Get To Know International Student, Natalia Kanos

Over 5,000 miles from her hometown of Jos, Nigeria, international student Natalia Kanos is making waves on the George Mason campus. Currently a sophomore at GMU, Natalia is double majoring in Government and International Politics and Conflict Analysis. In addition to her studies, she is a resident adviser and apart of numerous on-campus organizations like Student Government, Brains then Beauty, ASA, and the Mason rowing team. It’s safe to say, her schedule is pretty jammed-packed. Fortunately, Natalia was able to make time for a candid interview with me about college life, living in the U.S., and meeting her hero, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Marissa Joyce (MJ): Can you tell me more about what led you to Mason and why you ultimately decided to attend here?

Natalia Kanos (NK): Hahaha… I get asked this question a lot! Well, my parents wanted me to come to the States because the educational system is a lot better and it is relatively safer here as well. So, I guess that was the first and main reason. I also knew I wanted to be close to DC because I’m a government major and I was thinking about getting internships and jobs later in my college career. Also, my mum said I had to stay on the east coast because she was not taking more than one flight to see me, so my options were greatly reduced. 

To be honest I wanted to go to American University -- that was my first choice -- but I did not get in (their loss). Mason was my second choice because they’re ranked high up in both my majors (Government and International Politics and Conflict Analysis) so it was not too bad of a second choice. Also, my brother went here, and I like competing with him so I knew if I came here, I would push myself to do better. Although I initially wanted to go to American, I knew Mason would launch me on the right path.

MJ: What is the most rewarding and most challenging aspect of being an international student?

NK: The most rewarding aspect is all the opportunities here, which a lot of people take for granted. You learn a lot here in a structured environment and don’t have to worry about things like not being able to go to school because teachers are striking after not being paid in years. Also, the facilities are a lot better. I have everything around me to succeed and that is extremely rewarding. Also, there are so many things to get involved in. I am so extremely busy, but I keep joining stuff because there are just so many things to do and I want to do them all. 

The hard part is being away from home. I miss my parents and family back home. I miss my town. I miss being around the people I grew up with from elementary all the way to twelfth grade. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE HOW MUCH I MISS THE FOOD! Also, this may sound weird, but I miss everything not working. 100% of my stories are not at all as exciting. I guess another challenging aspect is feeling out of place sometimes and people not getting some things when you say it. Also, learning and adjusting to a new culture. Something I found funny is that I call what you guys call the “crosswalk” a zebra crossing. And I called my mom one time saying, “MUM! It’s not soccer, it’s football!”

 

Courtesy of Natalia Kanos

 

MJ: As a double major in Government and International Politics and Conflict Analysis, where do you hope to see yourself in ten years?

NK: Realistically, working with the United Nations or African Union or as a diplomat. I’m not sure exactly, honestly. I hope that when I’m done with school I can take a couple of years to travel the world. But I want to work in third world countries, especially African countries, and help fix the horrible structures we have that have a lot to do with colonialism.

MJ: Can you tell me more about what organizations you are involved with on campus?

NK: Well, I’m a part of Student Government. We work closely with the administration to push certain issues that the student body has. We also ensure that the administration is aware of these issues and are taking the necessary steps to change them. We also throw some fun events. You can follow us on Instagram to see some of the things we do!

I’m also a member of the African Student Association. It’s an organization that tries to educate the student body about the continent and issues in the African community, as well as tackling some misconceptions. We also do a lot of service for the Mason community and DMV area too.

I’m also a part of Brains then Beauty. It’s an organization focused on mentorship. It pairs a student with another upper-class student to be there for them and assist them with any issues they might have. We also do a lot of service for the Mason community and DMV area as well.

I also recently joined Mason’s rowing team! It is a lot of fun and I have met some amazing people.

 

Courtesy of Natalia Kanos

 

MJ: What position do you hold in Student Government and what made you want to apply for that position?

NK: I am currently the Vice-Chair of the Administration and Financial Affairs committees. I had a lot of things on my plate this year and sadly could not add a chair position in there. However, I still wanted some sort of leadership position and to be able to help in any way I could. There was a vacancy and I went for it; it helped me understand another side of student government that I was not familiar with. It also allowed me to understand our governing documents which helps me to become a better senator. Also, I hate math and finances, but it is a very important part of the government structure. And this position takes me out of my comfort zone and encourages my own growth and development.

 

Courtesy of Natalia Kanos

 

MJ: In addition to your involvement in Brains then Beauty, ASA, and Student Government, you are a freshman RA. Tell me about a memorable moment in your residence hall. What advice do you have for incoming freshmen?

NK: Only one?! Gosh, I love my residents! I’ll tell you about two memorable moments. One was during midterms, I believe. School was really coming for me and it was a very hard and stressful time. I heard a knock on my door and my first reaction was: dang, what did someone do now? However, I went to open the door and one of my residents was outside in an inflatable horse costume. It was legit the funniest thing I have ever seen. I was like, “Where did you get that from?” And she was like, “Amazon!” That was the highlight of my week and a night I will not forget. 

Another one was an event two other RAs and myself threw. It was a minute to win it night. It was so fun, and a lot of people came out, which usually doesn’t happen. My floor lost but we are still the best! 

I would tell incoming freshmen not to stress so much about college. You will eventually find your place at Mason. You will make friends. Everything will work out -- maybe not right away -- but eventually. Also, college is hard! You will have to put in work, don’t just think you can slide through it. Also, most importantly, be yourself! And if you are not sure who that is yet, try new things, and get out of your comfort zone. If you end up not liking something, you can always quit and there’s nothing wrong with that. Also, a lot of the things you liked in high school you might not like now and that is totally fine.

MJ: This past semester, you were able to meet one of your personal heroes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Tell me more about this special moment and how Adichie's work has impacted you.

NK: It was unbelievable to meet her, to meet someone who is your hero. They always say you should never meet your heroes, but I don’t understand why they say that. That was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had. When she walked out on stage, I thought I was going to cry honestly- the epitome of fierce, independent, trendsetter and poise. When I met her after the event, it was amazing. I do not remember exactly what we talked about, but I know I made fun of my mum with her and briefly talked about Nigeria. 

Her work has impacted me because I always grew up not fitting in the box of what it is to be feminine or a woman according to the Nigerian standards (whatever that means). Her work has impacted me because her stories are ones that I can relate to and have experienced to a certain extent. I guess it was a reminder that you can be who you want to be and you don’t need anyone’s approval. I have also gotten the same reactions when I refer to myself as a feminist. I remember one of the college essays that I wrote focused on my experiences as a feminist in Nigeria. I gave it to my English teacher, and he was like, “I do not think colleges will accept you if you call yourself a feminist.” But because of her Ted Talk, I still submitted it and I got into that college. So I guess it wasn’t that bad after all.

 

Via @natalia_kanos

 

MJ: What is your favorite part of being at home in Jos, Nigeria? And what is your favorite part of living on campus at GMU?

NK: My favorite part about being home is just being home -- being in my bed, seeing my parents, the food, the culture -- just being around my fellow Nigerians. I feel like I must conform a bit to fit into American culture and back home I don’t have to do that. Also, I love the food, being able to drive and just hanging out with my friends. I also really enjoy helping my mum with her foundation. She fundraises for children and women who have been affected by terrorists and are now internally displaced. I guess it’s hard to explain, but the best part is being at home.

 

Courtesy of Natalia Kanos

 

The best part about being at Mason is the independence I have here. Adulting is fun for the most part. I also love the community I have here and all the people who make my experience here worth it. I also love the high-speed constant internet. I also love how there is always something to do. I live in a small, boring town. And I know some people might feel that way about Virginia or Mason, but there really is a lot to do here. All the things I’ve joined this year make Mason amazing. My favorite part is the people, the community and the memories I’m making.

 

Courtesy of Author

We can’t wait to see what Natalia will do next!