GUEST POST: Beyond the 23KG: Part I by Huyen Nguyen

huyen at the grand canyon (resized)
Huyen at the Grand Canyon.

Hi, everyone! My name is Thanh Huyen. I have just finished my freshman year at Fresno State University in California. A year ago, I was a high school senior who was not ready to say goodbye to that part of my life and beautiful Hanoi. But even at the time, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. Packing my dreams in my backpack, I headed for the States. It’s that time of the year again when college-bound freshman are preparing for their overseas adventures, so I have written this to suggest a few things you may want to include in your luggage this season.

  1. Special shield for culture shock:

It’s not like we are meeting anyone from Mars; common etiquette still applies: don’t frighten your roommate(s) the first time you guys meet, don’t spill anything in the library and, if you borrow someone’s laptop, give it back, etc.  But long flights and tedious waiting lines followed by a hard moving-in day can drain your energy quickly. I experienced culture shock not really from differences in the way of living, but from the mere fact that my living environment had changed.

When I first arrived, there were mornings I woke up confused about where I was. Half a world away from home is an overwhelming distance that is difficult to visualize. At first, everything felt unreal; it took me about a week to start feeling comfortable in my new zone.

Another shock that was longer–lasting, however, was the language barrier. I didn’t have many problems in class, but conversational English is just so different from my prior SAT-like experience. What happened to me was exactly as said in “The limit of your language is the limit of your knowledge.” I grew up on different stories, childhood songs and movies. I’ve been to places my friends have never been to, and vice-versa. So, we don’t share the same instant excitement over a name or a word. Yes, it really sucks when you don’t get a good joke someone makes at the dining table. But after all, it’s not about the difference; “it’s about our similarities,” one of my favorite lecturers said.

  1. Smart ears and eyes for instructions:

Be it from your professors, student portals, orientation handbook, the Social Security Office or any answering machines. Reading a syllabus carefully is a must (especially if it’s your first year) because you might find phrases like “1 letter grade deducted if …” or “… is compulsory” that could save an A. Furthermore, it indicates what the professor is looking for and usually contains a detailed course plan that can help you stay on top of things.

The three most common mistakes related to receiving guidance are: not paying attention to the full instructions (information like deadline or a penalty), putting off following the instructions because you don’t like parts of them (usually about paying fees you thought you could skip :-)), and losing the piece of paper you wrote important information down on (it happens all the time, if your table looks like mine). So it’s always helpful to get yourself a portable journal for important bits of info.

To be honest, the most troubling things for me about following instructions are that I really really hate reading endless ones, filling out complicated forms and working with machine (I prefer humans). Thankfully, some instructions are quite okay to do without – all that you need is an expert who can summarize the gist of them for you and a friend to go over them with you. Be wise with this choice – the “don’t frighten your roommate(s)” rule can be extended to friends here. The thing is: there are just so many things you have to do for the first time after you arrive, but that’s okay if you have the ability to analyze and follow instructions well. Another item that is needed alongside this is #3 below.

  1. Ability to do things as they arise and email/ texts/ phone etiquette

One of the things you need to make sure that you always clear is your student to–do list. There are documents you might still need to submit as you arrive on campus such as vaccination records or a final transcript. The school will add more items to your to–do list, which is usually located in your student portal, as they arise.

School email is the main form of communication between the school and you. So you’ll find all kinds of interesting stuff in there like a notice that a class has been cancelled that day or volunteer/ scholarship/ internship opportunities with a deadline. Most likely, many emails such as your friends’ Pirate King requests will arrive every day. And you clearly don’t want to have to spend an entire evening cleaning up 350+ emails in your inbox just to find an internship opening you qualify for closed like a month ago.

Other than that, when you’re sending an email, there’s a general rule of thumb: if the receiver doesn’t reply within 48 hours, there’s a good chance he or she never will. It goes without saying that we always need to keep formal emails as short and clear as possible. If your email is too long, maybe it’s because A. you’re using too complicated language, B. you yourself are not clear about what you are asking or asking for; or C. you are not keeping its central question or concern relevant to the receiver’s expertise. Some people’s job is to help students solve their problems, and sometimes they need to hear the full story, but most of the time, they only need and/or have time to hear part of it.

In comparison to emails, texts and missed calls are easier to handle well. You just need to be aware of them and responsive. So, if you have the habit of putting your phone on silent or “Do not disturb” whenever you’re in class, be sure to switch it back when you’re done.

Darlene Wendels / The Collegian (Fresno State)
Darlene Wendels / The Collegian (Fresno State)

Follow this link for information about Huyen and this one to read a feature article about her that appeared in Fresno State’s The Collegian last November.


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