Who am I? Why am I writing about moving to Armenia?
I am Andrew Molica. I graduated from UCLA in June of 2016. One week later I packed my bags and moved to Armenia. A lot more about this to come. I had no travel experience. I had no connections in Armenia. I made the decision to move and figured out everything as I went. I want to share my experience, not to convince you that moving is right for you, but to provide one more example to think about and hopefully help you make the right decision. While I will joke around, I will not sugarcoat the hard times. This move has been full of happiness, depression, and everything in between. It is the combination of these things that has defined my experience and has helped me grow as a person.
Armenian to Armenia
Two years ago I walked into my first Armenian language class. It was required to take one year of a foreign language in order to graduate, and I had decided to take something different than the norm. On the first day some of the students were already able to write sentences. I looked wide eyed at my professor when she said «բարև»։ I felt so uncomfortable and out of place that I decided I was going to drop the class. When I talked to the professor she told me, “Learning Armenian is hard, but if you want to learn I will teach you.” That was all she needed to say to get me to come back. That was the day my Armenian adventure began.
The first two quarters were fun, exciting, and challenging. I was enjoying the classes so much that I added the Armenian Studies minor and began taking classes other than language. I also started drinking Armenian coffee, making dolma, and listening to Armenian music. The influence of this language had started to creep into other parts of my life. By the summer I knew I wanted to go to Armenia. I had heard too many things from the different people I had met along the way. Everyone had their reasons for leaving, repatriating, visiting, or avoiding Armenia. Those were not my reasons. It was time to go see everything for myself.
I began looking for programs that would send me to Armenia. I came across all the usual options, but none of them fit exactly what I wanted. I knew this trip was selfish. This trip was for me to explore and learn. Then I took a class on Armenian as a heritage language. There is no way to explain what that class did to all of us, but each person took and contributed something very unique. We all completed research projects, and I chose to do mine on transliteration (լատինատառ հայերեն).
My professor, Dr. Shushan Karapetian, saw how interested I was in this project and took me on to work independently with her the following quarter. We quickly discovered that there was almost no information regarding transliteration in Armenian, so we examined other languages and disciplines. We met for hours every week to piece this project together. When we would see examples in the world we would snap a picture and send it to each other. At some point we both realized I now had my reason to go to Armenia. It was Armenian that would be taking me there. We applied for funding, and the USC Institute of Armenian Studies accepted the proposal.
As I shared my plan to move with more people, I received mixed opinions. It was hard for some to understand why I would want to move to Armenia. Sometimes they thought it interesting that I “would care about Armenia.” Others were convinced that Armenia had nothing to offer me. This was all stuff that I just had to let go. This was my trip, and it did not matter what someone else thought about my decision. What made my life much easier was the group of people who stepped up to support me in every possible way. When I attended HyeTech not only was I inspired by the innovation occurring in Armenia, but every person there encouraged me to make the move.
One man I had met for five minutes flipped over his business card, wrote down his personal number, and told me if I could not find a place to stay when I arrived I could call him. After meeting me once through a close friend, my new friend Ani called her parents and asked if I could live with them. My professor helped clarify my status while I was in the country and found me a second advisor to help with Armenia related affairs. Friends in LA connected me to their friends in Armenia. This was only the beginning. Once I was in the family, people looked out for me.
So there I was. I had my ticket, a place to stay, my project, and some money. All I had left to do was graduate. My final quarter of school was so busy that I never fully processed what I was about to do. After graduation I only had a week to spend with my family. Then it was the day before I was leaving. My dad and I went back to LA to pack the last bit of stuff from my apartment. Yes, I was moving halfway across the world and I waited until the night before to pack my bags. I was still too stressed to think.
Traffic was horrible and I thought I might miss my flight. My bags were overweight when I checked in and I was worried. After getting through the long security lines, my boarding group was being called. Then I sat in my seat. That is when it happened. It occurred to me that I was leaving the US for the first time and I had no ticket back. I think I was lucky that my panic hit me at this point. I had no option to back out. It was time to step up.
When the pilot announced the descent, most of the people on the plane started singing in Armenian. I had never seen anything like this before. The second the wheels touched the ground, people were standing in the aisles. The crew gave up trying to have people sit back down. Again, I had never seen anything like this before. After getting my stamp, I walked through the doors to be welcomed by a sign, traditional hat, and my new family.
My first “welcome to Armenia” moment occurred about two minutes later when I was in a crosswalk and a van flew past me with no intention of stopping. In the parking lot Ani’s dad turned to me and said, “I hope you like small cars.” As we drove home, everything I owned was hanging out of the trunk of a Lada. When we arrived my host mom went straight to the kitchen. It did not matter that it was 2am, it was time for խորոված. We finished eating and drinking around 5am. I went to my room and crawled in bed. I was in Armenia.