Birthright Armenia culture shock

So here I’ve been for the last 36 hours struggling to communicate (acting like a mute when I’m out in public) and still just trying to get my bearings (e.g. I still have the unsolved problem of I don’t know where I can buy a towel). Then I go to this community service task for birthright: picking off the petals of flowers from the genocide memorial to dry them and put them on paper. While the work was fun, it was a culture shock to be surrounded by over a dozen fluent English-speaking 20-somethings.

The Birthright Armenia crew

I suddenly could speak at a normal speed with my full vocabulary using irony and sarcasm to my heart’s desire without worrying that my listener wouldn’t understand. I could make cultural references people would understand. I could tease, mock, flatter, cajole, amuse and impress without fear of misunderstanding. I might as well have been hanging out in America as it was so easy and seamless.

However, I came to Armenia to learn Armenian culture including some of the language and not just hang around westerners. But, I’m also not a machine and need to be able to relax and express myself sometimes. And, meeting people and learning what they do and their backgrounds is learning more about Armenia. As you can tell, there is a struggle.

A part of me wants to excel, which requires that I’m in a familiar setting, the other part wants to develop new knowledge and understanding, which requires that I’m in an unfamiliar setting. This is a balance that everyone has to regularly work on. Do I watch my favorite brainless tv show or read a new book? The only difference here is that my unfamiliar setting is as close to as unfamiliar as you can get.

Petacular!

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