All this after spending this past summer as a volunteer worker in the village of Yeghvart, right by the Azerbaijan border.
The 21-year-old is into her senior year at the University of New Hampshire, majoring in English and minoring in race, culture, and power, along with African studies.
She figured it was time to learn a bit more about her dad’s side of the family and truly acquaint herself with the country of her ancestors.
The fact she was going near Azerbaijan—a country in political unrest—made her a tad uneasy. But those fears were quickly erased upon arrival. Loosigian spent three weeks renovating a village church that had lain in ruins.
“I learned how to survive on my own,” she said. “After my visit, I feel more than half-Armenian and am gaining on my heritage and culture. Ultimately, I’d like to return and make more of an impact in that country.”
One day it was shoveling through a rock pile, then upgrading a sanctuary floor the next. She helped refurbish the interior, repainted the architectural interior, and did abundant landscaping.
“The progress was noticeable,” she pointed out. “Right after we finished, people were coming here to be baptized and get married. Sunday services resumed and the villagers were overjoyed at having their church restored to good health. The joy rubbed off on all of us.”
Loosigian wasn’t alone. She was among 11 volunteers who applied through the Land and Culture Organization based in California. Her commitment was a month’s time away from home, a $750 deposit for room and board, along with a $1,200 plane ticket plus incidentals. The total cost of $3,000 came out of the family account.
What’s more, she gave up a summer job, put her boyfriend on hold, and a family lakeside retreat aside, trading it all for a rich cultural experience.
“Julie has always been a charitable person,” says her mom Lisa. “She’s always raised money for charity on her own so this was a fantastic opportunity for her. We’ve always encouraged our children to become people of the world. This was an investment into her future.”
After three weeks in Yeghvart (population 290), Loosigian spent another week at Yerevan State Medical School, living in a dorm. Her observations in the villages left somewhat of a dour impression: the frivolous way water is used, a lack of economic or employment opportunities, the erratic driving and horrendous road conditions.
The fact she didn’t know the language and relied on a translator was also discouraging.
But what pleased her considerably was how happy, strong, and structured the children happened to be. Their happy faces caused her to smile.
“I learned an incredible amount of how rural Armenia exists and what the country needs,” Loosigian said. “I want to go into international non-profit work and visit Armenia again. I’ve found the best way to discover your roots is to become fully immersed in it.”
In the interim, Loosigian is preparing a presentation of her experience and hopes to raise money for various Armenian organizations, perhaps get other students like herself to make a similar commitment and become an activist in Armenia.
Loosigian has had limited Armenian upbringing, except for her dad Peter and aunt and uncle Arek and Lisa Kalaydjian. Arek is a deacon at St. Gregory Church in North Andover, Mass., where his niece was baptized.
She left for Paris on the morning of her 21st birthday, accompanied by her mom. But that’s where they parted company, after a brief celebration. It was the first time Julie had left home for an extended time period.
Five hours later, she landed in Yerevan and hooked up with the others—all of whom hailed from the West Coast. At Yeghvart, a hotel room was quickly substituted for a modest village abode.
While there, she visited 12 churches, viewed other sites, and got to swim in Lake Sevan. No way did it compare with her summer excursions to Lake Winnipauskee in New Hampshire.
So how does she feel now? No deliberation here.
“Like a total Armenian,” she candidly admits.