Below is a list I began before leaving of the things I most look forward to about going to Armenia. A week into PST, my predictions are proving accurate.
- The people, their hospitality, their history – I’ve heard countless times that Armenians are an intensely hospitable people who will love sharing their homes, food, and stories with a friendly foreigner who can’t pronounce խ or ղ to save his life. Coming from the relative melting pot/salad bowl (depending on your take on the realities of ethnic integration) of Boston I’m intrigued to live in such an ethnically and religiously homogenous society with what I understand to be a very strong concept of shared history stretching back more than 2,000 years.
- The food – Have a look around the cuisine’s own Wikipedia page. Anyone who knows me can confirm that I’m a healthy eater, so the delicious foods were a big draw for me to apply. As a bonus, I’ve been able to visit some of Watertown’s Armenian markets to both sample the food and practice my reading. [update: I expect to eat my body weight in lavash several times over in my time here].
- The scenery – I’ve always loved mountains, and the Caucasus promise to not disappoint. From the pictures I’ve seen Armenia appears to have a pretty cool range of scenery for such a small area (roughly the square mileage of Maryland) – mountains, forest, steppe, a large lake. And the ancient monasteries such as Khor Virap scattered around the country look incredible [update: went to Khor Virap yesterday and it was absolutely incredible. Probably also the closest I’ve been to a contentious border, about two hundred yards! The watchtowers were fairly menacing].
- Learning the new language – I’ve always loved languages, and had been looking to branch out from Romance languages. As its own branch of Indo-European, Armenian feels fresh to me in many ways, especially when it comes to vocabulary, though still familiar in others. Additionally, it has its own unique alphabet that has been quite fun to learn (though as far as I know there is no soft “i” sound, so I will be Նիթ [“Neek”]). Finally, I can actually use my Armenian a bit in the area after I return, though I’m not sure how different Western Armenian (spoken in most diaspora communities) is from Eastern (spoken in country).
- More solo time to relax – there are so many people I want to see in Boston all the time that if I don’t intentionally block out solo time throughout the week my schedule can easily fill up. Obviously this is a great “problem” to have, but I’m also looking forward to more enforced alone time that I think will naturally happen overseas, even if it’s just a result of me being too tired to keep speaking Armenian and retreating to my room at 8:30. I plan to get back to journaling daily, tackling the stack of books on my Kindle (A Song of Ice and Fire, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 50 Shades of Grey, etc.), and generally just hurrying less between things.
[Below finished in-country]
- More random in my life – I had fairly comfortable routines back home, that in some ways reduced the amount of random hilarious things in my life. There have already been too many to count here, and the future promises to bring many, many more.
- Being constantly out of my comfort zone – while I’ve loved all the time I’ve spent in Boston throughout my life and would love to settle there long-term, it was time to get out of my comfort zone and adventure for a bit. I’m hoping (and expecting that) my experience here is as my uncle Don described his time in the Peace Corps in Kenya and Bangladesh – that even if at a given moment he wasn’t feeling great or wasn’t happy to be there, he was always learning and the wheels in his head were always turning. So far this has proved accurate, through a fairly emotionally up-and-down first week of pre-service training.