For years, I had dreamed about studying abroad and specifically living with a host family, and I remember having all these high hopes of how living with a host family would make me feel less like a tourist abroad and more at home. The night before departure, I couldn’t sleep a wink, worrying that I had been too idealistic all those years and running through multiple scenarios about how living in a strangers’ home could go horribly wrong. Then, after meeting my host dad, Vahagn, and my host mom, Anna, in the airport, and seeing how excited they were to take me home, my anxieties about living with strangers started melting away. Now, having been in Armenia for almost two weeks, and having become close not just to Vahagn and Anna but to their relatives that I have been fortunate enough to spend time with, I couldn’t imagine feeling happier or more at home here.
A lot of time initially bonding with my host parents was centered around food and drink, and one new thing that I have taken a liking to in Armenia is coffee. The funny thing is, I came to Armenia hating coffee, and Vahagn, knowing this, had always made me tea in the morning. One morning, after a week or so in Armenia, I woke up after not getting much sleep and asked Vahagn while he was making his own cup of coffee, if I could have a cup of coffee too. Vahagn seemed surprised, but eventually agreed to make me coffee on one condition – he would make me a smaller cup so that I wouldn’t become a coffee addict. Seeing how much Vahagn and Anna want to take good care of me, whether it’s Vahagn not wanting me to get addicted to caffeine or Anna scolding me one day for going from one to eight pm without food, has really made me feel less like I’m living in strangers’ house and more like a part of their family.
I love Sundays, because it means that Vahagn, my host dad, and Anna, my host mother, and I get to go to Ddmashen, the village where Anna’s parents live and Vahagn and Anna’s adorable 4-year old son, Hayk, is staying for the summer. Speaking Russian has been particularly helpful in Armenia because while my host parents both speak English, their parents do not. However, since Russian is like a second native language for many Armenians, knowing Russian has, to some degree, reduced the language barrier of not knowing Armenian. Over platefuls of fresh salad and homemade dolma (with both grapeseed leaves and cabbage), Anna’s mother, Donara, and I spoke about the importance of being close to one’s family in Armenia and about family in the States. In my own family, my parents and I had always seen ourselves as our own family that is close to but having a life that is largely separate from our extended family. The nature of my immediate family’s relationship to our extended family isn’t something that I had thought much about until coming to Armenia and seeing how the members of my host family seem to see themselves as members of one large family.
On the next Sunday, I went with Vahagn and Anna to the village again, but on that trip, I met Vahagn’s mother, Leili, and brother, Andranik, and since they live in an apartment two floors down from us, I get to see them more often. Leili told me that if I got home from work and Vahagn and Anna were ever not at home, I could always come visit her. I did so today, and, immediately, I was told to come in and offered a plate of vegetables and a bowl of the most delicious borscht that I have ever had in my life. Our conversation was by turns funny, namely, when she told me that I should get married to an Armenian guy someday so that I could stay in Armenia permanently, and touching, when she told me to imagine that she was my mom and feel right at home. Andranik came home from work not much later, and since he speaks English, he kept me company while Leili and her neighbor, who came over for Leili’s delicious fresh-baked bread, spoke about the news in Armenian. Later that night, over Facebook, Andranik messaged me saying that Leili thinks that I’m her daughter, and when I responded about how touched I was, he said to just enjoy having another family. I wrote back, “Две фамилии” (two families in Russian), and that about describes my home life in Armenia. Much to my surprise, I haven’t felt all that homesick while being in Armenia, and a main reason for that is the kind-heartedness of Vahagn, Anna, and everyone in their family who has been so warm and welcoming these past few weeks. I may have left my family back home in America, but here, in Armenia, I have been welcomed into another.
By: Caroline Dunbar
Term: Summer 2018