A Little Help from Ronald McDonald to Patty Melt the Cultural Divide


photo provided by Trinity Principal Dr. Dan Zoeller

Inchydoney is a small island off West Cork, Ireland. Trinity Principal Dr. Dan Zoeller and four students -- William Altsman, Bennett Carothers, Liam Kelly and Spencer Haydon -- recently traveled to Ireland to begin a new exchange program with Kinsale Community School. Though he did not travel on this trip, Trinity senior Nick Huls writes of finding common ground with a couple of teens from Northern Ireland.

Nick Huls, Columnist

My heart was a drum roll in my throat and my stomach a leaden mess. I shifted my weight to my left leg, bit my lip and peered down the muted, gray terminal with its shiny linoleum floors. With my brow furrowed, I stretched to see over the crowd people that began flowing from the narrow hallway.

My hopes rose like a balloon only to crash back to earth with each sharply dressed businessman and exasperated senior citizen who walked past my brightly colored sign.

Finally, atop the mass of humans, I saw a long face with full, rosy cheeks and a long straight nose mounted with horn-rimmed glasses. Oisin’s straight brown hair bobbed up and down as he marched out of the terminal.

As the crowd began to dissipate, I gained my first glimpse of Rian. He was barely five and a half feet tall and built like a flipped bowling pin with hulking shoulders and arms but skinny legs. Rian, whom I would later discover worked regularly in his father’s bar, looked well beyond his age with a full beard and a sharply defined jawline.

Once they reached where our party was waiting, we exchanged pleasantries and forced small talk. During this first interaction, I had a flashback to the meeting the night before when I saw Oisin and Rian’s “mugshots.”

The Irishman lurched toward the opportunity, not realizing they had been Jaws, and I was Chief Brody, chumming the waters.”

They seemed more like an extra in a Martin Scorsese movie rather than pasty, awkward teenagers from Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, we went to fetch their baggage and shuffled into the parking ramp. Packed like Tetris pieces inside the cramped minivan, I prepared myself for a painful car ride filled with clumsy chitchat. Nevertheless, the moment we pulled out of the garage, the song and dance commenced.

My dad inquired from behind the wheel, “So, are you guys hungry?”

The Irish kids nodded enthusiastically.

My mom chimed in from the passenger seat, “Where would you like to go?”

Panicking, the Irish kids traded troubled glances as their eyes widened. In a moment of divine inspiration, it came to me. I thought about the most quintessential American food for a Thursday night in late June around eight o’clock.

With an air of confidence, I interjected, somewhat sarcastically, “Let’s get McD’s!”

The Irishmen lurched toward the opportunity, not realizing they had been Jaws, and I was Chief Brody, chumming the waters. What I did not realize was that with some help from Ronald McDonald, I was thawing the cultural divide.

Suddenly, Oisin began regaling us with stories about his family, who lived in the countryside. He told us about how his house was heated with a stove that used peat as fuel. He told us about his wee granny, who worried that he would get too hot in America, even though they had been experiencing a freak heat wave in Ireland as well.

Rian began to share stories of the bar and his family, and how he was sometimes pressed into action when a patron got out of hand. As we shared the mundane details of our lives over Big Macs, the foreignness of my brothers from across the pond began to melt away in the June heat.