A perfect fit
The last thing Paul Smart of Ireland expected to find at LaGrange College was a second family.
Make that 26 new brothers, several little sisters and even a few surrogate parents along the way. And it all started on a whim.
“A friend and I heard about this business academic scholarship to study in America for a year, and we decided to apply,” he says. “The application process was quite lengthy. It was several weeks before I learned that I had been approved to move on to the next level, which was an interview. That was quite daunting.”
But the 22-year-old, who was studying education in Ireland, wasn’t fazed.
“They asked what I thought I could offer the scholarship, and what it could offer me,” he says. “The simple answer was that in the current economic climate, no one has a sure place guaranteed within the education sector, so adding the additional string of business to my bow would help my resume substantially.”
His replies were enough to win the scholarship and send him across the Atlantic to start a new adventure. He says he didn’t know what to expect.
“I knew about Southern hospitality but I didn’t exactly know what it actually meant in real-life terms,” he says. “It was clearly evident from the moment I landed at the airport how friendly and open and courteous people were in terms of getting me, a lost Irish guy, to the college, which was an hour away.”
And then there was this little problem with the language barrier.
“I assumed coming from Ireland to the States that there would not be a language barrier but I quickly realized that there definitely was,” he says. “I speak an Irish interpretation of English, and here it is an American interpretation of it.”
That made some slang terms perplexing.
“In Ireland, we have a term, or slang, where we’d say ’What’s the crack?' and it means “How are you? How has your day been?' But people here were completely confused by that saying.”
He also was unprepared for the reality of Georgia in August.
“The weather was extremely difficult at first,” he says. "When I was younger, I learned about humidity in school, but I never really knew what it meant, in practical terms.”
When he started soccer practice in LaGrange, he quickly learned about the effects of Southern heat and humidity.
“I had to take twice as the number of breaths to get the same amount of oxygen. And with my pale Irish skin, I had to apply copious amounts of sunscreen to ensure that I wouldn’t get badly sunburned.”
Although he had adjustments to make in his early days in LaGrange, Paul says he found a new family while he played soccer.
“I got really close to a number of the guys on the team,” he says. “They completely took me under their wing and helped me get acclimatized, especially in the initial period when I was really unsure of where I was. I was trying to find my bearings and to get comfortable in the environment I found myself in.”
Some of the players were members of Alpha Delta Gamma. Fraternities were a completely new experience for him.
“Outside of the United States, there is no such thing as Greek life,” he says. “It was a very alien term that I didn’t really understand. But my Alpha Delta Gamma brothers have been my family the entire year.”
Paul says his studies here have opened his eyes to other possibilities.
“The scholarship required that I take business classes and be a business major, which was daunting initially,” he says.
“But I felt if the scholarship provider had enough faith to give me a scholarship and send me here, that I certainly was capable of doing it.”
He took several foundations of business courses, but had a favorite.
“They all were very enjoyable, but I especially liked business communications,” he says. "The transferable skills there were evident. The way you present yourself to your business group would be the same way you’d present yourself to your classroom or teaching staff.”
Paul’s year at LaGrange has changed his view for the future.
“I have a passion and love for education and teaching children, probably because my mom is a primary school principal,” he says. “But now I have this experience that will help me in my future goals.”
Paul wants to travel and teach.
"The way I look at it, children are the same in any area of the world,” he says. “There is so much to be shared and taught.”
Although he had to check a map before he came to find LaGrange, Paul says the time he’s spent here has been more than he ever expected.
“LaGrange was a perfect fit for me in every aspect, in the way I was able to work with teachers and classes, but also with Alpha Delta Gamma and the wider student body. I found not only friends here, but family as well.”