One Year Done- What I’ve Learned

By Sierra Buehlman Barbeau
May 16, 2017

Time flies — it’s already been a year of service! 

Here we are at staging!
Here we are at staging!

I remember last year around this time, waiting nervously and impatiently to leave for Armenia, wondering how I was going to make it away from home for 27 months. I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. It’s been twelve months, and I’m happy and comfortable in my life. They say that Peace Corps volunteers get so much more from their experiences than they could ever give, and learn so much more than they could ever teach, so to honor my one-year anniversary, I wanted to share the twelve most important things that this beautiful country has taught me.

  • I’ve learned how to make people feel welcome. I have a whole new perspective on inviting people into my house. Before coming here, I didn’t care to have people “invading my privacy,” but Armenia has given me a whole new perspective on hospitality. When someone comes over, it’s not annoying anymore: they’re in your home because they love and care about you, and you can thank them for their kindness with coffee, tea, and sweets.
Me and Tatik.
  • I’ve learned that we should take care of each other. It’s the right thing to do. The human thing. So often, we get caught up in fighting for ourselves and our work that we forget to care for each other. I’ve learned this from the many Armenians I’ve met, but mostly from Tatik, my Armenian grandmother. She scolds me when I don’t eat before school and makes me wait so she can bring me eggs. She cleans my shoes, she’ll bring in my laundry if it starts to rain while I’m gone, and sometimes she’ll sneak into my room and straighten it up. Yes, this is all embarrassing, but Tatik doesn’t do it to embarrass me. She does it to take care of me in the ways most natural to her.
Sierra's debate team
Debate team with my girls has taught me so much.
  • I’ve learned that different people in the world have different perspectives. Not everything we view as “right” in America is right for everyone in the world. Thanks to debate club with my kids, where we debate gender-related issues, my perspective about the world has widened. Even if I don’t agree with something, it’s easier for me to see why other people might think the way that they do.  When you see a society function in a completely different way than your home society, you start to realize that there is more than one correct way of doing things, and you judge “different” less than you would have before.
  • I’ve learned how hard it is to be a foreigner in another country. A lot of people say that the immigrants in America should just “learn English,” and “be like us,” but this is a lot easier said than done. You can’t just take a culture out of a person. I feel alone here sometimes, different, and people are always wondering why I do things the way that I do. Even though I’m surrounded by the Armenian language day and night, it’s still difficult for me to communicate. This experience has given me an interesting perspective on what immigrants in the U.S. might feel, but it must be so much harder for them. Even though I’ve chosen this path, it’s still difficult, and I can’t imagine moving to another country out of necessity.
Art Club
Art Club
  • I’ve learned the importance of creativity for kids. Here, learning is based on memorization rather than critical thinking. When I tell my fourth graders to draw something, they used to copy the pictures directly out of the book instead of creating something. Art Club has helped my kids more than I could have ever imagined: they don’t even care about my examples anymore. They’re too busy putting their imaginations on paper!
  • I’ve learned that I can live on so much less than we have in the U.S. Tatik and I survived a whole winter without heat and running water, and both of us are still alive and well. 
  • I’ve learned that time doesn’t matter. Things happen. People are late. Of course, the American in me gets frustrated when, say, my director gives me paper work two hours late, but Armenia has given me patience. Armenia has taught me that important things will get done if they’re meant to get done, and that if it gets done matters so much more than when it gets done. Priorities are different here. Work and deadlines don’t always come first.
Sierra's family
My family
  • I’ve learned the value of family. It’s something that’s valued here a lot more than it is in the U.S. Sure, we love our parents and kids in the U.S., but Armenia has showed me that we tend to value work and money more than we value the people who are related to us. Also, I’ve been away from my parents and sister for more than a year, and I miss them. Seeing how much people value their families here has made me realize how special mine is.
Sierra working with kids
Me and Gohar, training family host sister
  • I’ve learned how to work with children! And, I’ve learned that I think I like them. Before coming to Armenia, I’d never interacted with a young child. Now, I’ve had host siblings ages 3, 5, 6, 9, 11, and 12, and I’ve had students and friends of every other age.
Sierra and her cat
The cat doing yoga-- it helps her, too

  • I’ve learned how to take care of myself under stress. Peace Corps is a place where I’ve faced so many more challenges than ever before: learning how to fit in among a different culture, a new language, and other volunteers who might be different from me, and working in situations that might be uncomfortable, and as volunteers, we need to be able to take care of ourselves. I’m reminded that a good run will show me that I’m strong and drain my negativity, that yoga and meditation will help me breathe when my heart is racing with anger or fear, a shower is invaluable, brushing my teeth makes me feel human, and painting my nails makes me feel beautiful. Eating eggs and fruit in the morning makes me better able to handle a day, and a vitamin makes me feel healthy. I also find a lot of peace in painting, creative writing, and journaling. And my cat. I can squeeze my cat and everything will be ok.
A friend and I on an adventure!
A friend and I on an adventure!
  • I’ve learned that things I’m scared of usually turn out fine. I was scared to come to Peace Corps. I’m fine now. I was scared to go to site, to start clubs, to go to my new site, and to go to school; sometimes even to roll out of bed in the morning. A friend once asked me: “Aren’t you scared, here in Armenia, alone, not knowing the language?” And I said, “Yes, I’m scared every day. But every day, I get out of bed, and I’m fine. Good even.” I’m a lot brave than I thought I was.
  • I’ve learned how strong I am. I can handle so much more than I had ever imagined. I’m an optimistic person and I can fight for myself now. That used to be difficult for me, but my list of successes grows longer every day. I’ve found strength I never knew I had. When I look back at my list, I’m always so proud of myself. I’m turning into a person I love.
Sierra Buehlman Barbeau