Irish student finds success at Ozarks

Release Date: 6/20/2012

"Is é mo bhaile Ozarks" is Irish Gaelic for "Ozarks is my home." One student here who appreciates that sentiment in her own language is Séanan Heaney, a sophomore marketing and political science major from Derry in Northern Island.

Séanan Heaney

"After high school I did two years of school studying law at the Queen's University in Belfast," says Heaney, who came to Ozarks in 2010. "The British consul offers a program for students who are doing their final year which allows them to take a year abroad in America on a full business scholarship. Ozarks is part of the program they run, so I applied and came over. When it came time to finish my final year I liked it here so much more that I transferred to U of O."

Heaney, the oldest of six children whose businessman father and stay-home mom both run in marathons, said she appreciates the differences between the American and Irish educational systems. "The college systems are really different in Ireland compared to here," she said. "The whole process of getting to college is even different. We do seven years of high school, and the last two years you focus your subjects based on what you want to go to college for. So by the time you're 16 years old you kind of have to know what you want to do. If you don't know, you have to pick general subjects, so since I was undeclared I did biology, religion, geography, and P.E."

She said another difference is that in the Irish system, rather than applying to and being accepted by a university, the student applies to specific programs within the school and is accepted only in the specific program. "Once we get to the university, all you study is the degree-specific courses, rather than the core general education courses as you do in the beginning in American university," she said. "I liked it because some people are better at certain subjects, and sometimes it seems a waste of time to take subjects you know you aren't going to need, and it can bring your GPA down. I thought that was nice."

On that other hand, she said, Irish universities are enormous - there were 25,000 students at Queens, where she attended law school - and her lecture courses often had 300 people in them. "I like that it's small here at Ozarks," she said. "I like it that everyone knows each other, and that they look out for you. When I first came, I didn't know what to expect, but everyone was really nice to me, and the fact I was from another country wasn't a problem at all. I think some people felt I might not like being asked questions about where I was from or whatever, but I enjoy it. I have had questions like 'Do you have internet over there?' or 'Do you have McDonalds?' A lot of people genuinely don't know, so I like being able to tell them. I like it when people take interest in the history of Ireland, though, for example, they often don't get the whole history of the troubles between Northern and Southern Ireland and issues of that type."

She said although the conflict between the Irish Republican Army and British rule has largely abated in recent years, her childhood memories were full of frequent bomb scares.

One thing Heaney enjoys about Ozarks is its athletic opportunities "I think that is one of the main reasons I decided to remain here," she said. "I like the physical lifestyle very much. I play on the soccer team here. Back home I played Gaelic football and I ran track, but here it seems there's so much more opportunity for athletics. I think the weather helps! It rains all the time there, and so you just don't always want to go outside. A lot of my friends there don't keep up with physical activity."

Another factor for her has been the relative lack of a student "partying" culture here. "There is a big party lifestyle back home," she said. "Monday through Thursday are 'student nights,' with free entry to night clubs and half price drinks. You only have to be 18 to drink there, so from high school on it's a big part of student life. I think every single student union in the United Kingdom and Ireland has its own pub or night club. By contrast, here we have the Eagle's Nest. When I came here at first it was hard due to that aspect of student life. But I find now that when I'm back home and you don't go out and party, there's nothing else to do, whereas here you go play a game of basketball in the gym, or you find something else fun to do with your friends. There's so much more creativity involved in what you do for fun here. So that's why I like this a lot better. And my parents like that I like this lifestyle as well."

Although she comes from a country where English is an official language along with Irish Gaelic, occasionally Heaney says the differences between Irish English and American English have created confusion. "I've been to parts of Europe where there was the language barrier, which isn't the case here, but still at times it's confusing," she said. "I've had to refine my English here. I took a friend home to visit and said I spoke so differently when I was with my friends and family! One example would be the Irish Gaelic word 'craic,' which is pronounced 'crack.' To us it means 'banter, fun,' but of course it has a different meaning in American English: Drugs! So I might say, 'Let's have a bit of craic,' and it can cause confusion, needless to say. It's such an everyday word it took some getting used to."

Heaney's advice to incoming international students is to be themselves. "It's funny you should ask," she said, "because there's another Irish girl coming here in August on the same program I was on, and she's been contacting me the past few weeks. At the start I was unsure how I felt about that because I've always been the one Irish girl here, and here comes someone new! A bit of jealousy on my part, I think! But I told her from the start to just be herself. I think Americans take that better rather than trying to imitate them. You are different, and that's what people here like. It's an international campus."

As for future plans, she is definite about wanting to stay in America. "I'm going to try my best to," she said. "I want to try to get a job. I've made a few contacts with coaches, especially one in north Texas about finding work. After graduating I would like to take up coaching for awhile and get sorted with a stable job; something that will allow me to get a visa to stay in the country. I like it here."