I was immediately grateful for their effort. Also, it quickly became clear that my host mother, Armine, is an incredible cook!”

Samantha's experience mirrored this warmth, “As soon as I entered [my host family’s] home, my host mom immediately offered me food and showed me around, making me feel comfortable and genuinely excited about my stay.” These initial encounters not only set the tone for their stays but also showcased the deep-rooted hospitality that defines Armenian culture.

Cultural Immersion and Shared Traditions

Living with a host family provided Matthew and Samantha with an authentic cultural immersion. From participating in holiday traditions to learning the intricacies of Armenian cuisine, both volunteers experienced the daily life and festivities that define Armenia's cultural identity. These shared experiences not only deepened their understanding of Armenian culture but also fostered a sense of belonging.

“The biggest way my host family has contributed to my cultural immersion has been by exposing me to many Armenian dishes” Matthew shares. Samantha's experience was similarly enriching: “My host mom taught me how to wrap dolma as well as help her chop some ingredients for traditional Armenian dishes.”

Memories to Last a Lifetime

Unique and memorable moments were the cornerstone of both Matthew’s and Samantha’s stays, enriching their experiences with warmth and a sense of belonging. Matthew reminisces about the holidays, capturing the essence of Armenian family gatherings: “Spending New Year's with [my host family] was quite special and unique for me,” he reflects, highlighting the laughter, gifts, and togetherness that marked the celebration. “We exchanged gifts and shared a big dinner, making it incredibly special to gather around the table with everyone. Watching the ball drop and ringing in the New Year together added to the uniqueness and significance of the experience for me.”

Samantha cherishes the simpler, daily interactions that deepened her connection to her host family. “Although I'm part Armenian, my upbringing was very American, so my knowledge of Armenian family life came mostly from stories and social media,” she admits. “On my second day, as I was having breakfast, my host mom, speaking to her sister on the phone, suddenly turned the phone towards me for a chat,” she explains. Initially, this unexpected introduction felt awkward for Samantha, but it has since evolved into a heartwarming routine of exchanging greetings whenever her host mother’s sister is on the line.

Navigating Cultural Differences

Navigating cultural differences has been both enlightening and amusing for Matthew and Samantha during their stays with Armenian host families. Matthew encountered an unexpected cultural nuance regarding–of all things–temperature tolerance: “Sometimes, I wear shorts around the house, and my host mother gets concerned, thinking I'm cold! But I reassure her I'm not, explaining that being from Canada, I'm quite accustomed to the cold and feel comfortable this way!”

Samantha, on her end, navigated her own set of cultural differences, from language barriers to daily routines. Her efforts to communicate and participate in family life, despite the initial challenges, brought her closer to understanding and appreciating the intricacies of Armenian culture.

Evolving Relationships: From Guests to Family

As Matthew and Samantha's stays with their Armenian host families progressed, their relationships deepened, transcending the initial guest-host dynamic to forge genuine familial bonds. Matthew reflects on this evolution with warmth, stating, “They sort of feel like family now.” This simple yet profound statement encapsulates the journey from being an outsider to becoming an integral part of the household. The transition wasn't just about getting used to living arrangements or cultural differences; it was about building trust, sharing experiences, and creating memories that anchored him to his host family in a meaningful way.

Samantha shares a similar experience of growing closeness with her host family, emphasizing the sense of security and belonging this relationship has provided her. “It has made me feel safe, and I know that I have people who care about me and my well-being,” she says. This sentiment highlights the emotional comfort that comes with being accepted and loved as a family member. For Samantha, this bond has been a source of support, making her volunteer experience in Armenia not just an opportunity for cultural exchange but a journey of finding a second home.

Matthew and Samantha's experiences with their host families in Armenia underscore the impact of cultural immersion. Their journey from guests to family members highlights the importance of openness, patience, and effort in bridging cultural gaps. They advise future volunteers to embrace every moment, engage actively with their host families, and immerse themselves fully in the local culture. Such an approach, they believe, not only enriches the volunteer experience but also fosters deep, lasting connections.

Learn more about living with a host family here!



View More arrow-right
Breaking Barriers: Armineh's Impact on Inclusion in Armenia
3 min read
Tips for Learning Armenian: Insights from Birthright Armenia Volunteers
3 min read
Message was successfully sent
Thank you for uploading your documents!
Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter
Thank you. Your information has been submitted.