I’ll never forget the day my hundred-year-old Armenian grandmother told me there was a show she wanted to watch because she likes to know what Armenians are up to. I cringed, hoping she would forget all about this before she’d have a chance to keep up with the Kardashians. There have been countless times in my months in Yerevan as a Birthright Armenia volunteer that I’ve wished my grandma were still alive, but I especially wish I could show her TEDxYerevan and the talks that have educated me about the awesome things Armenians are up to. I know she would have loved it as much as I do.
When I applied for Birthright, I had two major questions: What makes me Armenian besides the genocide, and what does it mean to be Armenian today? In my essay, I wrote: “I want to bridge my disconnect from my Armenian ancestry not by learning exclusively about the past, but by participating in the present. I think this experience would be positive for me as a diasporan Armenian because I wholeheartedly believe in the value of cross-cultural interaction. I think that I have as much to gain as an American in Armenia as I have to offer other Armenians through this engagement.”
TEDxYerevan has been the perfect place for me to make my goal into my actual experience here. It’s exciting to discover the innovative and important work being done in Armenia, and the people who have hope in and for this country. I love being able to learn about the place where my family comes from while contributing my English language skills and perspective as a diasporan. As always with being in a service role, I feel I have gained more than I have given.
I’ve been continuously amazed at the exceptional ideas I’ve heard through TEDxYerevan speakers, especially as I watched the kids prepare for their event and deliver their final performances. I love how TEDxYerevan puts vitality into education and encourages people to find the joy in learning. Kristine and everyone at TEDxYerevan are so passionate about giving voices to all Armenians, from people in Yerevan, to kids in the marzes, to diasporans. Every person’s life is unique, and therefore the perspective and wisdom they have to offer is equally diverse. We have so much to learn from each other and so many ideas that deserve to be heard, but they won’t be if people with traditional education refuse to listen. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to be working with TEDxYerevan and look forward to maintaining contact with Armenia as a diasporan through the voices and ideas that TEDxYerevan presents to the world.
By Rachel Townzen