In light of this week’s Global Community Hour sponsored by the Office of International Affairs. I sat down with the tour guide: Andreas Armenis to understand what it is like to be a first generation student and get a little glimpse inside the Greek culture.
Where is your family from? Can you tell me a little bit about their story, and reasoning for coming to the states?
Both my mother and father are from Greece. Yup that’s right; that means I am 100 percent folks! My father is from the northern coastal island of Corfu. My mother is from a town in the North called Preveza. My parents met in Athens and settled down together at a young age. My mother worked as an assistant pharmacist in the city center, and my father was a radiographer for the Greek Merchant Marines. My sister Julie was born in 1986 in Athens (Fun Fact: She also is a Bryant Alum, Class of 2008). After my father left the merchant marines in 1986 in order to be with his family, he was forced to make a tough decision. My father did not have much opportunity in Greece, and after a life at sea that was all he knew! He made the decision to come to America in 1988.
He worked, applied for his green card, and established himself, before my mother and my sister came over in 1989. I remember when my parents told me the story of their journey over to America, they always described to me the challenges it brought them. The different lifestyle, the language, the longing for their family back in Greece. All these challenges seemed to be never-ending for them. But still, despite all these challenges they were able to establish residency, gain citizenship, open their own business, and raise and support three children. The idea that surrounds their story is what makes me so appreciative and inspired to strive for the very best; the idea that when we hit our lowest point in life, we are open to the greatest change. With two suitcases, a dream, and drive, my parents created a whole new life for them and their children. Many first generation, multicultural, or international families can relate to this.
What cultural values do you appreciate the most?
I think the number one cultural value that I appreciate most from my Greek culture is my family! You have seen it before in the blockbuster hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding; family is one of the most important things. The reason why I appreciate it the most is because it is the foundation which so many of my beliefs stem from!
How do you stay in touch with your roots!?
Growing up in a Greek household there really was no other option than to know your roots and then see your roots every summer. Yes that is right! I went to Greece every summer since 2000. While all the typical American families brought their children to Disneyland and Disneyworld, my family brought me island-hopping in the Mediterranean. The first time I met my whole family was in 2000. I look forward to summers because I get to go back to Greece and visit my family and enjoy a summer well spent there!
How has it been being first-generation growing up?
I never felt that there was much difference between my childhood and the kids down the street. I never really understood until a later age what it was to be first-generation. I think that the only big difference between my childhood is that I learned the meaning of responsibility at a very early age. Whether it was accompanying my parents to the doctor’s office to fill out forms or working at the family pizza shop every weekend, I was forced to grow up at a much earlier age. I never looked at this in a negative light, I was just growing up! To be completely honest it was not always the easiest, and it is a unique feeling to describe, to put that feeling into perspective when you are explaining how to fill out W-2 forms while your other friends are filling out their Mad-Libs, it makes you wish just for that second you could escape and be a kid. All in all I don’t think it was that different from any other kid growing up. I had the opportunity to hang out with my friends, had the chance to partake in after-school sports and events. I was pretty normal, just with super cool and hardworking FOB parents.
What is your cultural identity? Do you identify more with American culture or more with Greek culture?
I would have to say it has been great! I really enjoy the best of both worlds. It’s actually kind of funny because when I am in Greece, my family there calls me American, and when I am here people assume I am American but say I’m Greek. I just find it comical in the difference of how I am culturally perceived in both places. I identify as Greek-American. In the end you have your own understanding of culture, and that’s what you’re going to count on. A lot of my morals, values and beliefs stem from this sort of harmonization of both cultures. Sometimes my parents argue that I have ideals that are “too American” but on the other hand some people would classify me as “too cultured.” In the end, it’s what you feel is right to you. Not what your mother told you. Not what your father told you. Not what anybody else told you, but the still, small voice. That is why I identify as Greek-American because everyone likes a label; so that’s what I am slapping on this one.
How have you been able to stay intact with your culture on campus?
There is nothing that gives you more confidence than being a member of a small, weirdly specific hard to find demographic. With that being said when I first came onto campus and heard about Greek Life, I am not going to lie, I thought, wow, this campus has a lot of Greeks here! Only two days in did I realize that my definition of Greek population and the University’s definition of a Greek population were very different. Despite my missed chance with Greek Life on campus, I have been able to stay intact with my culture on campus. Through the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and campus organizations such as ISO and MSU I have been given the chance not only to learn about other cultures, but share my culture with other students too. I have also been able to stay intact with my culture through the International Business Department. They really care about and appreciate their students, celebrating the diversity that they bring to the program and to the classroom!