Hello Hannah, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Hannah Marashian and I’m from Los Angeles, CA. I moved to Armenia in November of 2018 for a job and currently work at Vineti as a technical support specialist with Customer Success. Vineti is a biotech startup that was founded by GE Ventures and the Mayo Clinic. We’re a cloud-based platform that works with pharmaceutical companies to provide personalized therapies and medicines to patients. We build software and tech solutions for them to bring personalized therapy to their patients. A large number of the patients receiving personalized therapies are those who are diagnosed with late stage cancer. It is an American company with a fully-staffed representative office in Yerevan. It’s been exciting to dive into work here in Armenia while at the same time getting settled into my new home.
Back in LA, were you active in the Armenian community? When did you start thinking about moving to Armenia?
I grew up participating in and attending events but wasn’t necessarily active. However I did do Birthright Armenia in 2015-2016. I was fortunate enough to secure an internship in Artsakh with The HALO Trust, which was a goal of mine years before joining the organization. In Yerevan I was at the Regional Studies Center where I worked as an analyst. I lived in Gyumri and volunteered with various NGOs there as well. I was always open to the idea of moving to Armenia, but it was not an initial priority after returning home. I knew if I returned, the opportunities would need to be aligned with my interests and career goals. The doors just kept opening though.
Armenia is becoming better known for its innovation and technology. Can you tell us a little bit about your vision and what aspects of this we should be focusing on more?
I think we need more publicity for the Armenian tech sector. With Vineti, we are working with the cutting edge of technology. Yerevan is becoming a mini Silicon Valley. In Tech, you are seeing things from the ground up, growing with the company. For employees, the salaries are competitive, and the benefits are well-rounded. You can have a really full life here. It was important to me that I work at a company with a focus on diversity. Even though Vineti’s headquarters are in San Francisco, the Vineti AM team still maintains a strong connection to the core of the business and its customers. Everyone asks what does it mean if it’s a tech place? Let’s define that for ourselves. We should focus on making the tech opportunities here as advanced and competitive as possible. The more that investors come in and engage with the local talent, the stronger our reputation as an innovative and technologically advanced country will become. It’s a process.
You’ve lived in Artsakh, in Gyumri and Yerevan now. Do you see changes from before and after the Revolution? What was your impression?
From back home, we were getting excited. We all have relatives or friends in Armenia and they kept telling us it is real, change is happening. A lot of people were already toying with the idea of moving back but it seems like this was the push they needed. I have not been here long enough to see the physical changes and would not speak on it yet, but talking to people now, they are optimistic, happy, and hopeful. They are open to change and to what could happen. Everything feels more tangible.
For a repat, what changes should we be expecting in order to feel more comfortable in Armenia?
The optimistic outlook is not enough, of course. I think it comes down to individual approaches. We can all make a list of pros and cons. The doors are open, go through it and give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go home. Things always appear bigger until you come face to face with it. The Repat community is larger now and for anyone coming, they know they are not alone. Back in LA, I did not have a strong sense of repatriation, but I was fortunate enough to find a good job, had the resources, and was able to lean on the contacts I had established both locally and within the diaspora. Do your research before you come and try to get involved in local organizations.
What tips and/or life hacks can you impart for potential repatriates?
First, I would say talk to as many people you know here as possible. Make a list of questions and ask, ask, ask. If you will be renting, start looking earlier. Ask about cultural differences, come out of your bubble. Asking uncomfortable questions puts everyone on the same page. I don’t have relatives here, so it took a lot more networking. The language barrier can be difficult at times. I’m not fluent and took Birthright language classes but that was a while ago. You have to continue to practice. I’ve learned that if you ask people are always willing and happy to help. Take classes to refresh your language. Find someone to help you with the official documentation. Don’t judge from the first three months, either. Give yourself time to really settle in, make a list of things you want and go after them. Armenia doesn’t owe you anything. Don’t set yourself up for failure by having an unattainable and romanticized ideal of repatriation.
What are some of the more negative points you considered in moving to Armenia?
Some people stayed after Birthright Armenia. I took my time. I left and came back. It was a thought-out process for me. I knew that even though it was an American company, it was not going to be the same. The most important thing is to be flexible, to be open for the changes while at the same time maintaining your own identity and beliefs. It’s a balance. Don’t get lost in anyone else’s views of what being a “good Armenian” is. A lowered standard of healthcare as well as altered societal and gender norms are negative aspects I’m slowly learning to accept.
We are often accused of being too positive when presenting Armenia. What are some specific complaints that you have? What type of constructive criticism can you give?
I think one of the things that are really hard to get through the is official documentation and residency. It’s not enough to speak the language or be Armenian, there are some things you just can’t get done if you aren’t a local. Getting your residence permits or citizenship can be a real hassle without someone to guide you. Finding an adequate apartment and negotiating a lease was a struggle for me, and I don’t know how I could have done it without outside help. I feel like Armenia was not built for people to come back. It’s the little things adding up that are difficult.
How are things different between your views of Armenia from the Diaspora and what you see now?
My family has roots in Lebanon and Western Armenia, but my relatives are split between Fresno and Argentina now. I grew up in the Los Angeles area where there is a large Armenian diaspora. Armenia was a place to support culturally as well as financially and patriotically, but I didn’t grow up with a strong connection to the country itself. Not having relatives or a strong history here, I didn’t view it as my ancestral home. There was a lot of information I had to learn about the country itself that I didn’t grow up with.
There’s also a tendency not to integrate fully, instead seeing the current reality as something that needs changing, needs progress; this is particularly dangerous if you believe you know best and try to bring in that change. Diasporans shouldn’t be here on a mission to teach or change things. It should be an open dialogue where we can learn from each other. In any society, nothing changes overnight. It takes time. It’s easy to get caught in what’s not happening without realizing exactly how far we have come. There are biases both ways. You need to talk to people, do your best to integrate, to take in the local culture as your own. It is easier said than done, but the benefits you reap are great.
What were some of the pros in your move to Armenia?
One of the biggest pros is having the opportunity to be in the epicenter of a burgeoning technology scene. I wanted to work for a small company with a strong mission. Seeing the development from the ground up and having the privilege of growing alongside the business while in Armenia has been significant. Vineti being an American company with high business standards was a key incentive for my relocation as well. Also, it’s just an exciting time to be here! There’s a lot of change happening. I get to be immersed in the language again. Armenian people are some of the warmest, most hospitable people on earth. That strong sense of family that exists here is something I really respect. I think not having any expectations is key to a good outcome and positive relocation. As individuals we are constantly evolving, both personally and professionally. Knowing nothing is forever and that I’m you are not stuck anywhere if things don’t work out.
Hello Hannah, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?