Cal Kevorkian

Unpacking the ‘Why’ Behind Volunteering in Armenia


December 5 is the International Volunteer Day, the occasion to dive into the profound reasons for volunteering in the Homeland, especially in these challenging times. Birthright Armenia invites Diasporan Armenians to contribute their time and knowledge to Armenia. One such volunteer is Cal Kevorkian of Michigan, who has never been to Armenia before. He shares his own story the reasons behind his decision below.

By Cal Kevorkian

I’m proud of my unique Armenian culture and my Kevorkian name, but there is still so much I have yet to learn and understand.

My Armenian heritage traces back to Armenia around 1915 when my great-grandfather and great-grandmother both escaped the Genocide. Tragically, they lost their respective families but managed to find their way to New York City, where they worked as hired help in the Upper East Side. It was there that fate brought them together, finding a sense of home and comfort in each other, leading to their marriage. Eventually, they saved enough money to move to Chicago, where they ran a mom-and-pop corner store. It wasn’t until my grandfather Harry decided to go to Cal Berkeley for university that things changed. Visiting the Bay Area with Harry, my great grandfather was immediately reminded of the hillsides of Armenia, prompting the entire family to move west and settle in San Jose. My dad then came along many years later after Harry married an Irish woman named Betty. Fast forward 30-some years, and my older sister and I arrive.

Throughout my life, I’ve grown up eating basturma and boreg, listening to my father recount the infamous story of our family’s journey, and exploring Armenian Catholic Churches wherever I can find them. I take pride in my unique Armenian culture and Kevorkian name, but I acknowledge that there is still much for me to learn and understand.

The reasons behind my desire to volunteer in Armenia seem endless, making the question “What are the reasons for wanting to volunteer” initially challenging to answer. The thought of “Where do I start?” kept popping up in my head. However, I’ll begin with this: immersion. That’s what I seek. I choose immersion because it encompasses so much of what I desire from this experience. It’s more than just travel; it’s about fully experiencing a culture and embracing everything it has to offer.

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I want to be thrown into the beautiful fire of Armenia and soak in all that I can. I want to embrace and learn firsthand what Armenia is.

This has been a goal of mine for many years, particularly learning the language. Throughout my life, a beautiful painting of the Armenian alphabet has hung in the entry to our home. I would sometimes stop and stare at it, appreciating the differences and similarities to my native alphabet. In my mind, I would trace the letters, as if painting my own masterpiece. I often wondered what day-to-day life would be like, communicating in this language instead of English. Despite these curiosities, I never took the initiative to truly dive into it until now.

I also hope to improve my backgammon game.

I can’t imagine a world where this experience doesn’t bring me closer or exactly to where I’m supposed to be.

While I have no doubt that the people I’ll meet during this journey will enjoy their fair share of fun, I am confident in my ability to strike a well-balanced “work hard, play hard” lifestyle during the volunteering program.

Moreover, I believe my travels and life experiences have provided me with a unique perspective that I can bring to both the workplace and personal interactions. However, I also recognize that having my own set of unique ideas is not, in itself, unique. Everyone has their story to tell, and I fully expect to be influenced by the perspective of the friends that I meet, just as I hope to influence them. At the end of the day, isn’t that one of the reasons we travel, immerse ourselves, and venture boldly? To challenge ourselves and our perspective of the world? That’s certainly one of the things I hope to receive from Birthright Armenia.

(Birthright Armenia has brought more than 2,500 young adults from 59 countries to Armenia as volunteers. For Diasporan Armenians older than 32, the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) program provides the same opportunities. Cal Kevorkian attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he studied neuroscience. For the past 7 years, he has worked as an outdoor, active travel guide. He is an avid traveler who has visited 6 continents and more than 35 countries.)



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