The incomparable dose of excitement I felt walking out of Zvartnots airport on my first night in Armenia is something I will never forget. My summer as a participant in the AYF Internship program gave me the opportunity to visit my homeland for the first time in my life. The experience was unforgettable for that reason alone. However, coming upon half a year since the conclusion of the program, I am now able to see clearly the powerful long-term impact that my experience as an intern had on me. I participated in the AYF Internship program immediately after graduating from college. Being suddenly surrounded by Armenians my age was a stark contrast to my experience attending university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where there is no established community and where I spent the vast majority of my time tuned out from the Armenian world. Spending my summer living with people I felt so understood by and so connected to was nothing short of addictive. Further, in our particularly special year, the first to be hosted during the COVID crisis and following the previous fall’s war, I found the people around me alight with a contagious flame for Hai Tahd. Their constant encouragement to further engage with my own language, history and state of affairs firmly gripped my heart. Six months later, I find that their passion has bled into my own daily life in uncountable ways.
The people I interacted with during my time as an intern jumpstarted what became hands-down my most active year in the AYF. After meeting so many of my peers who held leadership positions within their chapters, I felt deeply encouraged to see what I could do to better support my own community and the organization as a whole. I followed my internship summer by participating in ANCA’s Capital Gateway Program in the fall, which meant moving to Washington, DC in search of a full-time job. I once again found myself living in a house full of Armenians; a natural-feeling step which fended off the sadness of the summer’s end. During this time, I was able to put to use my excitement for the AYF, as the Washington, DC “Ani” Chapter provides no shortage of opportunities to get involved. I also spent the fall attending regional events like Senior Seminar and ARF Weekend, where I not only was able to deepen my knowledge of the organization itself, but was also given a chance to reunite with my fellow interns. This passion for the AYF culminated in joining the Central Internship Council at the end of 2021, in the hopes of helping grant other young Armenians the same wonderful opportunities I received.
The professional experience I gained throughout my internships was indispensable and prepared me for the job hunt in the months that followed. Having interned at both the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and the National Library of Armenia, I had tangible experiences and projects to reference when trying to express my abilities as a team member and employee. The internships I was able to take part in during the program were exactly tailored to my interests and skills. I gained so much insight into the process of making progress with limited resources. I am so grateful to have supported teams that are making real change in Armenia. At the WRC, I was able to aid a project that secures disadvantaged women with independent income. At the National Library, I was able to play a direct role in creating professional development materials and literacy support resources. These endeavors helped me focus my job search later on and gave me a variety of experiences to draw on throughout the application process. The AYF Internship program is a valuable opportunity for college students and recent graduates to get hands-on experience in their field, among a deeply supportive group of peers.
Bonding and meeting new Armenians during my time as an intern gave me a much wider understanding of the powerful network that is the AYF. I am forever flooded with gratitude for this passionate community that cheers on its members and pushes them to be their very best. As my knowledge of the legacy and intricacies of the AYF has grown, I am all the more awestruck by the anniversary being celebrated this year, the 30th anniversary of the AYF Internship Program, which hosted its first class in 1992. I feel honored to have experienced one chapter in such an incredible story. Surely, I am not the only former intern who had their life forever altered by what they encountered during their summer in Armenia. The span of this deep impact stretched across 30 years is unquantifiable.
Summer 2021 was magical, unparalleled, unforgettable and life-changing. I would recommend the AYF internship to any Armenian college student. AYF membership is not a requirement, and neither are language skills! Spending the summer gaining practical work experience while exploring Armenia with a big group of friends seems like a promise too good to be true, and yet it is a real, once-in-a-lifetime experience unique to the AYF and one that I will always be thankful to have been a part of.