Rocky Mountain College was the only place I could go to for an exchange semester. I read up on the college just enough to see that it seemed good, and I didn’t look up anything about Billings or Montana. I knew I was going here no matter what I thought about it, so why bother? And sure, I had never been here before, but I had visited the US, and how different could this be from Florida or California? Of course there wouldn’t be skyscrapers like in Miami, and not every person would be an actor or writer like in LA. But Billings turned out to be more exotic than I could imagine.
My introduction to Montana culture occurred when I stepped into my Uber taking me to Rocky’s campus. I couldn’t hear the driver’s ”Hi, how are you?” over the country music blaring from his speakers. The closest to country fans that I have met back home in Sweden are people who listen to old Taylor Swift albums (which I was told my first week here is not real country). I was taken by surprise to say the least.
My first week here, I saw more cowboy hats and guys posing with dead animals on Tinder than I have in my entire life. I showed up to my first Billings party wearing a cropped button down with pinstripe pants, which would be a standard casual outfit on a Swedish Friday night, but next to the American beer pong table, it didn’t really fit in with the blue jeans and belt buckles.
I think I have yet to spend a day here without mentioning how strange I find all of the above. People keep laughing at how curious I find the casual use of cowboy boots and I keep getting questions like ”Are those European shoes?” from people who’s weirded out facial expressions reveal the actual meaning behind the semi-polite phrasing. To be honest, as far as cultural differences go, this is a pretty great one. The different tastes in fabrics and melodies are constant tiny reminders that this place is not like any I have previously known, but it’s easy getting past it when both sides of it can laugh at each other’s mutual strangeness.