It is always eye-opening to hear from expats who left everything they loved behind to find their new home in America.
Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan – originally from Armenia – is currently serving as a pastor at St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul, MN. He talked to Diasporina about his experiences in America.
When did you first come to America and why?
I arrived in the US on Saturday, January 22, 2011. I was assigned by the Catholicos to serve in the US, and it was decided for me to go to Chicago first for an adjustment period.
What were your first thoughts about America on the way from a U.S. airport where you first landed?
I was actually expecting to see tall, modern buildings and structures, but the road from the airport was more industrial and regular. Fr. Aren, who picked me up at the airport, told me that the food is not going to be the same as in Armenia, the taste is not the same and it has proved to be true to this day. I had my first sandwich at Jimmy John’s on the way from the airport and it tasted a little bland to me. I was also thinking to call my family and let them know I arrived and get some rest after a long flight because next day was Sunday and we were going to have a Sunday service.
What was the most extraordinary thing you saw in America?
Many around the world have a different image of America, mostly based on Hollywood. But I found a different place, very different. I found America that is very much based on Christian values and principles, America that is very religious and faithful, Americans that care for each other and help the rest of the world.
Tell us the funniest culture shock experience you’ve had?
During my first week in America, we went to a private high school where Fr. Aren was going to give a talk on the Armenian Genocide. It was an early morning and they started the class with a pledge of allegiance. I didn’t know anything about it before. I was standing in the corner of the classroom. Suddenly everybody turned towards me and I thought maybe we have to face certain direction (in this case,the corner), and I also turned around to face the corner. When I turned back, everybody was laughing. It was only then that I noticed the US flag above my head!
What is the biggest difference between this country and your home country?
I never try to compare, because I don’t know where to start! There are so many differences. Life is more organized here and the system is designed to help you. I think what makes all the difference is that officials are elected by the people, and they are public servants accountable for their actions to the people.
I was fascinated to see how people respect the law.
There are many cultural differences. There is a mentality of community life here. People live in communities and take responsibility of caring for the community, whether it is a Church, neighborhood, town, city or even the country. For many post-Soviet countries, including our homeland, volunteering is something alien and difficult to understand: why would you work for free? People volunteer here to make their communities and the world a better place.
What do you most appreciate about Americans and America?
Very often I see Americans themselves trying to be accepting or understanding of other cultures or people, devaluing and underrating their own culture and country, but I really appreciate many aspects of American culture. From the first day I arrived in the US, people greet me with a smile that already makes your day brighter. In Armenia, if a stranger greets you with a smile, they are either tourists or considered crazy.
I appreciate the spirit of generosity and giving back. People feel responsible to care and help each other, volunteer to make their community better.
I appreciate the tradition of Thanksgiving; giving thanks to each other and to God for all his gifts.
What was the most difficult adjustment for you?
Also, I can’t get used to the ice-cream here. It is too sweat even for me. That’s why I go to Armenia every year so as I can eat my favorite ice-cream. Even the cheapest ice-cream (2 cents)there is much better than the best ice-cream here.
What is your favorite American food?
It is funny but most of what we call favorite “American food” is not American. I think that’s the beauty of America, you can find any food from the world here.
But I would like to add that I like the restaurant culture here, especially the customer service. Good customer service is something that we are lacking in Armenia. A customer is valued here and everything is done to make them happy. It makes any food more enjoyable!
What do Americans find interesting or funny about your own culture?
I think Americans are very interested to learn about other cultures and people in general. And Armenia as well as Armenians are very interesting for them, since Americans don’t know much about us. They like the food the most, along with our history, and they are always amazed to learn that we are the first official Christian nation.
They are also surprised to learn that there are Armenians in Minnesota and even an Armenian Church.