The change of culture was striking to this son.: Becoming Minnesotan

Tenzin Chodon, c.2005.
  • Name - Tenzin Chodon
  • Age at interview - 51
  • Gender - Female
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 09.05.2005
  • Edison High School Tibet club, Minneapolis.  Photo courtesy Wangyal Ritzekura.
    Women making momo in a park, Minneapolis.  Photo courtesy Wangyal Ritzekura.

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    Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Problems in America: What could have helped this person’s adjustment in the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    There are many Tibetan schools operating in the refugee camps and Tibetan settlements throughout Indian and Nepal.  Some of the schools in India are run by the Tibetan Children’s Villages (TVC), an independent organization that provides good quality education for Tibetan orphans and recent arrivals from Tibet. 

    Schools in India are much stricter than most schools in the U.S.  Children all wear uniforms and are expected to act very proper and be polite and respectful of elders at all times. 

    When Tibetan families immigrated to the U.S. the children often struggled with adjusting to the differences in American schools.  

    To learn more about Tibetan history and culture, visit our Tibetan Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Tenzin Chodon 2
    3:16 Minutes | 3.15Mb


    Narrator: Tenzin Chodon (TC)

    Interviewer: Tenzin Yangdon (TY)

    TY:  You said that two of your children graduated from high school here?

    TC:  Yes.

    TY:  Like when they were when they first arrived here and they had to deal with cultural change and like integrating into another different community, how did you as a parent deal with that?

    TC:  Oh, my gosh! I cried with them. I literally cried. Because my...especially my son, Tinley, you know? Coming from TCV [Tibetan Children's Village] such a well-mannered school. No? And suddenly going to school here, to Southwest, where all the children...even when the teacher comes in, the pops were in their hand and stretching their legs and no uniform and all.

    My son won’t eat. Just thinking. He always, literally every day he told me, “I want to go back. Please send me back. I’ll refund you the airplane money.” And I told him, “Tinley, it’s okay. This country is like that culture, no respect, no nothing. So don’t feel bad. You’ll get used to it.” And he, this son — Somo was okay because she’s from English school. I mean she knew how to speak in English also plus she had a lot of Tibetan girls, you know, to mix up with. But Tinley, coming from TCV, his English wasn’t good and he was the best student from TCV, actually, and coming here, being dumped into Southwest High School and seeing the children’s manners and having no uniform and this...boy, he suffered a lot.

    I told him to let...this is America. Don’t concentrate too much on manners. Just act and do like the other students were. He literally says, “I’m going back to TCV. Please send me back to TCV. I don’t care. I don’t want to stay here.” He didn’t want to stay at all. Then he cried. He never used to like cry and I cry with him. I say it’s bad. I told him, “It’s okay. Soon you will get used to it. Now this is a different country and that’s a different country.”

    See, that’s how life changes. You cannot always cannot always have a bed of roses. I told him and no matter how much I loved him, how I always make momos and [unclear] and no matter what kind of food I give he never eats those days. He was just...he says I’m TCV as soon as we see a teacher coming from a distance we have to stand at ease, stand up and wait and here when the teacher enters the classroom people just sit back, stretch their legs and...the change of culture was striking to this son.

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  A group of people who share a common understanding of the same language, manners, tradition and law.


    Verb:  To focus attention on something.  (concentrates, concentrating, concentrated)


    Adjective:  Relating to the traditions and customs of a group or society.


    Noun:  The arts, customs, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation.


    Verb:  To blend in; to desegregate.  (integrates, integrating, integrated)


    Noun:  Tibetan dumplings.

    Listen to this word: 


    Adjective:  Having good manners; polite, courteous, and socially correct; conforming to standards of good behavior.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 141