Where are you going to get kebab in Austin?
The following was written by Gareen Simone about her experiences as a student at the University of Texas at Austin.
You would think that a school of 50,000 people would have at least one Armenian? At least, that’s what I was hoping for the summer before I went off to college. I was making the move from Southern California to Austin, Texas and was feeling just the right amount of excitement, probably a little too nervous. I knew things would be different being independent in a different state and I was doing my best to prepare for the unknown.
A few weeks before I was going to leave, surrounded by my very big Armenian family, one of my uncles asked me, “Where are you going to get kebab in Austin?”
I paused because I really didn’t know. And then it hit me, the Armenian community I belong to and had such easy access to while growing up was going to be very far away. I mean, Austin is no Glendale. Sure, it is the live music capital of the world, it has an amazing nightlife, but where was I going to buy baklava? Or lahmajoun?
After extensive research on my uncle’s part, he was only able to find one restaurant near my university that was a Mediterranean restaurant with a Chipotle vibe. Needless to say, I don’t frequent there.
But after my little reality check and with t-minus two weeks till I made the move to Austin, I began to search online for some sort of Armenian organization or something I could join while I was at school. I came up empty handed, and felt a bit discouraged. When it finally came time to leave, I headed to Texas with my Armenian first name and my Alex and Ani charms. For the time being, that was going to have to be enough.
Once I got to the lone star state and settled in my dorm, I had a lot of explaining to do. For starters, it began with telling people how to pronounce my name. Then I was hit with the question, “Oh, where is that from?” I would respond, “It’s Armenian, I’m Armenian.” After either a blank stare or a polite shrug, I would go on to say, “It’s a country, you should Google it.” I wasn’t used to people not knowing where I was from, but I had no trouble starting these people on their journey of cultural awareness.
I wasn't having any luck finding any other Armenians on my campus, but I was sure teaching my peers quite a bit.
Fast forward to my first football game. I had made some friends and we were standing on the stadium bleachers before kick off. I must have been talking about Armenia or Armenian food, which prompted my friend Miles to say, “Why don't you just check to see if anyone here is Armenian?”
Mind you, we were in a stadium with 100,000 people. It was loud and it was hot. But, at that point, I didn’t have anything to lose.
So, I yelled to the open air, “Is anyone here Armenian?”
To my surprise, I heard a voice say, “I am!”
The girl who had been sitting to my left looked back at me. We screamed and hugged, while my friend Miles looked puzzled, but impressed.
And that is how my new Armenian community began. After each of us texted our moms, we exchanged numbers and watched the rest of the game together. After meeting Jemma, I found more Armenian students, an Armenian Students Association, and even an AustinHye email list to be apart of.
Even though I was in a different state, there was still a group of people that would go on to become my close friends and make me feel at home no matter where I was. I had been worried about losing touch with my culture, and therefore losing a part of me. Being away from home made me more determined than ever to maintain who I was and a big part of that, for me, is being Armenian. And so, even though I am not in a few mile radius of baklava, I have found an Armenian community of my own. It is so nice to have people around you who get it. I can still grow, change, and develop into my future (and hopefully hirable) self, while being the same Armenian hobbit I’ve always been.
Like the saying goes. You know, that quote that we’ve all read before, "You put two Armenians together anywhere in the world, you get a community." This new community, these new friends of mine have made that a reality. It has been somewhat unexpected, but all the more special.