To be a Fulbright scholar is like winning the fellowship lottery?you are included in a small, but very prestigious pool of Americans. As one of the most competitive fellowships in the world, the Fulbright allows scholars to interact with their peers internationally. Founder of the fellowship, former U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright once said, “Educational exchange can turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of international relations.”
The concept is not too far from that of Birthright Armenia. Though participants of Birthright Armenia have set volunteer assignments, every second is about education, even if it is not implied or obvious. Being able to spend time in Armenia, working and living side-by-side with native Armenians allows for both parties to learn from each other. In doing so, Birthright Armenia participants gain a better understanding of Armenia and Armenians.
Annually only four participants are admitted to the Fulbright program for the Republic of Armenia. Three out of four of this year's participants are Birthright Armenia alumni: Raffi Wartanian '07, Leah McCloskey '10 and Ani Jilozian '07.
Raffi Wartanian, AYF '07, Baltimore, MD
“As a Fulbright scholar and artist passionate about social justice, music, acting, and fiction & nonfiction writing, I will engage in a variety of activities meant to enrich my understanding of Armenia's burgeoning civil society and to produce creative works (writing, music, film, theater) that reflect these lessons and ruminations I seek to share with audiences.” Raffi's research proposal, titled “The Role of Formal Volunteerism in the Development of Armenia's Civil Society” will expose him to an array of issues characterizing Armenia's social strengths and weaknesses through the inspiring, captivating, and salient lens of volunteerism.
Raffi's first visit to Armenia was in 2007 as a volunteer with the AYF and participant of Birthright Armenia. “I volunteered at four different job sites. I analyzed reforestation initiatives for Armenian Forests NGO; traveled to NKR and marked hiking paths for the Janapar Project, and commuted daily to villages to teach English and computer skills. I also mentored at-risk youth with the Gyumri Social Childcare Center while staying with a wonderful host family, the Karapetyans.”
Raffi directly attributes his experience in Birthright Armenia to his acceptance to the Fulbright program. “Birthright Armenia's ability to promote and proliferate a powerful brand of volunteerism by recruiting and harnessing the potential of insightful, inquisitive, and generous volunteers inspired me to craft a research proposal that explored its impact. Birthright Armenia and the AYF together facilitated my first ever visit, unlocking the treasures of Armenia: the people, the mountains, the monuments, the idealism, the pessimism, the entire boiling pot of life, struggle, and perseverance that defines modern Armenia. I was determined to return thanks to the powerful connections that were made,” explained Raffi.
Leah McCloskey, LCO '10, Berkeley, CA
Leah will be focusing on theTatev Revival Project, which consists of structural restoration of the monastery; reinvigoration of its spiritual and educational function; redevelopment of the monastery's ruined oil mill as an educational center and museum; construction of a world record-setting, 3.5-mile long aerial tramway; and investment in community-based development of lodgings, restaurants and traditional arts and crafts production in six villages within reach of the site. As Leah explains, ” I think that this sort of development makes a powerful impression on Armenia's architectural legacy and also represents an interesting moment in the Armenian self-image, as Armenia works to engage with a more global economy on its own terms.”
“While in Armenia, I want to look at the history of the Tatev site, the process leading up to the recent architectural interventions, and the way that the site is currently functioning as a monument and document all of these things into a resource that will hopefully be useful both in academic environments and to future efforts in tourism development,” explains Leah.?
As an LCO volunteer, she worked on a reconstruction project in Yeghvard.? She also worked at the Historic Houses of Gyumri, assisting in documenting historic homes of the city; and helped compile resources on sustainable buildings for the Engineering Research Center of the AUA. “Birthright Armenia did a great job of connecting me with people in Armenia who were doing very inspiring work and instilling in me an enthusiasm for the country, its development, and its architectural legacy. Ultimately, Birthright gave me access to people and ideas that made my Fulbright proposal possible, gave me access to a background in the Armenian language that I am still building upon, and helped me to dig in roots during my time in Armenia that are deep enough that I want to return.”
Ani Jilozian, AVC '07, Broomall, PA
Ani will be spending the majority of her time conducting qualitative research on women of reproductive age to better elucidate the complex and nuanced contextual factors surrounding abortion in Armenia from a public health perspective. Faculty and students at the AUA's College of Health Sciences will assist her in conducting this research study during her September to June grant period.
While volunteering in Armenia, Ani worked at the Our Lady of Armenia summer camp teaching English to underprivileged children. “This was my first introduction to Armenia, through the lens of precious (and some precocious) Armenian children” explained Ani. I decided to extend my stay to work at the Arabkir Hospital laboratory in Yerevan, where I had the opportunity to shadow physicians and help technicians test blood samples. This provided me with an inside perspective on the Armenian healthcare system and piqued my interest in public health.”
“I left Armenia that year feeling unequipped to simply resume my life in the States and jumped on an opportunity to return and organize mental health outreach and health education seminars for refugees and other marginalized populations in Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh,” said Ani.? This experience further intensified her passion to provide health services for underserved communities. Afterwards, Ani moved to New York City to pursue a master's degree in Global Public Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “I can say without hesitation that the Birthright Armenia experience entirely informed my decision to study public health and serve communities in the developing world. It also provided me with an edge as a Fulbright applicant. I went into the application process with a context regarding the Armenian healthcare system, which helped me accurately frame my research proposal. But, perhaps more importantly, I was able to convey a sense of passion and longing to return to Armenia”.
Birthright Armenia's mission is to strengthen ties between the homeland and Diasporan youth, by affording them an opportunity to be part of Armenia's daily life and to contribute to Armenia's development through work, study and volunteer experiences, while developing life-long personal ties and a renewed sense of Armenian identity.? For additional information on Birthright Armenia, please visit http://www.birthrightarmenia.org.?
Photo: Birthright Armenia alumni (left to right) Leah McCloskey, Raffi Wartanian, and Ani Jilozian will all be returning to Armenia as Fulbright scholars this fall.?