As our final days of Youth Corps come to an end, I realize that in the past six weeks on this trip, there were times when I had never felt more exhausted, uncomfortable, excited, happy, intrigued, or even sad. I experienced a number of “extremes” and discovered things about myself I didn’t know beforehand.
At the same time, I have never been so satisfied with six weeks of my life. By embracing every moment as a learning experience, I have gained more from this trip than I ever anticipated. I decided to do Youth Corps not only to be able to influence the future of Armenia through its youth, but to cover the physical and emotional distance that had developed between me and my homeland. I had visited Armenia twice before to visit family, but this time I came not as a tourist or onlooker, but an involved and contributing individual. I know I’ve made an impression on people here and I hope that it will somehow echo in the future. Now as I prepare to leave I have never felt closer to my own culture, my homeland and its people. Of course, I was able to have the joy of waking up to work with amazing children every single day. Their sharp wit, intelligence, humor, and optimism moved me and taught me that hope and happiness persist and life goes on even in the most meager conditions. I can not begin to describe how much I have learned about the history of Hayasdan and Artsakh, topics that shamefully I new little about. I made it a personal responsibility to absorb as much information as I could. Additionally, I formed a deep emotional connection to my homeland, something I knew I lacked. I’m rarely a very emotional person, but the moment I stepped inside and glanced at the walls of the Martyrs Museum in Stepanakert, covered in photographs and memorabilia from the Artsakhian war, I could not help but cry. When I heard the words of Galya Arstamyan, the mother who ran the museum, all of a sudden the struggle, the fight, that had previously seemed so distant and unfamiliar to me, almost became my own. Being a new AYF member, I came to Armenia with basic knowledge about ARF history, beliefs, and ideals. Now, I have a much more meaningful understanding of the organization and the people that made Armenia’s freedom and independence possible. I can attest to that by all the ARF songs I have learned throughout the trip. Lastly, I must mention the newfound family I have formed from the 25 strangers I first met on this trip. It was inevitable that we got so close within 6 weeks. The fact that we know one another’s bathroom experiences and pet peeves is a clear testament to our intimacy. My family has definitely taught me the importance of respect and compassion in order to maintain harmony and good relationships.
I came to Armenia with a gaping hole in my heart for my homeland. I was prepared to take in every piece of Hayasdan that I could possibly get my hands on, and I did just that. I enjoyed every ray of the biting summer sun, the mosquito bites from Shushi, the ice cream, ice cold water from the myriad of plplaks, the sight of Ararat on a clear day, every hug, wet kiss, and handmade item I received from the children, the marshutka rides, the ponchiks at Ponchik Monchik, the times I was overcharged on a taxi and the other occasion where the driver refused to take our money, overpaying for souvenirs at Vernisage, the unforgettable taste of apricots and watermelon, the evenings on Hyusisain Poghota, chicken dancing with the kids every morning, the intimate “pillow talks” I held with my roommates and the countless rounds of Mafia. Youth Corps 2011 is over, but it only marks the beginning of my work here in the homeland. Hayasdan, I can assure you that I will be back.