While travelling around America at the age of fourteen, I became enchanted by the idea of going to an American school. I’d seen so many films based on high school in America and I thought that it just looked awesome and I had to be a part of it! Whilst visiting a friends house in Virginia, I told her of what interested me, and before finishing the conversation we were in the computer room together looking up local high schools that I could possibly attend on an exchange program. I was so excited by this idea that for the rest of the trip I was constantly scribbling down notes and ideas on what the future could have in store for me. Upon returning to Australia and back to the comparably boring Australian high school scene, I asked my year advisor how possible this opportunity would be. Much to my glee, he was all for it and encouraged me to go ahead with it, the only drawback though was that when I returned to Australia I’d have to repeat a year of schooling. That was very unappealing to me, so quite ignorantly I put that idea on the back-burner and promised myself that one day I’d get to an American school.
Fast forward eight years and I made it happen. I started university in 2012 and was immediately captured by the amount of international opportunities that the University of Wollongong had on offer. Listening to so many different people tell their stories of where they went and what they did had me in a trance and I quickly started changing (whoops grades) what needed to be done in order to make myself a candidate for University representation abroad. My dream for several years was to attend the University of California – Berkeley, but upon learning how competitive just getting a place at the University was made me rethink what I was really seeking in going to an American college. Honestly, all I wanted was to experience was the true American college experience that has been depicted in countless movies and TV shows, and to attend at least one Frat party and drink jungle juice out of a red cup ….. and to study of course …
So I booked an appointment and asked the Study Abroad office lady for a list of colleges that weren’t as competitive as UC, LA, Miami etc. She gave me a list of Universities, which included Montana State University. I’d previously decided that I’d like to go somewhere new, where I hadn’t been before and having grown up and the state of Montana being like a second home to me, I initially wrote MSU off as a possibility – even though the Office lady didn’t stop raving about how good of a university it was without me having said anything. So I went home with this list and thought hard about what choices I had to make. Montana kept popping into my mind. Whilst initially I was unsure of Montana as an option, Bozeman was one of the few ‘cities’ in Montana that I hadn’t been to and going to University there would be a little bit like going home. It meant that I could be the closest to my family in Montana than I’d ever been before when not travelling for an extended length of time. So I sent a text to my loved ones in the small town of Chinook (about 320 miles North-East of Bozeman) asking how it’d be if I lived only a drive away for six months. Needless to say the response was along the lines of ‘Oh my god!!’. My decision had been made.
December of 2013 saw me pack 7 months worth of life in to two bags and fly to Montana – my home to be for the following 6 months. To write about the entire exchange in one blog post would be impossible. I could write a post per day. But in general, doing an exchange program has been one of the most fun, exciting, sometimes sad but mostly adventurous things I’ve ever done. It is definitely something that I’d recommend all University students do, given the opportunity! My first couple of days in Bozeman were spent on an absolute high. Everything was just how I’d imagined it – but better! Everywhere was covered in snow, my room and the cafeteria were quote “exactly like the movies”, and sporting events such as the Basketball were extreme! I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere and everything related to being in Bozeman.
One of the greatest things about studying abroad is the people you meet. The people you spend you’re time with whilst abroad become more than friends; they become your family. You see them every day and spend most of your time with them. The connection you make with these people is unbreakable and will last a lifetime. I still think about Bozeman and the people I met over there every day, and being back in Australia only makes me appreciate the simplicity of the relationship we all shared even more.
Being in Montana was escaping the everyday routine of being home in Australia. There was no work, only time for fun to be had! Typically, a week in Bozeman was class for a couple of hours during the day, any time surrounding either side of class was usually spent with friends, eating, drinking, watching movies, going for coffee or just hanging out. Weekends usually consisted of partying or just chilling watching movies, with occasional weekends away. Other people spent most of their time on the ski fields. Personally, the idea of skiing sounded like fun, but in reality, I sucked at it and having three year olds whiz pass you on the bunny slope while you are struggling to even stand up is a massive deterrent. Alternatively, I spent a lot of my time at Walmart. Seriously, that place is like a black hole that sucks you in for hours at a time, taking chunks of your money along with it.
While you’d think the Australian and American college lifestyles would be very similar, the reality is very different and the American college culture does not disappoint. The biggest difference I found between American and Australian universities is the college pride in the States. Everywhere you go in America, houses are swamped in the colours of their local University. Going to events, supporting your college really reinforces the pride there is. For me, the event that I most frequented whilst abroad was the basketball. It was never dull, the entire stadium would be decked out in Blue and Yellow (MSU colours), there’d be cheerleaders and the dance squad doing their thing, the school band (who would yell out to the opposition telling them they sucked, which was very amusing), Champ (the school mascot) would be walking around, sometimes there was even a blimp that would be floating about and when MSU would score a point, the crowd would jump up and down, cheering so loudly that feeling anything but pride for your University would be impossible.
It’s been over a year now since I did my study abroad, and there’s never a day where I don’t find myself reminiscing, or planning future trips back. If I could go back in time to change anything, there’s honestly not a single thing I’d do differently – except maybe stop time so that we could enjoy being in Bozeman forever.
I will post more about my student exchange in the future, but if there is anything that I’d hope you’ve taken away from this blogpost it’s to get up and go! Go on exchange and experience what else is out there! Experience what it’s like to live in another country!
Oh and also, just in case you were wondering, I did go to a FRAT party and drink out of a red cup. Although the party only lasted like half an hour before the cops came and busted it, I did finish my drink …. so mission completed!
If you’re reading this and just getting ready to go on an exchange to America, I have a challenge for you. My proudest accomplishment whilst abroad was that I managed to eat at least one slice of pizza everyday for three weeks (you may think that that sounds gross, but their pizza is so good you don’t understand until you’ve been somewhere where it’s on offer, for free, all you can eat, all day every day). If you can beat that, I will buy you a pizza of your choice in Australia! It’s an unresistible reward for a challenge that you know is worth it 😉