BRATTLEBORO -- Xoe Perra just stepped foot back in town and she's getting used to it after spending five months in Shanghai, China.
"It's the biggest city in the world and you can tell," she said. "There's so many people and it's really intimidating at first. But I am in love with Shanghai. Once you get past the language barrier, it's such a warm city to westerners."
Perra visited China during her sophomore year in high school. It was her first time out of the country besides going to Canada.
"I took Chinese all through high school so I loved it already," she said. "I did every level you can in high school."
Ever since that short trip, Perra knew she wanted to go back.
After graduating from Brattleboro Union High School last June, she signed up for a language program at the Jiaotong University. It is an international school with students enrolled from all over the world. She will return to the school in September before heading to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City in February.
Perra went through an exchange program not directly affiliated with the university. She chose the university due to its location in Shanghai. The city is not as big of a tourist destination as other parts of the country.
While there, Perra went on the skyline to Pearl Tower, a television tower and a major landmark. During her five-month stay, she went to the city of Beijing twice.
"I woke up in a sleeping bag on the Great Wall," said Perra. "Hiking up the ruins of the Great Wall, completely unrepaired was the coolest thing I've ever done."
Perra and a friend decided they wanted foot massages after the hiking trip. They found a massage parlor but it was not what they had in mind. There was fire and glass involved. Their feet were chopped at with knives.
"They were really violent foot massages," Perra said. "It was really super weird. But our feet felt great the next day."
At times, the communication could be a challenge. Although Perra was familiar with the language, it was difficult to apply to conversations. Most of the city's residents have strong accents, she said.
Perra stayed with a family of a student her own family hosted through an exchange program at BUHS. She then went to live with another family, but a two-hour commute caused her to switch families. Staying with the third family proved most difficult in terms of communication. They did not speak any English at all.
"It was good for learning Chinese. It was really, really helpful," said Perra. "They definitely learned more English."
One night, the host attempted to ask if Perra had any laundry that needed to be washed. It took 20 minutes to figure out what the woman wanted, Perra told the Reformer.
"The whole time we were miming and laughing at each other," she said. "I felt better about not knowing much Chinese because I wasn't the only one struggling. They were really sweet."
After her studies in New York City are complete, Perra plans to go back to Shanghai and pursue acting.
"They have a surprising theater culture. They look for westerners to do small roles in film," she said. "I have friends who are extras."
Three of her Swedish friends were cast in a Jackie Chan movie while another friend has a small role in a television show.
"I know I'll be able to get a job when I get back," said Perra, who was involved in productions at BUHS, New England Youth Theater, Northern Stage and the Weston Playhouse.
On July 14, she left for Burlington for a month to perform in the Vermont Shakespeare Company's "Midsummer Night's Dream."
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.