DIXFIELD — Kirsten Uhde missed her usual summer vacation, but the experience she got from being an exchange student to the country of Peru more than made up for it.

Uhde, an 18-year-old senior at Dirigo High School, traveled to Huancayo, Peru, a city of a half-million people, to an all-girls school for the South American country’s school year which runs from March to January.

“I wanted something different, to study language, and the experience in general as well as to meet new people,” said the Peru, Maine resident.

Kirsten wanted to become fluent in Spanish, and that she did. She also learned a little Quechua, which is the language of the Incas.

“I liked the school. It was very lively and very friendly. I got a lot of stares from people who would turn around and look at me as I walked down the street,” she said.

Her very light skin and reddish blond hair made it impossible for her to blend in.

Her nine months in Peru introduced her to not only the Peruvian people, but also to those from Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, New Zealand, Thailand and Belgium.

The class size at Nuestra Senora del Rosario, was large, sometimes as many as 35 or 40 students to a class. Everyone wore plaid uniforms, and teachers traveled from class to class rather than the students. But perhaps even more unusual was the transportation to school.

“I went from taking a school bus in Peru everyday, to taking crowded city buses,” she said.

Class times were different, too. The school ran two sessions for the 2,000 students. The first ran from 7 a.m. to noon, and the second, of which Kirsten was a part, from 1 to 6 p.m. She played in the school band, so she had to come to school a half-hour early.

The first few weeks were hard, particularly because of the lack of oxygen. The city in located in the high altitudes of the Andes.

Her host mother was a teacher, and she had an older and a younger host sister, she said.

Kirsten plans to go to college, but not next year. First, she wants to work for AmeriCorps, perhaps in the western United States, then go to college with the idea of joining the Peace Corps or teaching English as a foreign language afterward.

Kirsten is the daughter of Nancy Uhde of Peru, and Steve Uhde of Lisbon.

The Peruvian experience was eye-opening, she said.

“There’s a whole world out there with such a vivid culture. I would recommend others to become foreign exchange students and to see the world. There’s a lot more out there, and people should not stress so much about little things,” she said.

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