Adjusting to Life at Mason

Sonya’s Practical Tips for Success at Mason and in the US

Sonya Henry is the Associate Director for Internationalization and Outreach in the Office of International Programs and Services. She is in charge of orientation, social and cultural programs and the volunteer program "Volunteers for International Programs (VIP)"

The more I work with people from other countries and cultures, the more I find myself reflecting on American culture and why we do the things we do. In this section I will include several tips that can help you to adjust to life during your first few weeks at Mason and in the US. This is a living document. So, as I interact with new students and hear about their experiences, I will update and add to this list.

1. HELP! What does help mean here?

You have probably already heard that in the United States we value individuality. This includes one’s person time, space, and privacy. We also tend to value direct and specific communication styles. As international students these cultural values may seem confusing when seeking help from university professionals and others. Typically when help is offered in the United States, it entails providing someone with a list of resources or information that he/she can then investigate and act upon on his/her own. A popular saying we have here is “You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.” This basically means that a professor, advisor, fellow student or friend can offer you some resources or advice, but at the end of the day it is your responsibility to make the next steps. When requesting help from a university professional please prepare/expect the following:

  • Provide a specific request or question. For example, “I would like to take 2 core classes, but could you help me decide the best course to complete my schedule this semester?”
  • You may then receive an e-mail with a series of links or departments to contact.
  • Be proactive and research those resources and reach out to those new contacts.
  • Lastly, after doing your research, if you still have questions, please be specific in your follow up questions/requests, before making your decision/taking your course of action.
  • Follow through with your next steps for action, and thank the person for their time, advice, and assistance.

2. The Art of Gratitude

In the United States when someone does something to assist you it is considered both polite and necessary to express gratitude. When working with university professionals, a simple follow-up e-mail that says thank you for your specific help and time is sufficient. When interacting with others, a simple verbal thank you works fine. Remember to be specific! William Arthur Ward once said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

3. First Impressions are everything

As a college student, you are developing your personal brand, and everything you do or say is reflective of who you are. Although the United States can be less formal than other cultures, everyone makes initial judgments about other people- how they dress, how they speak, if they show up on time, if they keep their promises, etc. So be mindful of the impression of yourself you want others to see. Here in the United States we often say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

4. Writing the right way

As a college student, e-mail will be the most popular form of communication between you and your professors, university professionals, and other students. It is important to practice good e-mail etiquette in order to receive the help you need and to maintain a positive personal brand (remember first impressions do apply to written communication). Take these steps to make sure you are writing the right way:

  • Use your Masonlive account to send all Mason related e-mails
  • Be sure to use a greeting and to introduce yourself (i.e. Dear Professor….My name is __________and I am a student in your ________ course...)
  • Clearly, quickly, and directly state your question or comments in the message
  • Include a proper closing (i.e. I look forward to speaking with you soon. Thank you so much, Your Name)
  • Use spell check for any spelling or grammatical errors
  • Double check the tone of your message- Make sure your message sounds polite and professional, and not rude and demanding.

Just remember the wise words of O'Shea Jackson, Sr. (aka Ice Cube), “Check yourself before you wreck yourself!”

5. Don’t die from Deadlines:

In the US we often say “time is money.” This simply means that time is something that is valued and taken very seriously here. So meeting times, class times, assignment deadlines, and event start times are generally fixed. If the schedule says 10am, the program will begin no later than 10:05am. Don’t be late and respect timelines and deadlines because, as George Claude Lorimer once said, “Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible.”

6. Hit the ground running- get involved NOW

I have stated the following tip once before because I truly believe in it, get involved the moment you start at Mason. It is easier to start being involved from the beginning. This will help you with time management, making new friends/networking on campus, and developing useful life skills. I suggest you choose two or three organizations that you can join. They can be social/cultural, educational, athletic, religious…you name it. Mason is a large university with a lot to offer. Like Oprah Winfrey said, “Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” The same is true for college, and so much learning takes place outside of the classroom!

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