Exploring Gyumri: A Cultural Journey

My name is Lise, and I spent six months on a Service Civique in Gyumri, Armenia through the Armenian Volunteer Corps. The adaptation upon arrival was a bit challenging. So many new things and much information to assimilate. I had no idea what Armenia would be like. It felt like being thrown back into the Soviet era; the architecture is very much marked by that period. Here, people do not speak English, at least not in Gyumri, or it’s rather rare. So, blending into the landscape and learning the basics from the first month was necessary.

 

Exploring Armenian Culture: Embracing Family Traditions

 

Armenian culture is very oriented towards others and the community. I discovered a very strong connection to family there. Traditions and a lifestyle centered around celebration and meals. One of the words I heard the most where I worked was “Ker!” which means “Eat!” 

I came to Armenia to discover a culture and a country but also to deepen my professional skills in the art world, to discover places of art, and to discover creative studios. My goal was to experiment as much as possible to understand if my desire to set up a studio in France was a real want or just a fantasy. In Gyumri, there are many artists and artisans. Several artists have opened workshops and started from scratch. Many started with no financial security, yet they managed to live from it because it was their passion. All this was incredibly inspiring. It’s beautiful to see artists who have launched themselves blindly without necessarily worrying about the future of their place. I also connected a lot with the Russian community. It is a community that is very present here, especially in Yerevan. Since the war in Ukraine, anti-war Russians have been expatriating and taking refuge in the Caucasus countries. 

During my time in Armenia, I met many musicians, dancers, artists, and street artists. Thanks to daily practice, these encounters allowed me to improve my photography and pottery techniques. I thank all my various work partners who gave me all the freedom necessary to create. The experience took me out of my comfort zone and shook me up in every sense of the word. It allowed me to have an external viewpoint on my life in France. Conversely, thanks to my life in Gyumri, I could focus and question my life, my way of seeing the world, people, and work.

 

Artistic Encounters: Nurturing Creativity in Gyumri

 

I met many volunteers like me from several backgrounds and nationalities; they were mostly volunteers from the Armenian diaspora who came to reconnect with their origins. I did not realize the importance of being surrounded by other volunteers; I formed strong and deep bonds with them. They played a significant role in my experience, and we were a big family to rely on in challenging times. It’s important to have people to count on and with whom we can identify. The artists for whom I worked were also amazing encounters. Art is a field where I feel completely at home because we share the same language regardless of culture. Art unites, art brings together, and also gives me the feeling of being a part of a community. Furthermore, from the beginning to the end, I was made to feel that my work was of great value.

This experience will surely be a huge part of the memorable experiences in my life and will mark a turning point. I now feel confident with my skills and have a clearer vision of where I want to go. Thanks to all the synchronicities that made this experience possible.

Lise Bisleau

March 27, 2024