With less than two months left in beautiful Montana, where the sun is finally starting to come out, I’m more and more often finding myself reflecting on my time here. I am an international student from New Zealand and have been here at the University of Montana on exchange since fall 2017. The decision to study abroad wasn’t one I took lightly, but it ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ve learned more than I could have ever imagined and made friends and memories that I know I will treasure forever. So, for my final post here on Trendsetters at the U, I’d like to share with you my experience as an international exchange student.
I came to Montana with no idea what to expect. I’ll admit that my first night was filled with a lot of fear. I’d spent 31 hours on planes and in airports, and finally ended up in a strange place where the air was filled with smoke and everyone drove on the wrong side of the road. After sleeping for what must have been about three days, though, I ventured out into Missoula and discovered a vibrant city full of friendly people.
I started to connect with people and make friends who were more than happy to open my eyes to American culture. I celebrated my first Halloween, complete with encountering an orange pumpkin (ours are green) for the first time at the Trendsetters fall photoshoot. I left my mark on the UM Hello Walk for Homecoming and spent an amazing weekend at Silver Lake in Washington with my church’s campus ministry. I learned pretty fast that Americans put their whole heart into everything they do. I fell in love with Thanksgiving – the way you reserve the whole day just for being thankful and loving your family truly warms my heart.
Eventually, the infamous Montana winter arrived. Being from a part of New Zealand that’s at low altitude and very rainy, my experience with snow had been very limited. So, when snow touched down in Missoula, I was naturally very excited about it. Unfortunately, none of my friends really shared this enthusiasm. I left Montana over the winter break but managed to get in a good taste of the cold before I left – we might have looked toasty and warm at the Trendsetters holiday shoot, but it was absolutely freezing that day!
My winter break was spent travelling around California before heading up to Canada – it was a very weird trip to pack for. In California, I got a lot of much-needed beach time and had an awesome time thrift shopping in San Francisco.
On my way back to Montana, I took a detour to BC, Canada to meet up with an old friend for the first time in seven years. We did some beautiful hikes and visited yet more beaches (can you tell I grew up on an island?) Undeniably, my favorite part of studying abroad has been the travel I’ve got to do – to be able to do all of this while in college is an absolute dream.
By the time I returned to Montana for the spring semester, I felt like a different person than that scared girl who stepped off the plane last August. I’d seen so many new and beautiful things in such a short time, and I’d met people who would change my life. Even though I chose to study abroad to learn about the world, I ended up learning so much more about myself. I’m so incredibly grateful for the people – especially for Trendsetters and my amazing friends – who grew my confidence and made this experience all that it was for me. And for anyone who’s reading this and wondering if study abroad is for them, I say go for it! (I hear New Zealand is pretty nice, just saying)
Photography by Aleksandra Was and Hannah