Armenian Volunteer Corps

Welcome to the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) blog. Here our volunteers and alumni reflect on their experiences living and volunteering in Armenia. For more information about our programs, visit our website, follow us on Facebook or drop us an email: .

Monday, October 15, 2012

Time to come out – or why this blonde actually came to Hayastan and how it was

Zofia Baldyga

How did I decide to come to Armenia for two months? I probably should try to answer to this question one more time. As I did every single day of my stay.  Firstly I was surprised that everyone asks.  I knew that I was one of the blondest AVC volunteers, probably with the bluest eyes. The first one from Poland in the history of the program. But anyways, this is what international volunteerism is supposed to be about, right? Packing and going somewhere far away, for example to a small landlocked country in Southern Caucasus and testing your skills in a different environment while trying to make a change.  In yourself and in the surroundings.  It took me a couple of days to understand that in Armenia I stand out so much that I shouldn’t try to blend in. No one would believe.  I just needed to stay as I was, open and straightforward, and people will accept me and my dream to come and volunteer in Armenia.
So, getting back to my question (oh, actually it was yours), I didn’t throw a dart into a map to choose a country to volunteer in.  And I really don’t have any Armenian origins. Everyone was asking so I felt a bit like I should dig in my family story, but no. Nothing Armenian in it.  The idea of coming to Armenia came to me in the summer of 2011 in Eastern Netherlands when I was volunteering in the center for asylum seekers. I met there many Armenian immigrants and I found a lot of friends among them.  I loved their hospitality. One of my best and most cherished memories from Markelo is the rainy afternoon I spent with two other volunteers having dinner with an Armenian family we had  that just that day and they opened their house to us. Their house, their memories, their stories, their culture. They made me unbelievably curious. I didn’t know anything about Armenia but I love the stories I brought from Holland. When I was back home, I started digging. I brought books about Armenia from the library, I started to listen to Armenian music, I was spending hours looking at pictures of Armenia. This country seemed to be amazingly beautiful. I felt like packing and going to the Caucasus. But not as a tourist. For some reason I wanted to try to live there. I wanted to be something more than a visitor. Being a volunteer was the best option. I had two free months. Thanks to Google search I found Armenian Volunteer Corps.  And here I came.
My volunteering placement was a perfect match. I was working in an NGO implementing a project on migration management regarding circular migrants from Armenia to the European Union. In Warsaw I work in an NGO supporting third country nationals, and now I was able to experience the other side of the phenomenon, dealing with migration management from the perspective of a sending country. I will share more notes about it with you on the blog in a separate note; stay tuned.  It will come very soon.
My homestay was a perfect match. I enjoyed every single moment with my host sister and host mom. We were so different and so similar at the same time. And I mean something much deeper than the fact that we all had a short haircuit which is kind of original in Armenia. There was much more.  I loved having breakfast with my host sister and joining her and her friends in their free time to see how young people do things in Yerevan.
Armenia was a perfect match. I cannot fully explain why. I’ve just fallen in love with this country and I don’t care how cheesy it sounds.
Not everything was so ideal. I had many ups and downs. Smaller and bigger cultural shocks. Sometimes I was really frustrated at work because it was very different from what I’m used to and from what I expected.  But once I decided to just accept some differences and take everything as it is, dealing with it became easier. Sometimes I was really tired of being the single non-Armenian in the area.  But it was enough to repeat ten times to myself that my experience of Armenia is just mine, it cannot be compared with what anyone else is experiencing and it doesn’t really matter if I have a surname ending with –yan or not. A non-Armenian can discover Armenia for himself/herself.  I did.
My Armenia is about people. I met so many great friends in Hayastan. So different, from different areas, of different ages and backgrounds.  All of us came to Armenia to look for something and we ended up building this “something” together. As the AVC website says, AVC is about making a change.  It is.  But we should mention that the most important change is an internal one.
So, I’ve just fallen in love with this country. I cannot fully explain why. But I can say what the next step is.  If you love someone and you are 3000 kilometers away all you need is to go back. I cannot tell you all the details now but everything is planned. I will spend next summer in Armenia. Using English, we spoke at work, I set up a plan and all I need is a smooth implementation. (Almost) nothing can stop me now.
I  brought back small gifts for my family and friends. From Armenia with love.  A bottle of pomegranate wine, dried fruits, pottery, Armenian music, jewelry. I didn’t buy anything for myself but I do have a souvenir. Something that will be with me always me as a symbol of the change I mentioned in this post. I got a tattoo.  One word in Armenian. Courage, խիզախություն. Something I will need to have to continue what I started in Armenia as an AVC volunteer in the summer of 2012.

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