International student stays adaptable during virtual learning


International student Nawaf Alshathri’s journey to George Mason University and his college experience is unique in many ways. But he has remained resilient and appreciates the worldly perspective Mason has provided him.

Born in Saudi Arabia, Alshathri moved to northern Virginia as a sixth-grader. Only a few years later, his family returned to Saudi Arabia, but Alshathri couldn’t get Virginia out of his mind.

When it came time to choose a college, Mason was the easy choice. “I missed Virginia, and I still had friends here from a few years ago,” says Alshathri. “Also, Mason is a research university and close to DC. There’s a lot of potential here.”

A junior computer science student, Alshathri says adjusting to being so far away from family was hard. “What made it easier was calling my family every day,” he says.

But the pandemic threw a wrench in many of his plans.

Last spring, when Mason announced that all classes were going virtual, Alshathri was stuck on campus with no way to get home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. His friend Brody Receveur and his family took him in, and Alshathri stayed with them until moving back into the dorms in fall 2020.

“It felt so sudden. I remember walking to a computer science class with a friend in January and talking about a new virus in China and how it could change life in the U.S. if it made it here,” says Alshathri. “But I don’t think anyone realized just how much.”

The Department of Computer Science faculty taught all classes virtually, so while Alshathri took all of his classes online, the Fairfax Campus was home.

After the fall semester, Alshathri returned to Saudi Arabia, and he has been taking all of his classes virtually. Alshathri then had to not only adapt to new classes in a still unfamiliar format, but he also had to change his routine completely.

“I start my days at 8 or 9 in the morning eastern time, which is 4 or 5 p.m. here. Often my classes run till 12 a.m., and I study till about 3 a.m. my time,” he says.

But to him, the adjustment is well worth being home. “I’ve liked being home, and I’m glad I was able to come home safely. But I do miss Mason, and I hope that I can go back before graduating,” he says.

Despite the challenges, Alshathri is glad he chose Mason as an international student. “Being an international student, in general, gives you a global perspective. It is a great opportunity to study somewhere new and meet people from different cultures, which you can definitely find at Mason.”