Contrary to the general excitement at the prospect of the school year’s end, Kevin Toner, a foreign exchange student from Northern Ireland, isn’t ready to head home on May 17. The computer science major that attends Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in Northern Ireland has enjoyed his year at HC.
Toner didn’t plan on spending the year at Hastings College when he chose his top three options from a list of approximately 100 universities; he didn’t have time to research colleges to decide his actual preferences, and HC wasn’t in the list of his top three choices.
However, Toner still took an active role in campus participation through Eta Phi Lambda, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Multicultural Student Union, Model United Nations and the Mr. and Ms. Bronco competition.
The differences in education and the total college experience became obvious from the beginning when he arrived in mid-August. During registration, picking his own classes was a new concept for Toner. In Ireland, the first two years at QUB they don’t provide options for classes. Then the classes themselves provided a new environment — QUB has a total enrollment of 24,955 as of 2009, with classes taking place in lecture halls with at least 100 students. At HC, Toner was able to create more personal relationships with peers, faculty and staff than he had at QUB.
“All of my lecturers know my name and who I am… And that student-teacher relationship is a lot more close here and it’s a lot better.,” Toner said.
According to Toner, the instructors at QUB often don’t know his name and visiting them during office hours isn’t something that happens because the professor-student relationship didn’t exist, which made Toner feel weird at first.
Toner also had more chances to get to know people outside of classes, whether it was through student groups, events, sports or on-campus interactions. In Belfast, there isn’t a dining hall so Toner ate alone in his own room. He also didn’t run into people near as much as he does at HC. The buildings at QUB are spread throughout the city, whereas the HC campus is, for the most part, concentrated in one area and allows for run-ins with friends.
Some of Toner’s highlights from the school year include the Hastings College Residential Experience Trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha and Mt. Rushmore, along with his part in the theater’s production of “A Seussified Christmas Carol.” Being a part of the play was initially nerve-wracking as acting was completely new to him, but it ended up being a lot of fun as he pushed himself outside of his comfort zone.
“There wasn’t one class that I didn’t enjoy while being here,” Toner said. “I enjoyed all of them, even being so different from back home.”
Toner said that his favorite class from this school year is most likely Macroeconomics with Dr. Amy Black, professor of economics, and his favorite professor is Elaine Lamski, a French professor, who he took French classes with both semesters.
“She is the only professor that has taught me in both semesters,” Toner said. “She is probably the most enthusiastic, the most fun professor that I have. (She) loves poking fun at me and whatnot. I always look forward to French.”
Looking back at the school year at HC, Toner said that there were definitely times of learning about misconceptions between Americans and Irish. Upon his arrival at HC, he believed that most Americans were loud, obnoxious and rude, but he said that he quickly learned that’s not true at all, especially in the Midwest. Toner also remembers he had to answer questions about if he had seen a leprechaun and why his hair isn’t red even though he is Irish. Another misconception that Toner explained is that he doesn’t actually know how to speak the Irish language; English is the widely-spoken language in Ireland.
When he returns to Belfast, Toner will have at least one more year of classes at QUB before deciding whether to get a masters degree or do internships before entering the workforce. He hopes to start his own business based off of the classes he has taken at HC and QUB. Toner also said he wants to travel to France now that he has learned some French and it’s relatively close to Ireland.