Mason Hussong’s passion for language goes back to high school, where he spent four years studying Latin. After learning about KU’s nationally renowned Slavic Language program and earning a scholarship from the KU Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, he knew it was the right fit for him.
His interest in Russian was sparked by an introductory class that inspired him to a double major in Slavic and Eurasian Languages, and Literatures and Russian, Eastern European, and Eurasian Studies. This allowed him to work alongside a diverse student body and enrich himself in the culture and language he’s come to love by studying abroad. In Riga, Latvia, Mason took immersive Russian courses and went on excursions to surrounding countries, an experience that confirmed he had chosen the right academic and career path.
Meet Mason and learn about where he plans to study abroad next, his new job with the Navy, and a KU professor that’s helped him direct his passion.
Where are you from? And why did you decide to come to KU?
My triplet brothers and I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma. I am a fourth generation Jayhawk (skipped a generation with my grandparents, but great-great grandmother, great grandmother, and both my parents attended KU). At first, I was hesitant to head to the alma mater of my parents, but after I learned about the nationally renowned Slavic Language program and received a 4-year Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship to KU, I was sold. My triplet brother Grant made it to KU in 2018 and we are now living together in an apartment off campus.
Why did you choose your major and minor?
In high school, I took four years of Latin and through my studies, developed an interest in linguistics and learning foreign language learning. During my senior year, I had the opportunity to take classes concurrently at the University of Oklahoma. I ended up taking an introductory Russian class there at the recommendation of a friend and absolutely fell in love the language. After receiving a language and regional studies scholarship from the Navy, I knew it was the right path for me. I decided to double major SELL and REES because I have a passion for both the region and the language and couldn’t pick just one area to focus on.
What is the most exciting part of your major and minor?
Working with extensively published and renowned Slavic Linguists Steven Dickey and Marc Greenberg has been an incredible treat. The course selection KU SELL offers to students is unparalleled. Over my academic career, I have taken courses specifically on Russian linguistics, verbal aspect, translation techniques, Central Asian history, Eastern European linguistic landscapes – the list goes on and on. The coursework challenges and excites me – it’s the main reason why there is no place like KU.
The most valuable aspect of this programming is undoubtedly the faculty. They bring not only expertise, but true passion to the classroom and are eager to share with their students. Outside of the classroom I have spent hours talking to professors about everything and anything – from content I didn’t quite get the first time in class to their personal research interests. The academic relationships I have gained thus far at KU blew my expectations away. KU CLAS, SELL, and CREES have been a huge part of making that happen.
What is the benefit of being in the KU College alongside students studying sciences, arts and humanities?
A huge benefit to the KU College is being able work around a diverse student body with unique interests, backgrounds, and experiences. Over the years some of my best friends have studied from physics, to women and gender studies, to policy sci. Having a rich mixture of folks with common and diverging interests is incredibly helpful toward building a sense of community and helping me see where my interests fit in the larger global and academic picture.
Give a shout-out to a professor, mentor, advisor, or someone at KU who has helped you?
Irina Anatolyevna – When I got back from Latvia, I took her contemporary Russian culture (RUSS 604 – sign up!) to help maintain the Russian skills I made while abroad. She helped me direct my passion and introduced me to some of my favorite Russian musicians and authors (check our Victor Tsoi and Sergei Shnurov – seriously cool stuff). I am currently taking her Russian stylistics course (RUSS 716 – another must take) and she organized a Russian / English language exchange with students taking EFL classes at KU through zoom in Russia! I am very appreciative of the extra support she has shown me to help achieve my goals inside and out of the classroom! Спасибо Вам огромное!)
Additionally, I would like to thank Dr. Steven Dickey and Mr. Ray Finch helping develop my interests in Slavic linguistics and Central Asia. The passion for your respective fields is evident and has certainly rubbed off on me!
Tell about your experience studying abroad in Latvia. What advice would you give students who want to pursue similar learning experiences?
In the summer of 2019, I studied in Riga, Latvia and took immersive Russian courses at the Baltic Center of Professional Development on a Project GO scholarship. While I was there, I lived with a Russian-speaking host family and went on international excursions to Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia. My biggest takeaway from the trip was a certainty that I made the right choice in my education and career path. It 100% confirmed my love for the region and I made lifelong friendships and bonds with the people I met.
My piece of advice to anyone looking to study abroad and learn a foreign language – step outside of your comfort zone. It is incredibly easy to stay in your English bubble and speak the target language only when forced – expand your horizons! Make friends with the native speakers around you. Go out of your way to speak as much of the language as possible. Being conscious of this will go a long way to helping you on your language learning journey!
Have you done any other internships, study abroad programs, or been involved in any organizations you’d like to tell us about?
In April 2020 I received the NSEP Boren scholarship to travel abroad at the Kazakh National University in Almaty, Kazakhstan during the 2020-2021 academic year. While COVID-19 has delayed my start date, I plan to reschedule my time abroad to next January or 2021-2022 academic year.
During summer 2020, I received another Project GO scholarship and took an online intensive Russian class hosted in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The 8-week program spent over 40 hours a week either in the classroom, with personal tutors, conducting virtual homestay visits, cooking classes, yurt building and much more! While initially concerned about the quality of online language instruction, the dedication of our instructions and real-world interactions made all the difference. While it is hard to match up to the real deal – I would definitely encourage language learners to seriously consider intensive online education.
Additionally, I am a member of the Naval ROTC unit at the University of Kansas. During my time as I midshipman, I’ve had opportunities to travel from coast to coast and learn more about the communities the Navy has to offer. The battalion here is small and operates like a family. This semester I received the billet (battalion job) of company commander and am responsible for the conduct and well-being of 24 midshipmen. Working in a constantly changing COVID environment has taught the importance of planning, flexibility, and most importantly – taking care of your people. The lessons I’ve learned and friends I’ve made here will last me a lifetime. And last but not least – go Navy, beat Army!
What would you tell your freshman self?
Nobody judges you more than you judge yourself. Take a step back and stop taking yourself so seriously.
What do you want to do when you graduate?
When I graduate, I will become a commissioned officer in the US Navy. I hope to serve on a surface ship or submarine for several years, then laterally transfer to work in intelligence or as a Foreign Area Officer in Eastern Europe.
What motivates you?
When you love what you do the motivation finds itself. My curiosity and love for learning fuels most of my drive. Coffee takes care of the rest.
Meet more of our students. For more information, explore Slavic and Eurasian Languages & Literatures and the Center for Russian, Eastern European & Eurasian Studies at the University of Kansas.