By Laura Boyajian
It feels as though I just stepped off the plane at Zvartnots yesterday, but we have somehow almost reached the halfway point in our internship! It is encouraging to see the changes that have been made to this country since I visited Armenia last year. While each trip to Armenia is special in its own way, this experience seems entirely different; rather than being a tourist, I feel right at home. I am starting to become much more acclimated to city life and can finally walk around without relying on Google maps. The language barrier can be frustrating at times, as I wish I could fully interact with locals. But I am grateful for the help I’ve received from my fellow interns and coworkers and am getting along quite well despite my lack of fluency.
I split my time among three organizations and have appreciated the opportunity to gain exposure to a variety of work environments. At Orran, a children’s center located just down the street from our house, I am a teacher’s assistant and English tutor. I also spend two days a week working with occupational therapists at the My Way Training and Rehabilitation Center, which is funded by the Autism National Fund. I’ve enjoyed sharing my love for music with the students by playing the piano and singing with them during their music therapy sessions. I’m also involved with the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia where I am developing various workshops for young women on topics surrounding female leadership and mental health advocacy. I have gained significant insight into the social and political climate of Armenia through my research and conversations with coworkers. Perhaps it is this immersive perspective of the country and its people that makes me feel so much more connected to the motherland on this trip.
In addition to the connections formulated through our internships, this past month has been filled with unparalleled experiences as we’ve toured around the country and taken in the culture. In the four weeks we’ve been here, our group has already participated in a sit-in protest against a proposed flat-tax, attended an Armenian wedding, visited countless monasteries and museums, learned Armenian dances and songs and much more. My favorite excursion so far has been visiting the Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery. Although I traveled there last year, I developed a newfound appreciation for both churches as we explored the gorgeous landscape around the sites. We took a mile hike to the Symphony of Stones at Garni Canyon and were met with breathtaking views of the “Basalt Organ Pipes” rock formation. These rocks seem to defy gravity as they hang 50 meters above the ground. We did lose our way on our hike, but it was well worth the adventure. Thankfully, we were met with a familiar face who kindly offered to drive us back up to the temple. At Geghard Monastery, we cooled off at the holy water spring. We also explored an area behind the monastery where people can make a wish by tying colored bands to the trees; we embraced the scenery as we ate delicious khorovadz at the restaurant.
In the coming weeks, we will be traveling to Camp Javakhk, exploring Artsakh and camping near Lake Sevan. I love the location and warmth of our home and am learning to embrace life here in as many ways possible, even if it means being pushed outside of my comfort zone. My experience in our homeland has been incredible thus far and has provided me with countless new perspectives. I have never felt more proud of my Armenian identity and couldn’t imagine spending my time here with any other program or group of people!