One October in the Life of a University of Montana Student

The University of Montana campus after a light snow

Hyeonmin Lee, SAF Global Ambassador, completed a fall semester at the University of Montana and relayed her insights to prospective SAF students. Throughout her October journal, she delves into the different facets of her American university life, including academics, socializing, traveling with friends, job hunting, and gaining insights into the American way of life.


I am taking four classes: Accounting, ESL, History, and Business Marketing. Unlike in the beginning when I was trying to excel in all four classes, I’ve been trying to find one class that I want to be good in. Lately, I’ve been feeling like the language barrier is higher than I thought. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to use sentences, words, and expressions that you worked hard to memorize while studying for the TOEFL, but they don’t come to mind when you try to use them in real life.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been enjoying my Accounting class lately. I like that I get grades that reflect the effort I put in, and it’s also nice that, because there are a lot of unfamiliar expressions that even the Americans don’t know, they go over them in class to make sure everyone is on the same page. However, it’s difficult at times because we get homework every class and have 1-2 tests every week. I spend so much time reviewing material from this class almost every week. It also takes a little more time to understand as there are subtle differences in accounting between the United States and Korea.


A student writes on a white board to study


However, in the case of my History class, it’s been very difficult for me as a foreigner as I have no background knowledge, and the professor assumes that I know the difficult terms. Despite this, the professor is very caring and humorous. However, it’s up to the student to understand, which isn’t an easy task given that this is a 300-level course. I recommend that students don't take things lightly when it comes to understanding deep history in English.

ESL is an English as a Second Language course. This semester, the class teaches writing, and since it’s taught to foreigners, it’s nice that I can follow along in class without much effort. If it weren’t for this class, well, I’m still struggling, but I don’t think I’d be able to keep up in my academic life at all because I’d be so overwhelmed with more work and studying. This class has a lot of simple assignments, such as reading a book and writing a reflection, or reading and writing about things that are presented in class, until November. I also highly recommend this class as it often covers writing tips for foreigners, as well as real-life English metaphors and slang. However, it’s stated that the fall semester is a writing class while the summer semester is a speaking class, so keep that in mind.



I’m currently active in two clubs, the Linguistic Club and JSA. The Linguistic Club seemed like it had a lot of students with a language as their primary major. The club organized activities such as creating your own languages and playing board games using languages. JSA is the Japanese Students Association, a group of people with an interest in Japan. I have a lot of Japanese friends here, so I ended up joining. The club hosts campfires, Halloween parties, and many other fun activities centered around exchange students. The last is the Chi Alpha Club. This club is a church-related club, so I’m not actually a member, but they have a lot of activities related to global engagement, and so I go to a lot of Chi Alpha events. I took a trip to Glacier National Park with Chi Alpha and attended a Halloween party. 


A group of University of Montana students roast marshmallows over a fire pit



It’s safe to say that October was the month of parties. I went to so many parties.

The first was a party I planned myself. A friend and I booked the International House for a traditional food party. For the first time in my life, I got to plan a party and invite people. At first, I wondered if I had gotten myself into something difficult, but in the end, the party turned out to be a success for both those invited and those hosting. 


A group of University of Montana students gather indoors for a potluck


The second was a Halloween party hosted by the International Students Association (ISA). I carved a pumpkin for the first time here. I was surprised to find that pumpkin carving was a lot harder than I thought it’d be, but I was still pleased with how spooky it turned out. Here’s the pumpkin, with costumes!


A student poses with a pumpkin she is carving


A student poses in the snow holding a jack-o-lantern in front of their face


The third party was a Halloween party I was invited to by an American friend. The Halloween party was at my friend’s aunt’s house, a bit far from school. A Halloween party in an American home… it was such a new experience for me because it was so American. Most of my dorm neighbors were invited, so we were able to hang out and not feel awkward. At the party, I tried an American drink called a float (ice cream + soda) and played some Halloween games. One game involved wrapping Halloween-themed things such as chocolates, candy, headbands, and eyeball rings, and when it was your turn to unwrap, you took as many as you could. Finally, we watched Wednesday (a TV show). One of the most interesting things about this party was that even the older adults seemed to be having a great time– age didn’t matter. With 7 of my dorm friends and 6 adults, I had a really family-like Halloween experience.


A plate of treats is laid out for a halloween themed party


A party host poses with a row of cups of rootbeer floats


Hyeonmin Lee Halloween Party 4


Finally, a family from Chi Alpha that I’ve gotten to know while in the United States hosted a small board game party. It was so nice to be able to play board games with friends, and to learn what an American home was like, and what American board games were like. 


A group of students play a board game


Part-Time Jobs

I recently got a part-time job. Rise&Rooted, where I work, is a school-run pizzeria and convenience store. I emailed my resume to the manager of the store, had a quick interview, and was handed the paperwork. However, as I didn’t have a Social Security Number (SSN) yet, I went to the Social Security Administration. I didn’t get an SSN right away, but luckily, the receipt I received from them allowed me to start working on October 31.


The front of a US Social Security Office in Montana


Everyday Life

I want to document the little things I enjoy with my friends. These days, I often watch movies after I’m done studying in the library. I watch movies of all kinds on the TV hanging on the wall in the study lounge in my dormitory, and I feel like my English is improving as I try to understand the content using English subtitles. And I’ve been doing little things like going bowling, shopping downtown, and eating out occasionally. I’ve especially been enjoying the events that the school offers. 

Finally, on Halloween, October 31, I walked down the street in front of my school and watched kids trick-or-treating. Seeing them do it, I gave it a try, and it felt so weird. I felt that, as I was doing something very American in the United States, I was really getting a great cultural experience. 


a student dressed in a cow costume going trick-or-treating


The front of a house covered in Halloween decorations at night



A German friend I made here recently moved back to Germany. I went to a natural hot spring with her, and it’s a strange feeling to know that it was my last trip with her. For the first time in my life, I went camping in nature. If I’m being honest, I was worried that a bear might appear. It was a great experience that ticked one thing off of my bucket list. 


A view of the mountains in Montana at sunset


A student sits in the Montana hot springs at dusk


Second, I went to the Bison Range with my MIFP family that my school connected me with. Located on the Flat Head Reservation, this is a great place for a nice drive and to see the bison. However, for safety reasons, you’re not allowed to get out of the car. I was lucky enough to see a bison grazing right next to the road. I was so grateful to see a bison for the first time in my life. In addition to this, I made many memories with my MIFP family, including a weekend trip to the German Fest downtown.


A student leans out the window of a car to look at a bison on the side of the road


Overall Review

It’s been an eventful month. It’s hard to believe I’ve been in the United States for more than two months. Many things have just become everyday life that I can’t believe I’m already halfway through my exchange program. Halloween, bison, natural hot springs, and camping for the first time in my life. Also, I’m so proud of myself for getting used to the American life. And, we recently had our first snowfall. As I write this, it snowed this morning, and it piled up again before it could melt. As soon as the first snow fell, the weather quickly became super cold. Subzero weather is now an everyday thing. It looks like it’ll be a white Christmas here, and I keep thinking that it’s a shame I only chose to do one semester.