Posts Tagged ‘young professional trip’

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: Farewell.

July 24, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

The cliché must be true… my travels truly have changed me and Armenia will always be a part of my life. At the same time I think I left a chunk of myself there, too. Not only in the sense that my sleeping patterns are still stuck in Yerevan time, but I don’t think I could feel complete without returning again.

I finally see what the Diaspora has been fighting for. Armenians love their land and they are a crucial part of it. Through the wars and genocide, they have fought for the right to remain Armenian while holding onto the values of hard work and family. Farmers climb uphill for four hours to find fresh grass for their cows. Suddenly the nine to five job doesn’t seem so bad. And they still manage to take a stroll with their neighbors every night. We have a hard time balancing work with our social lives in America. If nothing else, I’ve learned to take time out of my day for family and friends.

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Credit: Samantha McQueen

Armenians are also some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. They are willing to spend their last penny on a dinner guest, no matter who is the wealthier in the situation. We could use a little of that generosity here. It brings a feeling of unity to the nation, especially with the struggles of the last century.

After a few tearful goodbyes, I realized that nine former strangers are going through the same feelings. We all felt that warmth and empathy for the people and their land. I guess that’s why it’s a cliché. They work so hard for what they have and value the things that really matter in life. If it wasn’t clear to me before, the saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” now makes sense. It’s almost impossible to leave Armenia without feeling like you belong to a culture that welcomes you into their lives with open arms.

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Credit: FAR Staff

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: Nagorno Karabakh.

July 20, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

I’m back in Yerevan for the final time before flying back home to America. It’s bittersweet to return for a third time, as this city is starting to feel like a home base for me, however short lived. The seven hour trip from Karabakh was a little painful but knowing I have one full day left doesn’t allow much time for laziness. I need to be in full tourist mode.

Karabakh was definitely a change from other areas we have visited. The people drive flashier cars and show extreme desire for independence of their land while struggling with international recognition as an individual state. It’s a blossoming territory; with modern sculptures along the central square of Stepanakert and construction of new malls in Shushi, it’s on its way to becoming a modern tourist spot. And the locals were definitely excited to see some visitors. Our group was immediately interviewed for the nightly news at the customs office… we were like celebrities. My fellow FAR blogger, Erin, was featured and she did a fantastic job representing the group. It was obvious the citizens were proud of their region and truly wanted to share their land with travelers.

I’m heading back to America tomorrow with great friends, fond memories, and a feeling of camaraderie with my fellow Armenians. They have been hospitable hosts (they never allow guests to work or pay for anything) and were more than excited to help me understand what it means to be an Armenian. There is more growth to be done when I return. A personal analysis of my transforming Armenian-American identity is just beginning.

Erin, during her interview for the Nightly News

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Credit: iPhone & Samantha McQueen

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: En Route to Karabakh.

July 19, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

We left Yerevan to head to the Syunik region down south on our way to Karabakh. The roads were filled with actual Armenian cowboys and donkeys devouring the surprisingly green grass. It was interesting to see the different and naturally-occurring resources in the Armenian hills. The natives use the weeds to make Ourts tea and the valleys are filled with pomegranate, walnut, and hazelnut trees. It was breathtaking. Armenians are a very resourceful community.

And now since we’ve arrived… Tatev is my new favorite tourist destination! Not only did we drive through the world’s most exciting (and notably motion sickness-inducing) roads, but I actually touched a cloud. It’s disappointing that only 20% of Armenia’s tourists visit the spot. It probably (or more likely, obviously) has something to do with the roads. Our driver was a little old man from Goris who had spent 35 years just driving back and forth from Goris to Tatev. I felt more in touch with the locals in the city than I have anywhere else so far.

Ts’tesutyun for now!

En route to Tatev

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Credit: iPhone & Samantha McQueen

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: Holy Etchmiadzin and FAR in Yerevan.

July 16, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

Today we toured Etchmiadzin and had the opportunity to meet with His Holiness Karekin II. He was casual in his conversation and I think he truly impressed the group with his personality. I was a little nervous to ask about the Church’s involvement with social issues that have become political debates in America, but he was very diplomatic in his response and said that he understood the world is full of different opinions. I didn’t even mean for him to actually discuss the issues, but he was willing to share his thoughts. He seems to understand the concerns of the younger generation.

Later in the day, I met with the FAR staff to work on some accounting projects and I’m glad I had the chance to talk with a few of the employees about some concerns in Armenia. They explained that even with a high level degree, including a master, it’s difficult to find work in the country. Professionals are leaving to find careers abroad. It really puts things into perspective for me, especially coming from women in the workforce.

Ts’tesutyun for now!

Mount Ararat

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Credit: iPhone & Samantha McQueen

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: FAR’s Children Center.

July 14, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

I’m back in Yerevan just in time to catch up on some sleep after an exhausting (but totally thrilling) first week. The Children’s Center was our final stop before coming back to the hotel and it was honestly one of the most unbelievable experiences I’ve had…I know, cliché, but seeing the faces of children excited to see some fresh visitors was uplifting after a long van ride. The kids loved to play with our cameras and I now have some great shots of legs and walls after they had their chance behind the lens. It was almost cruel to take my camera home with me.

The most touching moment happened after my first step off the bus when I recognized one of the children I have been updating stories for on Facebook. I wrote that he had little to no contact with his biological mother prior to entering the Center but I saw her leaving from a meeting while the boy yelled a final “MA” and she turned around to wave goodbye. I was absolutely elated to see that she’s now visiting. It sounds like a story you’ve heard a million times, but this just pulled on my heart strings in person. I felt a special connection to the Center because of my involvement with FAR. I was disconnected from Armenia on my New York computer, but now I have the chance to see my work in action and it this trip is a more powerful experience for it.

Ts’tesutyun for now!

FAR’s Children Center

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Credit: iPhone & Samantha McQueen

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: Visiting FAR’s Projects.

July 13, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

I left Gyumri this morning and feel a bit different about my Armenian heritage for it. After visiting FAR’s GTech center, soup kitchen, and Octet School, it seems that there is so much I can do for this Armenian community, even from the Diaspora.

I’ve volunteered at nursing homes in America during my middle school days and was usually greeted with sentences beginning with “When I was your age…” and “Kids these days…” At the soup kitchen, I could barely understand the Armenian but I valued the “merci’s” and with the help of some friendly translators, I found out that the participants were thanking me for visiting them and giving up my time. They truly wanted to see that the younger generations abroad did not forget them and I was glad to show that I haven’t. Their appreciation and endless kisses made it worth the visit. It was also touching to see this community of natives who had faced a tragedy together trying their best on a slow journey to a normal, pre-earthquake life, be it 22 years later.

I’m more than happy to help them on their way.

Ts’tesutyun for now!

A Class Room at FAR’s GTech IT Center

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Credit: FAR Staff

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[FAR’s Intern(s) in Armenia – Samantha]: The Armenian Alphabet and Gyumri.

July 12, 2010

By Samantha McQueen

I had an exciting day of firsts. I finally learned to spell my name using the Armenian alphabet at Ashtarak, the burial grounds of the famous Mesrob, who wrote the Armenian alphabet. I even climbed the castle Amberd! The rocky roads and motion sickness were worth the sites.

We made our way to Gyumri today and I had the chance to ride a horse with a real Armenian cowboy, watched a fish gutting, and saw my food and bread cooked in open stoves in front of me. This city has a lot of character and you don’t have to search far for citizens of Gyumri who truly love their city and its traditions. These are the people who stuck through the 1988 earthquake to keep the culture. We passed street fairs and original fish farms, dating back to Gyumri’s role as capital of Armenia.

From foreign cowboys, to one thousand year-old castles, I’m honored to have this opportunity to visit my homeland with my FAR friends.

Ts’tesutyun for now!

Samantha and Erin at Mesrob’s burial grounds

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Credit: Unknown Young Professional