The past year stretched me in ways I didn't know I could stretch, but it also provided a wealth of experience and insight. Photo: Tylor Dodge

2010 may be a year that I never forget. In fact, I know I’ll never forget leaving home, coming to Armenia, and some of the struggles and triumphs I’ve survived. Here’s how it went down:

I still remember the moment we brought in the new decade. I was at Ross and Jared’s house where they had a nice party. Their old house was one of my favorite places to be in St. Louis. We had a ton of great times there hanging out, drinking Admiral Nelson cocktails, and playing Company of Heroes. I digress. January was nice because I had a break from work, but I vividly remember what a punch in the face it was to go back to work, just waiting on something I couldn’t control at all (Peace Corps invite). I had gotten medically cleared in November, but I still had a wait of almost 5 months ahead of me. If I had known that, I surely would have been committed for depression. The possibility of an invitation arriving every day kept me going. Other than that, I did my normal thing: running, working, running some more, and eating Jack’s pizzas. Peter visited and I went skiing for the first time. I ran a half marathon in Forest Park – nothing special, but just because I hadn’t done any big races in over a year at that point. At the finish line, a man in his early 30s greeted me. His name was Riley Sorkin, and he was the guy who saved my life at the St. Louis Marathon in 2008. He only lives in St. Louis part of the year, so I was amazed that we would run into each other and that he would recognize me.

The thing that strikes me about February was the Super Bowl seeming like a milestone. “If I can get past the winter, I’ll be much closer to the coveted PC invite.” The Super Bowl was like a little bright spot in the middle of winter, reminding you that you’re almost there. My dad visited and we went to a fantastic SLU v. Dayton game which SLU won in OT. We also parked at a 90 minute meter and somehow didn’t get a ticket. I don’t really remember much else about February. It’s one of those months I always just want to be over!

Okay, more waiting. By this point I was getting pretty antsy about getting an invitation and quitting work. I still thought I would be leaving in September, so thoughts of World Cup, float trips, and other summer things filled my mind. I visited Colorado for the first time to see Kelsey. Looking back, I’m really glad I did because I soon wouldn’t have time to see her life out there. At the end of the month, a group of us went to Ross’s parents’ place to help build an observatory in an old silo. Despite my fear of heights and lack of mechanical inclination, I managed to help a little bit. At this point, I was sold hook, line, and sinker that our group of friends in St. Louis was one of the best possible. Of course, I still feel that way, but that trip really iced the cake for me!

Baseball starts. Spring hits. Just as my anxiousness was reaching its boiling point, my world was turned upside down. I got the invite a day before my birthday and turned in my 2 weeks’ notice the same day. Except the invite wasn’t for September; it was for May! Begin scramble to do a million things in one month.

Maybe the 2nd most difficult month for me, in retrospect. I had to wrap up my job and hand it off, which is harder than it sounds. The leap of faith had officially begun. I packed up my cubicle, said goodbye to a lot of good people, and walked out of the revolving door one last time. I have to say, when I was in high school and college, I thought it would be cool to work in a big skyscraper. Now, I can cross that off my list. It was cool in some ways and not cool in others. Anyone who has done it will know what I mean. But the experience of working for a Fortune 10 company will be with me for the rest of my life. And of course I was about to jump into a line of work that would be almost the complete opposite of what I had known for the last 2 years. But first I had to get all the junk ready that I would need for 2 years. Multiple shopping trips, lists everywhere, a messy apartment, and a diminishing timeline. I had to make room for goodbyes too, which didn’t seem fair with the little time I was dealt. Packing up my apartment was a surreal moment. So was saying goodbye to my friends, my grandparents, and my parents. I’ll never forget leaving my parents at the airport. I was 24, but crying like a little kid, just like they were. We were all so scared, but also happy. Off to DC to meet the other volunteers, and then off to the other side of the world. I suddenly had no job, no apartment, no home. I had plunged into the deep-end, whether I was ready or not. Luckily, I had stored up a ton of energy over the last 15 months while waiting to join the PC. I would need every bit of that energy and optimism to get me through the next few months.

The first days of June were a blur of jet lag, exhaustion, strangers, and strangeness. Who were all these weirdos I was with? Can I be friends with any of these people? Is my “hotel” room really this cold? Uh oh, why do I feel so sick? What is this food? I remember being almost terrified of the Armenians. They stared, and we were told not to stare back. I soon moved to my first host family in what was one of the more surreal moments of my life. Who are these people? Now they are truly my family. I got pretty sick during the first week. I didn’t eat anything for at least 2 days at one point. Language class every day was a struggle. Slowly, I began to become friends with the other PCVs in my village. I got to see a bit of the World Cup. But the pangs for home were incredibly strong sometimes. 2 years seemed like a sentence rather than a privilege.

July was our final full month of training. Our village really bonded during this time. Things began to be a bit more normal. I didn’t feel so sick. I could say a few more things. And I was almost used to not having any personal time. The ultimate test was our practicum time when my family’s French relatives were visiting. I have never had so little personal time and so much to accomplish all at once. Somehow I made it through. Still, there were days when I woke up and was just scared. Scared to face the day, scared of the immersion into Armenian language and culture, and longing for something from home. My energy was fading, finally, and my site placement of Vardenis didn’t make things any brighter. I remember making the site visit and being pretty down about it. I tried not to think of it while I enjoyed the rest of PST.

I dreaded August. It meant moving away from our village, into the “real world of PC”. I didn’t want to go to Vardenis and be all alone. But it was my fate, so I accepted it. After a memorable swearing in ceremony and sad goodbyes, I arrived at site. I immediately became friends with Morten and saw him going through all the same struggles I had just overcome. The days at work were confusing. My purpose there was not at all clear. I didn’t do much. It was hard for me. We had a summer camp, which was a perfect distraction. It also helped pass the time. At this point, I was counting days and weeks. 2 years seemed like a really long time. I still wasn’t adjusted, I missed PST, and didn’t really like Vardenis. I said goodbye to Wayne and even had some envy that he was going home after conquering the 2 year ordeal.

With fall coming, I felt like at least time was passing. Things at work were still really slow. I had gotten used to my new host family by now, but wasn’t really happy with the situation. I was counting down the weeks until I could move out in December. We went to Sevan for a volunteer weekend away. I had a conference where I got quite sick, again. I also got to see some of the country, which was a big morale booster. It seemed like every weekend I had somewhere I had to go, which ended up being a good thing. The last thing I needed to do at this point was sit in my room alone during the weekends.

The weather started changing. It was colder. It was Morten’s last month. I had some meetings in Yerevan, which were good distractions. I also visited Yerevan with Morten’s family. We had another camp with the other Ys. All these things added up and meant that October flew by for me. The next thing I knew, it was Halloween, there was a half foot of snow on the ground, and things just felt different.

This was probably the first month where I actually felt good about the work I was doing. I felt more productive than ever. Even though that’s not saying much, it was at least a positive feeling. Starting to teach English was a good thing for me. I felt better about myself at work and I think that translated to other areas as well. Vardenis felt more like home. After a trip to Yerevan, it was nice to be back in Vardenis. I visited Solak and realized that my language skills actually were improving at site, even if I can’t understand my host family in Vardenis. We had the big conference in Yerevan. I also celebrated Thanksgiving in Martuni with a bunch of volunteers. I was getting to know a lot of people in PC now, and the more I got to know them, the more I liked them.

The flash mob was a success, phew. Finally a couple weeks to rest on the weekends. I got sick again. Then Varditer’s father passed away. Work wasn’t the same for a couple weeks. When she returned, I did some trainings for the staff, which felt good. I started feeling a little homesick again for Christmas. I enjoyed the season as much as possible, spending time in Gavar with other Americans. And now I’m amazed that the month is over, and so is the year. Soon I will be celebrating Nor Tari for the first time. I’m pretty happy with where I am. I’ve overcome a lot of challenges, learned a ton, and am actually surviving and maybe even beginning to thrive in Armenia. The next year is looking good.

The year is over. But I can look back on 2010 and be proud of what I accomplished. It was a year of progress for me in many ways. That’s really all you can ask for from a year.

Now, 2011. I’m not sure exactly everything I want out of 2011, so I’ll keep it kind of vague. I want to really hit my stride in Armenia. I want to keep progressing in the language, having interesting experiences, and doing meaningful work. I also want to see more of the country, visit some other countries, and enjoy the only full year I will have here.

I hope your 2010 was a good experience as well. Best wishes to you in 2011, and remember, it’s yours to do with what you want.


2 Responses to “2010”

  1. Kelsey Says:

    Happy New Year, KevBo! I’m excited to see you in YOUR new life in 2011! I’m so proud of you. You accomplished and conquered a lot of firsts in 2010. I am looking forward to reading about everything that happens to you in the coming year! I was looking back on pictures from NYE 2009 at Jared’s. So much has changed since then! Including the status of your facial hair…hitler stache vs no-shave November/December 🙂 hope you have a fabulous armenian holiday season!

  2. icenugget Says:

    Thanks Kelsey! I’m really excited to host you guys. Hopefully there will be lots of interesting things to report in 2011. And as far as facial hair, there is a good chance there will be a moustache at some point. I hope you had a great NYE and see your dreams come true in the next year.

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