Off the Beaten Path: Discovering Montana

By: Célia Schouteden, Language buddy in Great Falls (MT)

Here I am, back to my hometown, Liège, Belgium. I left Montana behind weeks ago, but I feel like it’s been months since I’ve seen the wide open spaces, the magnificent mountains, and Montanans’ smiles for the last time. My heart wasn’t ready to come “home.” It was confused because it has two homes now.

Leaving for the US was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself. When I decided to apply for the CCI Greenheart Language Buddy program I was mostly expecting to improve my English and visit a few places. When I found out I was placed in Montana I was very surprised. I had only heard about Montana a few times – through books and movies, but I love the wilderness so I was excited. I got so much more than I ever thought possible.

I discovered myself.

This summer helped me realize who I want to become. I realized I’m able to be sociable and teach French without being shy or uncomfortable. I’m not actually shy at all, which is a huge discovery I wouldn’t have made by staying in Belgium. In Montana, I volunteered which all exchange students should try. I like reading so I applied at the public library to volunteer a few hours per week.

I’ve met plenty of thoughtful and curious people.

I don’t think I would have learned about myself without my marvelous host family. You can’t imagine how wonderful host families are until you live with one. They give you everything and they don’t expect anything back.

The point of cultural exchange is to meet locals, share stories with them, exchange, and discover the REAL America and its traditions. It’s easier to do that where you’re not just an individual lost in a crowd. You meet people who are curious about you and your culture. You’ll experience weird and funny moments because you’re unique in a smaller town.

I discovered the beautiful and wild state of Montana.

In Montana, it’s not rare to drive for hours and see no houses. Nothing but the breathtaking wilderness, you, the road ahead, and mountains all over. My best memories exploring the USA are my long weekends with my host family and a friend of mine in Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. These memories will be engraved in our brains for centuries.

I know that a lot of students only dream about popular locations they hear about on TV. In my opinion, it’s so much better to see something totally different than what you could see as a tourist. Open your mind and don’t let your expectations ruin your experience.

Many people think they can’t leave their family and friends behind to travel the world. They’re afraid they won’t be able to “speak properly” or “make friends.” To those people I would like to say:

Don’t let your fears cause regrets. Embrace this adventure and discover who you are. That’s why I did this program and, trust me, I was afraid. I did it to prove to myself I CAN. You can too.

Two months. It may sound short, but it’s enough to make you feel different: stronger and more confident. As a famous adventurer said, “The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.” You will never forget this one, I promise.

Please provide a participant with an experience of a lifetime by hosting.