While arriving and living in Armenia had its challenges, leaving after three months was especially poignant. Bonds had been formed and lives changed, mine as well as those with whom I had made contact. It was no simple matter saying good-bye. In the words of Martin Vartazarian, a senior Conservatory professor and one of Armenia's Jazz survivors, "We hope you will come back again...and again...and again..." I am certain I will.
The return to the USA was also challenging. While I was glad to be home, my first impression upon touching down in Newark Airport was more one of deep gratitude for the great privileges I enjoy as an American citizen, and of deep compassion for the suffering of people elsewhere living in less fortunate circumstances. To have a job, own a home and have access to opportunities for improving one's welfare all sound normal by American standards, but for many people I met on this trip they are not. I felt something like survivors' guilt.
Then came the recognition that, in general, Americans work hard, too hard for their own good; that, driven by consumerism, they spend hard-earned money for things they don't really need in the search for happiness; and that rather, in order to find it, they need to relax more, to notice and appreciate the details of life, to "Smell The Flowers."
Life in Armenia taught me that people with a lot less can truly be happy.
Overwhelmed with the vivid memories and accelerated sensations of my fast-paced journey though five countries, I was nearly mute when repeatedly asked by well-meaning friends and family, "How was it?" With over 400 photographs in hand, I attempted on several occasions to answer this question for a few with the patience to listen to my entire tale, but I soon realized that only a photo-essay could begin to convey something of the breadth and depth of my Fulbright experience. And so I decided to write this piece.
Now, when asked "How was it?" I answer "Challenging and rewarding."