My Way Home

Repat Story
Charlotte Poulain
Charlotte Poulain
| From Paris, France | Moved in 2015

We met with Charlotte for the first time in Paris during Armenian dance classes. Charlotte literally showed up to one class, during which she announced to the surprise of the other girls of the group that she was planning on moving to Armenia, and disappeared mysteriously shortly after that.
And now a year later, here we are in Yerevan.

Charlotte at One Armenia
“I came to Armenia for the first time in 2013, for a week-long vacation with my aunt, I was 22 years old then. Later on, I came back twice to do internships as part of my Masters in International Relations at Sciences Po Paris, first at the Luys Foundation, then UNICEF. I wanted to do more internships abroad, and I thought, why not Armenia …
Before arriving, I did not have any idea in mind about Armenia. There are countries where you kind of know what to expect even if you have never been there before, for example like Russia or Brazil. My parents had been to Armenia on vacation, so I had seen pictures of monasteries – many, many monasteries. Thus, I had a vague image of Armenia as a very picturesque, very quiet country. I wondered if Yerevan itself would look like a European, Asian, or Russian city…
By the end of 2014, as I created my own projects here in Armenia, I began to feel much more …at home. So I decided to come back. It was not love at first sight, I fell in love Armenia very gradually."
After graduating from Sciences Po in June 2015, Charlotte returned to Armenia through Birthright Armenia NGO with the intention to stay here.
“If only someone had told me a bit more of positive things about Armenia when I was in France, If I had heard there were opportunities in Yerevan, that it was not only churches, but that you could also zipline through the mountains, I would have come before”.

Charlotte at Yerevan Half Marathon
Born in Paris, Charlotte grew up far from a classic community life like the other French Armenians. “I’m half Armenian, half French, I do not feel like “Armenian from France “… my mother was born in Soviet Armenia in Yerevan, but her family moved to France when she was 8 years old. In our family circle, because my father is French, we spoke only French. There were some Armenian words here and there, such as “Meghk” or “aman, aman,” but the language was not spoken. Perhaps it is precisely because I was not part of the Armenian community that I came here. ”
Charlotte thinks that it is mostly negative cliches about Armenia that prevail in the French diaspora. “There is a lot of talk about the genocide, and what the National Assembly in France or Turkey has to say about it… Look at most of the cover pages of Nouvelles d’Armenie magazine, it’s pretty depressing. Generally speaking, we do not talk about the cultural life in today’s Armenia, we don’t talk about Yerevan as a vibrant and cosmopolitan capital … Instead we prefer to speak of khachkars and monasteries, as if the Armenian culture was limited to that, and the shenanigans of Turkish politicians, like it was the most urgent political issue in Armenia today. We must change our narrative in the Diaspora, and give more room for positivity. ”
Hayp pop up
In 2014, Charlotte together with her cousin Anna Gargarian launched an ephemeral gallery called HAYP POP UP Gallery. “Anna got the idea when we were walking in the streets of Yerevan, she was pointing at the abandoned buildings or empty storefronts. We talked about “pop-up galleries,” these ephemeral art galleries that began to emerge some years ago in the US and Europe … and we said davay, Armenia has all these underused spaces, lots of artists, we can do something interesting. “.
Through a crowdfunding campaign the two girls received $ 3,700 to start their pop up gallery project. In December 2014, they held their first exhibition. They just closed the 6th one. An exhibition even took place on the train from Yerevan to Gyumri, bringing together 40 artists and performers for 4 days. “The basic idea of HAYP is to bring art to the people who do not usually go to galleries. So we used the train, and the passengers were very interested and curious. We had very positive feedback, a real exchange with people. Armenians in general, as the French, love to criticize, which is very healthy because it leads them to ask questions, to initiate a discussion. During the events, many have started talking with their neighbors to ask them what they thought of the installation, or performance – is this really art? What is the goal? So, in the end, art served its purpose: it forced the audience to ask questions. ”
Since January 2016, Charlotte has been working  for ONEArmenia NGO. “I’m glad to have the opportunity to do these two things, because HAYP is our entrepreneurial and innovative project, but contemporary art is not my domain in itself. Having studied political science, I am very happy to be working at ONEArmenia. Our goal is to finance development projects in Armenia in the field of agriculture, tourism, new technologies and “made-in -Armenia ” products.
 Teambuilding with OneArmenia
When she compares her life in Paris and Yerevan, Charlotte comes alive.
“My daily life here in Yerevan during the week is filled with meetings in the pubs with friends to talk about radical feminism, my Russian and Armenian language lessons, lunches here and concerts there … I have this impression that I have a lot more time here than in Paris, although I was just a full-time student back then. I used to spend more than 2 hours a day on public transport, here I can walk everywhere. Right now I am working two jobs, learning two new languages, and busy with social life. Well, I do not sleep much, but at the end, I get everything done.  To be honest, there are two phone application that save my life: GG Taxi, an Armenian Uber, and menu.am, through which you can order yalanjis (stuffed vine leaves in the Syrian way) at 2am, it is my guilty pleasure.
In Paris when you want to go for coffee with a friend you have to make an appointment three weeks in advance – here I go out into the street and I see five of my friends, everything is much more spontaneous. You don’t need to call anyone, you can go to a bar alone, and be sure to meet with at least one acquaintance, who will introduce you to their own group of friends. Everyone knows everyone here; it’s a bit weird sometimes. It also means that the professional and personal spheres are very intertwined: you might be at a business meeting with a group of people and two hours later see the same group at a restaurant.  At that point you are already friends on Facebook and you’ve realized that in fact, you are cousins by marriage – and I’m barely exaggerating.
I noticed that there are many young Armenians from the United States who like me, have moved here. Certainly, you will not find huge salaries here, but I think we are all looking for something different: a quality of life where you can do more in less time. This is the kind of life that is possible in a capital, but only in a very small and concentrated capital, such as Yerevan.
I truly feel at home here, and I think it is related to having created HAYP Pop Up Gallery with Anna. I think for my generation, it matters to have this sense of ownership. You can potentially find a job everywhere, even if it is becoming more and more difficult. But having your own project, something that you are passionate about and in which you are 100% involved, it really keeps you rooted. So I’m not ready to leave!
Charlotte staring in a wine commercial in Armenia
Interviewed and translated by Bella Shakhnazaryan
Edited by Tatev Babayan

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