Oh, how I envy you. As my journey with this program has come to an end and yours hasn’t even begun yet I’m going to give you some tips, stories and hopefully convince you that you are about to have one of the best summers of your life. If you even needed convincing of that.

You probably came here for similar reasons as our group of students this year, which may include – improving your language skills, getting in touch with your culture, coming to Armenia for the first time, returning to Armenia, and exploring the country. I, for one, had been dreaming of the day I would come back to the motherland, step foot on Armenian soil, be surrounded by my people, live and breathe Armenia for as long as I possibly could. I found AUA’s summer program by accident, as I was searching for a reason to buy a ticket and leave for Armenia. It’s been the best accident of my life. Until coming here I thought I was getting in touch with my culture through my academic work, researching the history of Armenia but I later found out that nothing could teach me more about Armenia than the land itself. It’s said that Armenia is like an open air, walking museum and I can assure you, it truly is. Let me explain…

AUA offered two classes this summer, Global Perspectives and Cultural Sites with Dr. Gregory Areshian and Armenian Language and Culture with Dr. Anahid Keshishian. I took the class with Dr. Areshian because I was especially interested in the course’s focus on Armenian identity. Both courses include an entire day of excursions in and outside of the city, which are probably going to be some of your most memorable days in Armenia. The classes include study abroad students and AUA students that live in Armenia. This mix of local and diaspora students makes the class and experience feel so much more real…you truly feel like you are going native. The clash of cultures create an exciting atmosphere, which was unexpected since you usually feel a sense of anxiety and unwelcomeness when two cultures clash. It was different at AUA…curiosity, excitement, fascination was in the air and the different ways you could be Armenian were waiting to be discovered. Our class with Dr. Areshian focused on the identities of Armenians throughout the centuries and how Armenians have come to form these identity for themselves. Dr. Areshian is an accomplished archeologist who had the most interesting perspective about Armenia because he was part of the community of scholars who uncovered many amazing findings about the history through archeological work. One of the most interesting to us study abroad students (and I’m sure the locals, as well) was the oldest shoe ever found. Our first excursion was at the National Museum of History of Armenia, which is located at Republic Square, and throughout our tour Dr. Areshian was able to explain every piece we stopped at with an enormous amount of knowledge and familiarity. When we stopped by the oldest shoe ever found we were all astonished to see that it was still in amazing condition given how old it was, and it was something we bought back with us to our class discussion the next week. Fast forward to week three and we had an excursion to the Areni Caves where the shoe was found…by Dr. Areshian’s graduate student. This was amazing for so many reasons. The Areni Cave sites are closed off to the public because of how hard it is to keep such an ancient relic of history under good conditions and we were able to go because we were with Dr. Areshian and AUA. Also, he told us exactly what happened when the shoe was found, what their thoughts were, what the process of uncovering just how old the shoe was like…it bought the most interesting thing in the museum to real life. We didn’t need to imagine where the shoe was found and under what conditions because we were standing right where it was. To have such a full circle academic experience like that was very fulfilling because we were eager to learn more about Armenias archeological history. Dr. Areshian is one of those folks that says you don’t need a history textbook to learn about Armenia’s history because history and culture are alive all over the country and this was just one of the many incredible examples of the walking, open air museum that Armenia is.

Aside from class excursions AUA’s staff puts together excursions for just the study abroad students. The memories we created with the staff of AUA were unforgettable. The admissions office will become your favorite hangout spot and the workers will become your family. Arina will be your AUA mother and trust me, there is nothing you want more in Armenia than to have Arina on your side. Her American-ness in Armenia will make her feel familiar to you while her passion and love for Armenia and AUA will make you want to experience Armenia with as much enthusiasm as her. Her staff is filled with so many loving and caring people that you will feel like you’ve just been adopted as a little sister or brother to them. When you meet Margo, the beauty with the amazing hair, you will understand what I mean. She was with us on most of our excursions and her calm personality and familiarity with both American and Armenian cultures helps you navigate your way throughout the experience with a helping hand. They took us on adventures that included zip lining, climbing castles in Byurakan, our own vartavar, making lavash, the longest tram ride to Tatev (we went to Tatev with Tatevik from the admissions office), carpet weaving and the best dinner any of us had at Derian Kebab. Coming to Armenia through this programs gives you opportunities to see so much of Armenia that you truly begin to feel familiar with the land and feel completely engulfed in the culture. However, that isn’t why this program is so amazing. Coming to Armenia with this program makes you want to stay in Armenia because you meet people that welcome you like family and make Armenia feel like home to you. That just might be why I have come to know Armenia as the land of love…

Besides these excursions you’re sure to have days by yourself or with your classmates exploring the city of Yerevan. As I’m writing this, sitting at a desk in Los Angeles, drinking my Starbucks coffee, looking out at one out of a million palm trees I’m wishing I was in Yerevan…sitting at a cafe along Cascade, surrounded by chattering that’s mixed with Armenian, English and Russian, drinking a glace (ice cream and coffee in the best way you could imagine), looking past the cobblestone road to a courtyard full of different sculptures and the Tamanian statue. You’ll come to find that the cafe culture, the art culture, and the night life in Armenia are so captivating and alive that you always feel a pull to be out in the city surrounded by everything Yerevan has to offer. It’s a beautiful mix of modern and old. There are narrow streets with old Soviet buildings that make you feel like you’ve traveled back a few decades and then you get onto Northern Avenue with its wide, open air shopping center and the feeling changes to very modern and European. My favorite small detail is the amount of Armenian flags around the city. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many. This sense of Armenian pride is very comforting because at the end of the day Armenia is not trying to be anything other than Armenian…no matter how much it changes.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be confused at some of the cultural differences, you’ll feel frustrated that your sarcasm doesn’t translate well, you’ll feel heartbroken to see some of the ugly realities that our people face, you’ll feel an enormous amount of pride to see what the Armenian people have accomplished throughout history, you’ll feel overwhelmed with the hospitality from the locals, you’ll feel loved by an entire country in a way that you didn’t think was possible, you’ll feel more Armenian than you’ve ever felt before. And when you are driving up to Baghramyan Ave, and you see the statue of Baghramyan right in front of the staircases leading up to AUA, you’ll feel at home.

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