BIG HORN — A month and a half ago I nervously arrived at the John F. Kennedy International Airport to meet eight other adventurous high school students from across the U.S. and our Austrian group leader: Stephan Grabner. We awkwardly played “ice breakers” and other games for a couple hours, then boarded our plane to start our 12-hour flight to Uruguay.

After what seemed like days on planes, we landed in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and we went to a market and got to experience Uruguayan food for the first time. The hardy diet of barbecued cooked meat is a vegetarian’s worst nightmare.

For the next five days we toured around the city seeing historical monuments, museums and popular parks. During time spent at a nonprofit government organization for underprivileged kids, it was really eye opening to see how much the organization did for the kids and how the kids truly appreciated it. The organization also offered education through the local university to the children looking for training to attain jobs.

Our next stop was a ranch called Crystal Ray. For the next five days we would live with the workers and learn everything they did to keep it running. We got to feed the animals, milk cows and tend to their gardens. At the end of our stay, the ranch held a festival inviting old gauchos and traditional dancers. We experienced their style of music and even got to dance with the traditional dancers. Also, during the festival my group and I sang a few songs and taught everyone an American dance, “the whip.” It was an amazing experience to get to interact with all the gauchos and ranch workers.

The next part of our trip was our family stay. We stayed with local families for 12 days and learned about their day-to-day lives. Personally, I stayed with a caring, young couple with four younger siblings at ages 12, 10, 6, and 2. I followed the 12-year-old around most the time going to school, friends’ houses, and soccer practice. One thing I learned that I took for granted was the lack of opportunity Uruguayans face. For many kids their only opportunity is working on the family farm or a local business. As a result, education is not a high priority and schoolwork often forgotten.

This experience was truly a life changing opportunity. Personally, I was challenged to make decisions on my own for my better self and those around me. I grew in my language skills. But most importantly I gained a perspective and respect for a culture and a people who live in a different part of the world by different values with such heart-warming kindness. I cannot thank everyone at Student Diplomacy Corps enough for giving me this opportunity, my host family for accepting me and caring for me and my group and group leader for making this whole experience such an overwhelming success.

Maxon Lube is a student at Big Horn High School.