Özge Bozkaya is from Turkey and this year has come to Armenia to do a 6-month-long European voluntary service (EVS). She tells that participating in projects related to promoting human rights in different societies has always been an important part of her life. “Because of this”, she explains, “the EVS experience was an opportunity to participate in projects focused on social development. “For me”, she continues, “being the part of projects related to human rights is important for my self-development. So first of all, I applied to an EVS programme for the opportunity to work with what I am genuinely interested in”.
“The second reason for me to be involved in this programme was my curiosity about Armenia, Armenians, Armenian culture and Armenian peoples’ perspective on the Turkish identity. Also, my master thesis was related to Armenian students and academics’ perspective on the EU membership of Turkey. EVS gave me the chance to meet with a new culture and try to promote some of the rights I stand for in Armenia. It was a really unique experience.”
Özges was involved in the “Local Events group” at APY, and her main task was about promoting human rights for minorities in Armenia. They were together creating ideas and events that would be beneficial for the Armenian society. “Participating in the events that we organized, offered me new skills and experiences for my future life.One of the best experiences I had with the APY was to shoot a video about antiracism. 16 nationalities came together with the idea of shooting video for prevention of racism. And we were really pleased to have common feelings about the topic. It was really good to get to know them.
Özge has been in many countries in the world. However, she says, Armenia was special to me. “There are some reciprocal prejudices between Turkish and Armenian identities. This I was well-prepared for coming to Armenia. My first aspiration when integrating with Armenian culture was to be an “unbiased human”. Because by breaking walls between nationalities you destroy prejudices. It was a truly unique experience for me as a Turk and an opportunity to develop myself and my skills about integrating another cultures.”
Furthermore, she remembers the social life as a big part of her experience. “I shared many amazing moments with my Armenian friends. Although my EVS programme ended 7 months ago, I still keep in touch with my close friends from Armenia. This makes me really happy.”
Even though Özge really enjoyed her stay in Armenia, there were some things that she never got used to. One of those things were the “mashrutka”, the mini vans that are used for public transport. “Me and my Italian flatmate Ester were one day going to APY by mashrutka. The mashrutka was as usual very crowded and we had to stand the whole way. When we came closer to our stop, we tried to pronounce “kankarum bahek”, which mean “stop”. Ester shouted out: “Kangaroooooooooooooooooooooo” in the bus. Everybody was chocked and they were looking at Ester and me like we are from another world”.
She describes APY as very helpful for the foreigner volunteers. “If we had any problems, the APY staff and members and the president Erik Ghazaryan always tried to find quick solutions. Also I really want to thank my mentor Tatev Grigoryan for all her help discovering Yerevan.” “One of the main characteristic of being Armenian is their hospitality”, Özge remembers. ”I also really like Yerevan as a city. It is a city with a rich history and many inspirational places. So, Armenia and its people have special characteristics which is worth-seeing. If anyone wants a volunteering experience and at the same time to discover an original culture, I strongly advise them to choose Yerevan.I am sure they will enjoy their stay very much!”
Marilou Albero came to Armenian Progressive Youth in Armenia from France to do a 6 months long European Voluntary Service (EVS). We have asked her about her experience with Armenia and her EVS life. Marilou says that she decided to participate in an EVS because she thinks it is a good way to be involved in a project and to discover a new country. “Concerning Armenia though”, she says, “I didn’t really choose to go to specifically Armenia, it was more the opportunity. But I guess I was really curious about this region of the world”.
Marilou’s role in the Armenian Progressive Youth organisation was focused on communication work. She was, among others, updating the website. During the training courses she was responsible for visibility at social medias, for an example to post information about the activities on Facebook. “I learnt many professional skills related to communication skills during my time with Armenian Progressive Youth, for an example how to take good pictures and how to write an article.” When coming to Armenia, she recalls, a big obstacle was the language, but the cultural shock was probably bigger than the language problems. “For me the main difficulties were some of the traditional values of this country. As a “french feminist girl” it was difficult to learn about the differences of rights for girls and LGBT people in Armenia, compared to what I was used to. I never realized that before. Maybe, I was a bit naive.”
Marilou explains that she did not know much about European programs before she came to Armenian Progressive Youth. Because of this, she says, it took her almost three months to understand that the organisation was doing and how it was working. “I think, if I could do one thing differently, I would have studies the organisation before arriving. In this way I maybe could have understood my role better, and have taken more initiatives”. Concerning support, she says that she had everything she needed. “Armenian Progressive Youth and Armenia was very welcoming; I am very thankful for that”. Marilou received language courses like all volunteers enrolled in the EVS programs do. She says though, that learning Armenian in 6 months is not very realistic.
As for coming back to visit Armenia, Marilou already did. “I came back to Armenia 6 months after my volunteering as a participant in one of the trainings organized by Armenian Progressive Youth.” If Marilou could advise a future volunteer coming to Armenia, she says it would be to bring books. “It is almost impossible to find books in foreign languages in Yerevan.”
Interviewed and written by Edith and Tamara, 2 APY volunteers