The winter before she turned 16, Caroline Kiemele had average expectations for a Christmas Eve out with her extended family at the Methodist church in Havre, Montana. A typical Missoula high schooler who enjoyed writing, volleyball, and spending time outside, Caroline had always shrugged off casual suggestions that she try modeling. But that night in church, the teenager was approached by an affiliate of Rocky Mountain Entertainment Agency, a modeling agency based in-state in Polson. “Had she ever thought about modeling before?” they asked.

After making the initial connection with RMEA, Caroline agreed to attend the organization’s annual modeling workshop the following summer in Polson. It was there that she dove into the waters of Flathead Lake for her first photo shoot, simultaneously launching a modeling career that eventually led her to gigs on each coast of the United States and across the Gulf of Mexico to Jamaica in just two short years. That fated Christmas Eve changed her life, but only because she was able to connect with the industry and put in the hard work to make it happen.

Despite her 18 years of age, Caroline comes across as a self-possessed, almost quiet young woman who holds herself with a combination of warm small-town charm and a natural sophistication. Before connecting with RMEA, Caroline had briefly considered modeling when friends, acquaintances, or her parents would occasionally bring it up—but then she had always quickly dismissed it. It just hadn’t seemed interesting back then.

But after she attended the summer workshop with RMEA, her Montana-based mother agency, Caroline proved to be a natural fit for the modeling industry. At 5 feet 10 inches, Caroline is tall enough to work as a high fashion and runway model, which has opened a lot of doors for her within the industry. This past year, she made the decision to accelerate her high school classes and graduate a semester early. She then moved to New York for regular work with MSA Models, where she learned a lot about what it takes to succeed in an intimidating industry. She’s seen new places, met new people, and learned a lot about herself. It’s changed her life.

When Caroline was first starting out as a model, it was her natural ease with people that appealed to modeling agents outside the state. Her career took off when, through RMEA, she was selected to participate in the Global Stars Network, a talent convention that took place on a cruise ship. During the cruise, agents observed the models walking in various runway events, after which they offered callbacks to prospects they were interested in. But in addition to her callbacks, Caroline made the effort to get face time with even the agents who didn’t give her a callback. It was through this effort that she landed her first large gig with an agency at the L.A. Spring Fashion Week. There she walked for 10 different designers, an above-average amount for a model’s first fashion week.

One year later, a lot has happened for Caroline. Living in New York, she walked for designers in New York Fashion Week and was challenged every day to work hard to better her craft. But now she has been back in town, reconnecting with her Missoula roots, clocking time with family and friends, and enjoying a sunny Montana summer. Though her work with designers like Bishop Collective, Tinsel Tokyo, and Heaven Has Heels had her donning conceptual clothing and makeup with a little more “wow” factor, in Missoula she blends in a little more, her smile the genuine flash of a recent high school grad ready to take on the world. And it’s within these contrasting paradigms that Caroline has entered adulthood.

So, what’s next for Caroline? Besides doing her best to avoid the inevitability of summer tan lines, which goes against her contract, Caroline is paying her dues in a field defined by uncertainty: She’s waiting. As the summer ends, she’ll likely head back east for another round of work. Or maybe—fingers crossed—she’ll receive an offer in Europe. Or maybe another round in L.A. But for now, the young model is living life the way most of us did at 18. That is, with a faint and hopeful awareness of the future and an overpowering appreciation for the beauty of the present moment.