By Cristopher Patvakanian
During the summer of 2018, I had the great privilege to complete an internship at the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA) through an internship program offered by my university. As a freshly declared economics major in my sophomore year of college, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to not only further my experience and knowledge of economics, but also do “something” to give back to Armenia. I of course didn’t doubt how incredible of an experience it would be working among truly Armenia’s brightest and most creative economists at the CBA’s Research and Training Center in Armenia. Quite honestly, how much of a contribution my small research project was during that internship is debatable, but I can say just how profoundly the experience impacted my studies in economics as well as my relationship to Armenia. In particular, one conversation I had with a senior colleague at the bank changed my life and outlook on diaspora relations with the homeland.
The colleague, who typically had much more interactions with the interns in previous years, was incredibly busy during 2018, so I’d say the other interns and I were very lucky to have had the opportunity to speak with him. He invited us to his office to discuss our internship experience and how our projects were going, and gave us the opportunity to debate and ask him “big” questions. The program, which typically has students from all over the world and of all backgrounds, happened to have all but two interns with Armenian ancestry that year. I presume many had the same ambitions as me in finding our way to the CBA – to give something back to our homeland and benefit from the experience.
During our discussion, the big question I had hoped to ask was “What can we as the diaspora do to help Armenia?” (not that Armenia necessarily needs any diasporans “saving it”). All of us had just witnessed the 2018 revolution, and felt a sense of renewed hope and positivity in the country. Naturally, I was curious to hear, from an economist’s perspective, what is to be done now.
The answer to my question was not what I expected: “You’re asking the wrong question. Don’t come and ask me ‘What can we do?’ Ask yourself, ‘What can you do?’” Immediately, I felt confused. What kind of answer is that? I had expected a response more along the lines of “We need to unite,” “We need to invest,” “We need to be more involved,” etc. – the kind of comfortable answers which frame the “responsibility” collectively on everybody but nobody at the same time. The colleague continued with more uncomfortable truths in response to my question: “Don’t ask what other people are doing or what others should do because you are a part of the diaspora. Ask what are you doing now, or rather, what aren’t you doing now and why?”
The discussion continued with more on taking responsibility and ownership, and putting an end to the endless talking with a start to the actual doing. There was nothing wrong with thinking big, but truthfully speaking, there is much more value to starting somewhere (even small) and actually doing something.