Tips for New International Dons

KateThe following was written by Kate Xiaotian Zhang, the Supplemental Instruction Graduate Intern. 

Kate comes from Northern China. She earned her bachelor’s degree in China and she graduated from the University of San Francisco with a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in 2015. She supports USF undergraduate students who work as Supplemental Instruction Leaders. As a student of education, Kate has a strong passion for helping students to become independent and confident learners. In her spare time, she loves reading, jogging, cooking Chinese food, watching movies, and traveling.


Tips for New International Dons

Studying and living in a new country, a new culture can be intimidating to anyone. The very first thing you need to learn is that you are not alone. You are not the only one who is going through this process, and you do not need to overcome this all by yourself. This blog is going to help new undergraduate international students to go through this process smoothly and quickly.

Campus Life

  • The first thing you need to do is to go to all your orientations.

There are usually two significant orientations for international students, one is held by your program or department, and the other one is held by the International student center (it’s called ISSS here at USF). A lot of important information will be shared on those orientations. Check your school email box all the time to make sure you do not miss any orientation.

  • Join a student association or club.

A fast and good way to know more people and make friends is to join a student association based on your personal interests. Pay attention to the various flyers on the wall, you can always find something useful and attractive to you.

  • Check on the school main page at least one time per week.

The university will hold various activities every week. Mark the one that interests you and go. This is a good opportunity to get involved in school activities and make connections with your classmates and faculty members.

Academic Life

  • Make appointments with the Learning, Writing, and Speaking center.

The university offers various academic support to all students. Take advantage of the free and quality resources on campus.

  • Make a regular meeting schedule with your advisor or academic coach.

Meet with your advisor or academic coach regularly to make sure you are on track during the whole semester, and also make plans for the next semester.

  • Go to your professors’ office hours.

Your professor’s office hours is a good time to ask personal questions concerning your lectures and your grade in this class.

  • Group Study

In America, collaborative learning is very popular and encouraged by many professors. Sometimes, you need to work with your classmates to finish an assignment together. Group study is a good way to improve your learning and promote the relationships between you and your classmates.

Starting a new life in a foreign country is not an easy thing no matter for who, so give yourself enough time to adjust. Don’t hide away in your dorm, go outside, meet new people, and try new things. Have fun and live your own life! Bon Voyage!

The Importance of Time Management

The following was written by Haley Rietman, The Learning Center’s Program Assistant. 


Haley grew up in San Diego, CA. She also attended college in Southern California at Chapman University where she received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Haley is currently in school at USF pursuing her Masters in Counseling Psychology. Haley hopes that through her work in the Learning Center, she will be able to encourage students to achieve their academic goals, and support them on their journey to individualized success. Haley’s passions include traveling, exercising, and reading and when she has spare time she likes to explore San Francisco.


The Importance of Time Management

Have you ever found yourself mindlessly scrolling through the depths of social media only to catch yourself wasting time, and then continue doing it? Or be asked by Netflix “are you still watching?” knowing you have something more productive you could be doing with your time but not wanting to do it?  I know many of us have and I am not excluded from this either. However, I have had a large decrease in my amount of free time in the past month or so due to new commitments. This has allowed me to re-evaluate my priorities and know that I need to stick to only the most important. This is not to say that I don’t indulge in mindless activity sometimes, but I have found creating a schedule to be very important. Although there are numerous methods that can be used to develop a schedule, I have found that I prefer Google calendar.

Similar to the Learning Center’s 7 day study plan, when I started using my google calendar more intently, I was mapping out each and every hour of my day. Now that I have become more used to it, I am able to leave out time blocks for commuting, meals, and tasks that remain consistent for me throughout my week. However, when I was first getting used to my newer schedule, I made sure to keep track of each part of my day so that I was able to form positive habits within my schedule. In a previous blog post, I spoke about my use of prioritization and how Eisenhower’s Matrix/Covey’s Quadrants help me prepare for each day and each task I need to. I have now been able to further that and utilize other methods of preparation to be sure I am accomplishing tasks in all aspects of my life. The formation of this habit has allowed me to feel successful and still feel like I have some time for myself despite balancing a full-time job, two internships, and the commitment to my classes in my graduate program.

If you are feeling like you might be having a hard time prioritizing or managing your time, remember that you are not alone and it is common to feel this way in your college years. The Learning Center provides Academic Skills Coaching and one of the most common requests we receive is to support students with their time management. If this is something you are interested in, visit your student hub and click on “Make an Appointment.” The Learning Center is here to support students no matter their level of confidence in their abilities.

Getting Things Done

The following was written by Rachel Brunson, The Learning Center’s Assistant Director


Rachel graduated from USF’s School of Education with a Master of Arts in Organization & Leadership (emphasis in Higher Education & Student Affairs) in 2013, after receiving her Bachelors degree in English from Notre Dame de Namur University in 2011. She is originally from Angels Camp, CA, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Rachel is passionate about enriching student success and impacting student persistence through collaborative learning and peer leadership; she is grateful to work with The Learning, Writing, and Speaking Centers to cultivate individualized learning environments for USF students. Outside of work, Rachel enjoys reading, swimming, hiking, playing the piano, watching basketball, and traveling with family and friends.


I recently came across a Vox article recommended by Pocket titled, “The Myth of Self-Control.” As self-control is something I find myself struggling with from time-to-time (or more), I immediately opened the article and began reading. According to the article, based on current and past psychological research, resisting temptation is an on-going battle for so many of us. As students, we struggle with the decision to study, write that paper, go to class, schedule that tutoring appointment, or meet with our professor during office hours. We want to be studious and meet our academic goals, but in the moment, the temptation to do something else is always greater. Afterwards, we may feel disappointed in ourselves for letting temptation get the better of us. While we may give in to our temptations, there’s no reason to give up on ourselves nor our goals.  

What follows are several tips/strategies recommended in the Vox article and/or by myself. Hopefully you find something here to help you meet your academic goals. And if you have identified other strategies that work for you, I hope that you will share them with us via social media or via email at

Connect Goals to Values

Our values are those ideas, things and people we believe to be most important. When we decide to accomplish something, set goals, we’re more likely to accomplish those goals that connect to our values. As you think about those tasks or goals that are hard to accomplish, take time to understand how those goals relate to your values. To learn more about connecting your values and goals, I recommend checking out the article “The Value of Goals” on the Psychology Today website.

Goal and Implementation Intentions

When setting goals for yourself, consider possible stumbling blocks to your success and plan for them. Setting simple goals related to your larger goals is appropriate. For example, “In preparation for my upcoming exam, I will read and summarize passages from Chapters 3-5 of my text.” To ensure that you stay on track with accomplishing your goals, consider adding an implementation intention. For example, “To prevent myself from getting distracted by incoming text messages while I study, I will turn off my phone and keep it in my bag so that it is out of sight.” Or, “When I get distracted by negative thoughts during an exam I will implement positive thinking and controlled breathing to refocus.”   Use our 7-Step Goal Setting Worksheet to start the process of creating your goals and reflecting on those issues that might get in the way of your accomplishing them.

Mental Depletion

You may notice that there are times of the day when you work best and make the best decisions. For some of us, it’s in the mornings after we’re awake. During this time of the day, we’re usually most productive and resist many of our temptations. Make this time of day, the time that you tackle the hard stuff and leave the easier decisions for later in the day.

Develop Habits

Regular habits are easy to maintain because they are well, habits. People who follow a regular schedule, waking and sleeping at the same time, studying at the same time, and exercising at the same time allow you to forgo making difficult decisions because there’s no decision to make. You’ve built a habit and a schedule that’s easy to follow, and when distractions or temptation throw themselves in your path, it’s easier to say “no” because there’s already something else you are supposed to be doing. Building habits, or regular routines, can reduce the stress experienced from having to having to make decisions. The more structure you build into your schedule; the less stress you experience with decision-making. Try utilizing the 7-Day Study Plan found under Resources for Time Management and Organization on the Learning Center Academic Skills web page.

Enjoy What You Do

Instead of doing what you “have to do” do the things that you “want to do.” If you enjoy socializing, study with a group. And yes, there are ways to get in socializing with quality study time. Consider putting together a productive study group – reach out if we can help!

Reward Yourself

If you can’t think ways to make what you “have to do” something you “want to do” determine ways to reward yourself after accomplishing those hard to do tasks. Set aside a specific amount of time to get some quality study done and reward yourself with a tasty treat or bonding time with your friends. Break-up those long study sessions with 5-10 minute breaks for day-dreaming, watching your favorite cate video, or taking a quick walk. When you come back, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to learn more.

Change How You See Temptations

Sleep is important to maintain healthy brain functioning and productivity during the day. If you love sleep as much as I do, you may find yourself hitting the snooze button one too many times. Getting quality sack time is important, but so is quality time experiencing life. When you struggle to get out of bed, try thinking about all of the wonderful adventures you may be forgoing by staying under the blankets. If you can’t think of any can’t miss opportunities, plan some so that you always have a reason to get up and go out into the world.

Accountability Partners

Like many things in life, overcoming temptation and getting things done requires a little help/support. In college, there are so many people available to walk with us on our journey. They are our friends, faculty, advisors, tutors, peer leaders, and mentors. The Learning Center specifically provides Peer Tutors and Academic Skills Coaches to serve as accountability partners. Schedule a weekly appointment to discuss strategies and resources, discuss your progress, and develop plans for the coming weeks. (See instructions for scheduling a Peer Tutoring Appointment or an Academic Skills Coaching (ASC) Appointment.)

Learn from Failure

These are only a few strategies to keep you on pace to accomplish your goals. If you try these strategies once and they do not work for you take time to reflect on what did work for you, what got in the way of accomplishing your goals, and alter your approach or identify new strategies that can work for you. Only you know what works best for you.

Growth Mindset

The following was written by Haley Rietman, The Learning Center’s Program Assistant.

Haley grew up in San Diego, CA. She also attended college in Southern California at Chapman University where she received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Haley is currently in school at USF pursuing her Masters in Counseling Psychology. Haley hopes that through her work in the Learning Center, she will be able to encourage students to achieve their academic goals which will in turn benefit their overall success.  Haley’s passions include traveling, exercising, and reading and when she has spare time she likes to explore San Francisco.



We are almost halfway through the semester here at USF. It is already March and
midterms are upon us. With that being said, I want to stress the importance of keeping a
growth mindset. Typically, when we think of mindset, we hear of two different types: fixed and
An individual with a fixed mindset believes that skills and intelligence are set from birth,
you either have them or you don’t. They believe that you are not in control of your abilities. An
individual with a growth mindset believes the opposite: each individual is in control of their own
abilities. They believe that skills are built with hard work and they have the power to improve
their learning and grow their skills.
Growth mindset has the power to change the way you learn. Professor Carol Dweck has
done numerous studies on how two people with similar talents will come to achieve different
results based solely on their mindsets. Dweck and her team have found that beliefs and focus
are the major characteristics of mindset. Individuals with a growth mindset first believe that
they can improve and second, focus on the process of improving rather than the outcome.
Dweck’s team has also identified four key components to growth. The first is effort; individuals
with a growth mindset believe that in order to grow, you must put effort into your work. The
second is how one sees challenges. Challenges should be embraced and be understood as an
opportunity to improve. The third component is mistakes. Individuals with a growth mindset
see mistakes as a way to improve learning. The last component is feedback; in order to fully
grasp a growth mindset, feedback must be embraced with the ultimate purpose of improving
the process.
You might have read the previous paragraph and thought “I already encompass these
characteristics.” There are however, some misconceptions when it comes to the growth
mindset. They are as follows:
 Myth: Being positive, flexible, and/or open-minded is the same as having a growth
o Fact: Positivity, flexibility, and open-mindedness are qualities that one has
always had. The path to achieving a growth mindset is intentional. Everyone has
a mixture of a growth and fixed mindset depending on the realm of their
thoughts. Some may have a growth mindset in regards to statistics, however, be
fixed in economics.

 Myth: Growth mindset is just about rewarding effort.
o Fact: The ultimate goal is that these efforts are yielding positive results. So yes,
trying new strategies, seeking help from others, and learning from mistakes are
important however, unproductive effort is never the goal.
 Myth: As soon as you embrace a growth mindset, good things will happen
o Fact: Developing a growth mindset takes time and there is room for regression
as well. Challenges, criticism, and negative environments can cause setbacks.
The best way to avoid this is to be aware of what may set you back and continue
to strive for improvement.

Adapted from: Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York:
Ballantine Books.
So, as you work through your midterms, try and shift your fixed mindsets into growth mindsets.
Strive for progress, not perfection, and remember, this is a process. Starting to reframe your
mindsets now will only help you in the future.

Task Preparation – Didem Ekici

Didem Ekici

Supplemental Instruction Graduate Intern

Didem is the Learning Center Graduate Intern for Supplemental Instruction (SI) and she supports USF undergraduate students in their roles as Supplemental Instruction Leaders. Didem earned her Master of Education with TESOL concentration at Salem State University in Massachusetts and moved to the Bay Area a few years ago to pursue her doctoral education in International and Multicultural Education at University of San Francisco, where she works as a teaching assistant now. In addition to 9 years of teaching experience with linguistically and ethnically diverse students, she also worked with ESL students and immigrant families in different projects. Didem is currently the Director of Coordination in a non-profit peace building organization, Applied Ethics/Pax Populi.

“What is the chief way in which you prepare for an important task? What person, thing, or situation
influenced you to prepare in the way that you do?”


Two things really affect the way I get prepared for an important task; the amount of time I have
and the importance of the task. I will walk you through the steps to the preparation of an
important task but please keep in mind that everybody has a unique personality which also
affects the way they approach tasks. Therefore, it is very important to know about yourself; in
other words, become more self-aware. For example, if you are a very detail oriented person
and spend extra time on details, your steps might be slightly different. Therefore, it might be a
good idea to consciously observe yourself and note down the things you spend more time on,
the things you are good at and you do quickly. Here are the steps that work well for me;

1- Figuring out what we expect from this important task as an outcome is the most
important step since it determines the rest of the preparation process. In other words,
you should set your goal first while working on an important task. For example, at the
end of this presentation, “I would like to persuade my audience to…” or “I would like to
get an A from this final exam”. On the other hand, if your goal is to only give information
about a topic in your presentation or if you need only a B on your final exam, then the
way you get prepared for the tasks would be different. Therefore, please decide on
what you want and set your SMART goals first before moving forward.
2- After you decide on your goal, you should think about how much time you need to
achieve this goal. The amount of time you have determines how effective and practical
you should be. For example, you can get ready for the same task in seven days or in
seven hours. If you have seven hours, you have to be more focused and work on it more
intense. On the other hand, if you have seven days, you can spread the preparation time
throughout the week but the outcomes and the consequence might be different
depending on how you prepare. Therefore, please keep in mind how much time you
have and whether you can achieve your goal in that time frame.
3- Now that you have a goal and time frame, you can decide on the tasks that need to be
done by the deadline. Breaking down the tasks into more manageable pieces is very
important at this point since these smaller pieces make the tasks seem more achievable
and prevent you from procrastinating. For example, if you have a presentation and if
you do not know where to start, it might be intimidating and prevents you from sitting
down and doing the task. However, if you break it down into smaller pieces such as;
a- Decide on the important topics you will touch on (how much information
you will share with the audience),
b- Prepare the power point with short notes on each slide
c- put your visuals on each slide and
d- Finally, rehearse, rehearse rehearse…

You can also set a time frame or deadline for each task. You can apply this technique for
everything. Believe me, after you complete each task, you will feel better and more
determined to finish the whole task 

4- Review! Always review what you have done before the final outcome and go back to
your goal to see if the final version of your task aligns with your goal(s). If not, ask
yourself which parts need to be changed. After making the necessary changes, you are
are done.
Just relax and enjoy the feeling of achieving an important task. Rewarding
yourself with an ice cream might be a good idea 
In this process, please always remember Benjamin Franklin’s words; “By failing
to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Good Luck!

Jamie Capetillo

America Reads Graduate Intern

Jamie is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Higher Education and Students Affairs at USF. She got her B.A. in Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies and Ethnic & Racial Studies from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse. As the America Reads Graduate Assistant, Jamie coordinates K-3 literacy tutoring at various school sites in San Francisco and trains undergraduate tutors working with the program. Advocating for equitable and accessible education for marginalized students is what brought her to the America Reads position. In her free time Jamie likes to explore the city, find new coffee/tea/smoothie/yogurt shops, read novels and poetry, listen to music and spoken word, and enjoy other forms of art. Come find her in the lower level of


“What is the chief way in which you prepare for an important task? What person, thing, or situation influenced you to prepare in the way that you do?”


When I left for grad school, my mom told me that it was very important that I stay organized and on top of things so that my life wouldn’t become a huge mess. My mom is one of the most organized people I know, without even having to try. She stays on top of things and never fails to get her stuff done. So this semester I tried to channel her, and I think I’ve been pretty successful.

Soooo….. I’m going to share some of what’s been working for me with you because I find that for me, the best way to prepare means organizing myself before I even start that important task!

Some of Jamie‘s “Major Keys” to being organized in school, Planner Edition:

1. Get yourself a planner!!!! My planner is my life. Planners are different for everyone, some people like to physically have their planner so they can hold it and see, others need to have their planner on their phone and or computer. This can simply be utilizing your google calendar or finding an app that works for you. My friend swears by Wunderlist, I personally haven’t tried it but it works for him. For me, my dream is to invest in a Passion Planner. It’s an interactive planner that allows you to map out your month and week, reflect on things, and most importantly create TO DO LISTS! I love those things.

2. ACTUALLY USE YOUR PLANNER! I’ll be honest with you… this was the hardest part. I’ve always been given a planner from my schools, but I never used them. Then I would go and forget about appointments, meetings with friends, or that I had a project due. Looking back on my first few years of undergrad, I could have saved myself so much time and stress if I had been organized and utilized my planner. Right now, I find myself gravitating towards my google calendar when it comes to a planner. I really like that it’ll buzz a reminder on my phone or on my computer so I am forced to remember things.

3. Schedule in your assignments from your syllabus!!! Sounds super easy right? Take it a step forward and in your planner, use a red pen to mark the day an assignment is due. Write it out in blue pen in the two days ahead; black for three to five days ahead; and green for six to nine days ahead (doesn’t have to be those colors, I read this tip in a different blog once, and I’ve done it this way, you don’t have to.) By doing this you’ll always see when your assignments are coming up! Also, you won’t be caught off guard let’s say when your friend tells you your practicum materials are due tomorrow. Just a fictitious example!

4.  While you’re at it, schedule in everything. If you’re one of the few people I’ve shared my calendar with, you’ll see that literally everything I do is on my calendar. I have when I’m going to workout, when I’m going to run errands, when I’m going to have fun, and when I’m doing homework. I also set myself reminders throughout the day and when it comes close to turning things in. Ex. I’m a procrastinator, so on the day that our reading summaries are due for one of my classes, I’ll have multiple reminders pop up on my phone and computer, to keep me on track, and make me feel bad if I’m actually on facebook or something.

5. One final tip I have for y’all is color coding can save your life. For me, In my planner, I have everything color coded. My work is = purple, Homework time = red, optional events = default color, my side hustle = yellow…. you get the picture. For me, this helps me see a balance, and also know what is coming up. For classes, I also color code. My theory class is yellow, so I highlight in yellow, my notebook is yellow etc… My student development class is green. This helps me know how to organize things in my binder, and when I’m looking for something for a class, be able to find it easier. This way for instance, if I’m in a rush and all my readings fall out in the middle of an airport, I know exactly where each of them goes.

Please know that what works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for you. And that for me it took a lot of trial and error to find what really helps me stay organized and on top of things. Find out what works for you by trying different techniques! Also be honest with yourself when it comes to your effort and things that are getting in your way. By doing this you can adjust small things that you could be doing better. Now go prepare, you got this!

Task Preparation – Haley Rietman

What is the main way in which you prepare for an important task? Was there a specific person, event or situation that taught you to prepare in this way?

This blog post was written by Haley Rietman.

Haley is the Program Assistant in the Learning Center. She started in June of this year and has immensely enjoyed working in higher education. By working in the Learning Center, Haley feels that she is able to contribute to the success of students and help them achieve their goals.

“When I have an important task, event, or project I am working on, I believe that preparation is key. I have learned through experience that time management and planning are important to my personal methods of preparation. I like to use what is called Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix to determine what tasks I should put more of my focus into before moving onto the next.

When I was a student in high school, my father always stressed what he called the important/urgent method. This is what I now know as Eisenhower’s matrix. It is a way of using your time efficiently and effectively. After making a to-do list, I decide whether a task is important, urgent, both, or neither. An important assignment would entail something that contributes to one’s long term goals and values. An urgent task is something that should be dealt with in a quick manner. Tasks that are both important and urgent take priority, whereas tasks that are neither can be saved for another day, and tasks that are important will take precedence over tasks that are solely urgent. Therefore, the order of prioritization would be:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important
  3. Urgent
  4. Neither Important nor Urgent

Prioritizing tasks by using this mechanism has benefited my preparation methods far more than anything else I have ever used to prepare.  Below is a diagram that further explains how the matrix should be used and I encourage anyone and everyone to try out this method if you are looking for a new tool to help you manage any and all aspects of your life.”



March’s Monthly Tip!

Happy March, Dons!

We’re almost halfway done with this school year! Can you believe it? This month has been full of midterms and a much needed break. Finals will be coming up before we know it!

Here’s a tip from your friendly LWC staff:

Take Advantage of Office Hours!

During exam season, stress is high and cramming always tends to happen, even if we try not to. Utilize the hours your professors set aside for you. Not only will you gain extra support on questions and concepts that you feel unsure about, but you will also be able to have one-on-one’s with professors who will dedicate time to make sure you pass. Rather than working with the needs of your entire class, the professor will take the time to work with your needs as a student. Even so, these opportunities will help you set time aside for extra study time. Don’t let these opportunities go to waste!

We hope the rest of your March goes swell, Dons! Make sure to make an appointment when you need extra support! We’re here to help!

January’s Monthly Tip

Welcome back to school! We hope your Spring semester goes well and always know The Learning and Writing Center is here to assist you whenever you need us!
This semester is filled with lots of events so make sure to manage your time well. Since this semester is a little shorter than last semester, many assignments and exams may come up sooner than you expected.

As we start off the school year, the LWC is here to provide you with a short tip to help you get this semester rolling.

Set up small, specific goals.

While it’s easy to be energized and ready to go as this new semester begins, there will be times where you may begin to procrastinate and lose motivation. When these things begin, learn to set up small goals! In order to keep yourself on task and to prioritize your time, setting small goals can help you meet deadlines better and help create less stress on yourself. You may get run down when things get stressful but setting up goals can help motivate you.

Good luck, Dons! You got this!

November’s Monthly Tip!

Happy November, Dons! It’s almost time for Thanksgiving break! I hope you’re all ready for good company and good food! This month’s tip is:

Learn Time Management!

I know we’ve all heard the familiar phrase about balancing our time and prioritizing our interests but it has always been easier said than done. In order to avoid last minute cramming, use the free time you have to set realistic goals for your study times. Always try to review your notes each day as doing this will allow you to retain the content you’ve learned. As college students, our lives are hectic and our career goals are our main objective. Sometimes, we become so involved in our extracurriculars and work that we forget to leave time for studies and anything of the sort. Just the same, sometimes we prioritize our studies more than the things we have dedicated ourselves to on campus. Creating a balance between the two can be a daily struggle but it is always something that can be grasped. Not only that but being able to manage time for ourselves is difficult. Use the free time you have to plan out how to effectively manage all your activities. In addition you can also do a few of these tips to help you know where to start with managing your time and studying effectively:

  • Read your notes
  • Make a To-Do List
  • Make flashcards
  • Rewrite your notes
  • Review highlighted information
  • Make up examples

Have a great November, Dons! It’s almost Christmas time!!!