My name is Jan and I come from Slovakia. Before coming to Armenia, I had just obtained my Bachelor degree in Psychology in my home country. So I decided to take a break in my studies and change my actions from learning to doing something more practical and getting more real experiences. As I love travelling and meeting different cultures. Therefore, volunteering through EVS (European Voluntary Service) at KASA Swiss Humanitarian Foundation seemed to be a great opportunity in changing my living for some period of time.
Since I came to Armenia, many people asked me why I chose Armenia as a place of my volunteering service. And to be honest, it was because I knew almost nothing about Armenia. So I considered it as a good opportunity to explore a place, which was unfamiliar to me. I started collecting information about Armenia, its culture, traditions, and got really interested in the country. And there were two (for me) important factors that helped to made up my mind; firstly, hiking is possible almost everywhere, and hitch-hiking is strawberry raspberry (jahoda malina – Slovak way of describing something as an easy job :D). So doing something helpful for the Armenian society while volunteering and spending good time in the region while engaging myself with my beloved hobbies seemed to be as a good choice.
I didn´t have any specific expectations or illusions about Armenia. I just wanted to be somehow surprised after arriving in Yerevan. But actually, I was not, at least at the beginning. Or, I would say that I was surprised by the fact that I was not surprised. Of course, the architecture is different, the people look different, but Yerevan made an impression of a modern city inhabited with people who have modern habits. But after some period of observation, the differences became more clear and obvious to me. And this is the very starting point for a foreigner to learn about those differences and that is the moment when you see a real value of visiting a foreign country. And marshrutka (minibus, public transport) was one of the interesting discoveries of mine here in Armenia. I heard some Armenians complaining about the behaviour of their compatriots, but my Marshrutka Experience (ME) says NO to this!
In marshrutka you always pay after ride. And the first thought I could have in my mind: How is it possible that they just don´t run away?!
The young people always offer their seat for the aged people. Is still valid here?! Nice… Actually, to be honest, in Slovakia you can also find young people who would offer their seat to the aged people, but the latter would feel offended of the fact that they are perceived to be old. So if you happen to take a public transport in Slovakia and would like to be kind to the elderly people, it’s better you don’t offer them your seat:D
Random people act as „cashiers“ in marshrutka…Hmm…Try to give your 100AMD (the fee for 1 ride in public transport in Armenian currency) to random people in Europe and the money would never reach the driver.
The sitting passengers in marshrutka often carry the handbags, cases, and computers of standing passengers who are completely unfamiliar to them. But, if I imagine that I would offer a help with carrying somebody´s bag in my country, I would definitely be considered to have other intentions, like robbery, of course.
I understand that the above-mentioned experience is not really objective to judge about the Armenian society, but my impression is that in reality the Armenians are very respectful to each other. Also, they are proud, confident, loud…extra loud:D, but with respect.
Apart from discovering Armenia through Marshrutka Experience, I must say that I happen to learn a lot while volunteering for the “Young Citizens of Armenia” project. The latter aims to introduce the idea of active citizenship to the local young people while giving them a neutral platform to reflect on their own role as an active citizen of Armenia. The project has a number of activities that aim to contribute to the goal of the project, including the discussions clubs where I am actively involved. I am co-animating the English club of the project while preparing and leading the discussions on different civil society development oriented topics, including Environment, Governance, and so on. This is a great opportunity to learn about the Armenian reality of the civil society development and encourage the young people attending the discussion club to develop their own understanding and approach to the notion of active citizenship in an atmosphere of total plurality of opinions. Moreover, I am really happy for this opportunity to get a first-hand experience and knowledge about Armenia while meeting and communicating with a number of people with diverse backgrounds that are visiting our club.
And now, I am left with a 6-month countdown to my departure day from Armenia and I will use this period to explore further the uniqueness of Armenia, its people, places and many other things I haven’t discovered yet.
Ján Mrug, Animator of English club, Yerevan