When Christer Kjos arrived at Montana State University from Norway three and a half years ago on a skiing scholarship, he had nothing with him but his backpack and skis.
When Nicole Luetolf was recruited to play for MSU's tennis team the same year, she had no idea where Montana was. "I had to look it up on a map," she explained.
The two international students -- Kjos is from Jessheim, Norway, near Oslo, and Luetolf is from Büron, Switzerland, near Lucerne -- have distinguished themselves at MSU. In addition to excelling as athletes, both have completed prestigious summer internships and proved themselves as finance majors, said Greg Durham, an MSU finance professor.
"Christer and Nicole both have worked very hard, and it shows," Durham said. "Getting those internships was an enormous feat for both of them."
Kjos, 23, interned last summer at Merrill Lynch International in London, where he worked on several different teams as part of a rotation system, including the German, Scandinavian, equities and fixed income trading teams.
Kjos put in long hours, often working from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m., he said. He made an effort to get to know people and learn as much as he could from them.
Many of the other interns were from elite schools such as Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford, Kjos said, but he didn't feel left behind.
"I felt like I was on the same pace as those from Ivy League schools," he said.
The MSU College of Business program prepared Kjos well, he added. He thinks the relatively small program, combined with professors who all hold doctorates, makes a great learning environment.
"If you have a question, professors take time with you," he said.
Kjos' hard work paid off when he was offered a permanent job with Merrill Lynch International at the end of his internship. He will begin working for the company in London in January, selling European stocks to Scandinavian institutions and individuals.
"It's something that I've always dreamed of," Kjos said.
Ironically, Kjos' dream of working in the finance world became a reality after another one of his dreams had to take a backseat.
Kjos started skiing when he was 4 years old and attended a ski academy in Norway during high school. As a skier at MSU, he valued the friends he made on the team, traveling with them all over the West. He also became active in MSU's student athlete advisory committee.
But while skiing last year shortly after Christmas, Kjos broke his ankle and had to sit out for the whole season.
Though he had always been a strong student, Kjos decided at that point to devote more of his time to his studies.
"It was hard not to ski last year, but it really worked out well with my job," he said.
Like Kjos, Luetolf, 23, secured an internship last summer with a major international corporation.
As an auditor for Nestle, Luetolf went to different Nestle factories to make sure they were complying with various rules and regulations.
Though she was headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., she also traveled to New Jersey and Kentucky during the internship.
"I liked interacting with managers and employees," Luetolf said. "I got to learn how the whole factory works."
Working for an international company like Nestle has long been one of Luetolf's goals, and, with the summer internship under her belt, she now is looking for full-time employment. She'd like to work for an investment company, bank or other international company in its finance division, either in New York or Europe.
"I'd like to do client-centered work," she said. "And I love traveling and seeing other countries."
Luetolf's time at MSU was valuable not only because of the finance program, she said, but also because of her experience with the tennis team.
"I loved playing tennis here," she said. "I liked that it was a mix of international people and Americans."
She also appreciated the friendliness of the people she met in Bozeman, and the quirks of living in a Rocky Mountain town.
"It's really not unusual to have a bear in your yard here in Bozeman," she said. "That happened a couple of weeks ago: a bear got into our bird feeder. Stories like that don't happen in Switzerland."
Another difference between Montana and where Luetolf grew up is space.
"In Switzerland, we have mountains, but it's much more spread out here in Montana," she said. "In Switzerland, if you drive two hours, you can be in France, Germany or Austria. Here if you drive two hours, you're not even in Missoula."
Though Luetolf and Kjos both plan to move away from Bozeman after graduating in December, they said they value their time at MSU and plan to return for visits.
"I am more than thankful to have had this opportunity to be at MSU," Luetolf said. "I was part of a great team and had great professors. I think I made friends for life."
"MSU gave me a broad framework in finance," Kjos said. "After being at Merrill Lynch, it makes school feel more useful. I understand the importance of working hard."