Spanish foreign exchange student enjoying “different” experience

Charlie Denison


Belen recently did some Western riding, which she said she enjoyed more than the English riding she’s done in Spain.

Photo courtesy of Belen Montesino


Belen Montesino of Madrid, Spain didn’t know what to expect when she moved from Europe to the little town of Grass Range, Montana as a foreign exchange student.

“When I was told I was going to Montana, I was like ‘where’s that?’ I didn’t really know anything about it,” she said. “I like it, but it’s different.”

Used to living in a big city (Madrid has more than three million people), Belen said there was much to Grass Range that was uncommon for her, from the slow pace to the people to school and beyond.

But Belen said she welcomes and embraces the differences, enjoying a unique experience. She’s getting an education while being exposed to an alternate way of life.

“I came here because I wanted to practice and study English,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, either. I can say that Europeans see America as something ideal, but now that I am here, I would just say it’s different, and that’s not a bad thing. I really like it. It’s cool. What I really like is people are friendlier here. I think that makes it better.”

Her fellow students and her teachers have been excellent, Belen said, and school hasn’t been too difficult even with the language barrier.

“The language barrier was hard at first, but I’m a lot more comfortable now,” she said. “I like class here. Everyone participates and it’s easy to talk to teachers before or after class. In Spain, people don’t normally talk to their teachers. I think it’s a better approach to education when you can talk to your teachers.”

While going through the differences, it came clear Belen doesn’t just enjoy the way of life in Central Montana, but she prefers it – at least most of it. Some of the culture is easier to get used to than other parts.

“The hours are different,” she said. “I’m used to going to dinner at 9 pr 10 p.m. and staying up late, but here we have dinner a lot earlier and get up a lot earlier,” she said. “We also eat a lot more meat and don’t eat as healthy as I’m used to eating in Spain.  It’s good food, though. I like it.”

Living on a ranch instead and adapting to rural life has had its challenges, Belen said, but, for the most part, it’s been pleasant. One part of the experience she especially enjoys is the horseback riding.

“In Spain I used to ride horses but hadn’t in a while,” she said. “I’d ride English, not Western, but I’ve found I like Western more. I think I prefer it now. English is more about the technique and Western is more relaxed.”

Everything about Central Montana seems more relaxed, she said, and “more cowboy,” which she finds interesting.

“The cowboy stuff is different,” she said. “There are a lot more animals and a lot less people. Instead of buildings there are ranches. I don’t mind it.”

Belen also likes her host parents Delphine and Glen Finkbeiner.

“They are funny people,” she said, “and they are interesting. We have fun.”

Living in Grass Range as a foreign exchange student has been a great experience so far, Belen said, and she looks forward to whatever the adventure may bring as she continues to learn more about American culture and exploring more of the United States.

“I would like to travel all over the world,” she said. “I’d like to travel to a lot of places, but I don’t really know where. I want to see a lot of places here in the U.S. too. The organization I’m doing my foreign exchange program through put together a trip to New York this May, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m excited to be in the U.S. This is my first time.”






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