International students reflect on American experience


Riley Fletcher

Donal Mackin (left) is a business administration major from Ireland. Maria Lopez (right) is an English major from Spain.

by Riley Fletcher, Staff Reporter

Like many others, at the start of the semester, Maria Lopez and Donal Mackin set foot on Simpson’s campus for the first time as students. What sets them apart from most is they came to Simpson from thousands of miles away. Lopez and Mackin are international exchange students.

“From the first moments, I felt like I’m home,” Lopez said, describing how it felt to come to the United States.

Lopez, an English major, is from Murcia, Spain, a city in southeastern Spain. It had been a dream of hers to come to the United States for a while.

“I got into my degree because I wanted to be a Spanish teacher in the U.S.,” Lopez said. “I’ve always wanted to come and get the American experience because it’s a very good opportunity to perfect my English.”

Mackin is from Belfast, Northern Ireland. While at Simpson, he is studying business administration and information technology. Back home, he studies law at Queens University. He came to Simpson for the community.

“My university back home was 25,000 people, it’s very large. There were 300 people in my courses and I would say I knew about 50 of them and I was one of the more sociable ones,” Mackin said. “One of the things I wanted was a smaller university. I liked the idea of Simpson because it had a community. It seemed like it would be a really nice spot to make good friends, meet new people, and experience new stuff.”

While Mackin and Lopez came to the United States for different reasons, both enjoy having smaller class sizes and the opportunity to interact more with their professors and other students. They also appreciate the differences in how classes are taught compared to their home universities.

“The way my home university would work, there were lectures, there were classes, there were tutorials that you had to do prep work for,” Mackin said. “But in general, you could clown around for all of the year and at the end, there’s one large block exam that’s 100% of the grade, and as long as you just crammed and revised for that, you could easily get a good mark.”

Simpson doesn’t work that way – something that Mackin has to get used to, but doesn’t necessarily mind.

“Here, it requires you to work a lot more throughout because it’s not just one big exam at the end of the year. It’s homework here, assignment there, submission here. It keeps you working a lot harder. I quite enjoy that. I feel more productive,” Mackin said.

Lopez agrees with Mackin, saying the daily work helps students to learn better. 

“In Spain, we put a lot more importance in the final exam, and here it’s more like daily work,” Lopez said. “I like this system more because you actually learn something. In Spain, you don’t learn at all because you study the last two weeks and that’s it.”

Another major difference the two international students noted is the friendliness of others and how interactions contrast from what they are used to.

“The people here are so nice, and in my city too, but here they are nice in other ways,” Lopez said. “People here talk to you. At home, we are always touching each other, hugging, kissing and all that, but I like this too because sometimes all that hugging and kissing can be a little bit overwhelming.”

According to Mackin, Irish culture is less interactive.

“In Ireland, you would have a bit more of a keep-to-yourself culture,” Mackin said. “But in general, a lot of the times you see someone walking down the street, you won’t really stop them and say hi. You’ll give them a nod and walk on. Here, everyone is a lot more friendly, sociable and more interested in what’s going on in your life.”

Lopez studied abroad last year in Lithuania, a small country in eastern Europe, and is spending one semester at Simpson. She is excited to go home once the semester ends, especially for the food.

“The food – that’s what I miss the most,” Lopez said. “Here, all you have are fried things and sandwiches, but in Spain, I eat with my grandma. She cooks for me every day. She cooks delicious dishes. I really love my grandma. I really miss the food from my grandma and eating with her. I want to give myself time in Spain to be with my family, be with my friends and reconnect.”

Mackin also misses his family and friends, but another comfort of home he misses is Guinness, an Irish beer.

“I cannot get good Guinness out here. Whether it’s in the can, it’s on draft, it doesn’t deliver like it used to,” Mackin said. “I’ve moved past it here. I’m not touching American Guinness anymore.”

Despite being homesick, both students say they are enjoying their time at Simpson.