Over the series of three articles, Stepan Gordeev shares his experiences as an international student



I am a student from Russia in my freshman year here. In the previous article, I described my experience with US exams preparation, applying and being admitted to Mason. This time, I am going to tell you about last summer—when I was already admitted but didn’t yet know what to do.

The first thing I had to do was decide where to go—to one of the Russian colleges or to Mason? My whole life, I was prepared to go to a Russian university, with all its cons and pros.

When I applied to Mason, I didn’t think the choice would be that hard. As it turned out, leaving everything and everybody behind is not so easy. I spent a lot of time thinking about this. In one of the corners—superior education, more developed economic state and a whole new experience. In the other corner— my own familiar culture, family and old friends. I asked many people about their opinion, and guess what? Exactly half of them tried to convince me to stay and not go to the land of imperial greedy capitalist-consumerists.

Another half passionately argued that there is nothing in Russia to stay for, and only in Europe or America can I “see the world” and become successful. Even my own parents took opposite positions. As you can see, I chose Mason. Was it the right decision? I don’t know, and I don’t really think about it. I enjoy my current life, and I am happy that I am here.

After making the decision, I started to prepare for the college. The first thing on my list was language. My English was pretty good—at least I thought it was. I was the top student in my English class since I can’t remember when. I read many books in English and enjoyed watching TV shows and movies in English.

However, I didn’t have any experience in speaking American English. So, I decided to take some classes. After some research, I found out that there are only four Americans in my town—by the way, the town’s population is 1 million people. One of them is a CEO of a large company, another doesn’t really do anything in particular and the two others give lessons. I went to one of them, and in the very first class, I understood how much I needed to learn.

My teacher used phrases and words I had never heard of. He made references to Star Trek I didn’t understand. And God, how he enjoyed spending time with Russian women, most of whom still stick to the traditional distribution of roles in the family. Our classes were 90 minutes long, and I came out exhausted every single time, not of his stories about his romantic adventures, but of speaking.

I have never had to speak English for so long. My tongue was just dying because of all the new sounds it had to repeat over and over. Again, I was pretty good in English class, but switching to the American version and speaking it all the time was still an intense experience. Now I can say that those lessons really helped me. At least I learned Spock’s fancy hand gesture.

In July, I went to orientation. I have been to the US before, but this time, I came not as a tourist, but as a student. It made me look differently at the things around me. I started to notice the not-so- good side of America and faced many things that were extremely contrary to my culture that I didn’t pay attention to before. It took some time to get used to all of it and become comfortable.

Sleeping in advance, I spent my last weeks before the first semester taking online courses at Coursera and Udacity. Now I understand that I hadn’t slept long enough to substitute all the hours of sleep I wouldn’t get later.

Nevertheless, I was about to start my first term and meet a lot of new people. How did it feel? How does US college education and life differ? What was the hardest thing to get used to? You will find out next week!