Molly Povich is a VISIONS all-star. She has been to three very different summer community service programs, including travel to Cambodia, Ecuador and Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Recently she took some time to reflect on the similarities and contrasts between her teen volunteer experiences.

What stands out most about your VISIONS experiences?
Although all of the communities I lived in were vastly different, each of them gave me a similar sense of comfort. The ability to step off of a plane in a completely unfamiliar place and be welcomed and cared for like family almost immediately is rare.

What was the high point from each of your trips? What makes you most proud?
In Montana, participating in the sweat lodge ceremony was sensational and unlike anything I’d ever been apart of before. In Cambodia, we got to teach English to young girls. I don’t mean just helping out in a classroom, I mean we actually each got to be the TEACHER in a classroom full of students. It was challenging, there was a language barrier, but I had a translator and the eagerness of the students as an aid. Getting to do that was incredible. In countries like Cambodia, education for women is still a struggle, and I was happy to be defying that oppression when given the opportunity. In Ecuador, going on my homestay was such a special experience. The hospitality of my homestay family was heartwarming and I got to see what daily life was like in a more up close fashion.

What was it like doing multiple VISIONS programs?
After you do one VISIONS trip, the framework and program structure definitely become natural and familiar. But each trip is so different that you are never totally prepared for what you are in for, and that’s the beauty of it.

Is there a project that stands out as your favorite?
It’s difficult to say, but a particularly rewarding project for me was one in Cambodia. We built a storage structure for the Mighty Girls, a group of Cambodian girls who are part of SALT Academy, an organization that uses soccer to rehabilitate girls who have been in difficult life situations. The structure would house their soccer equipment. We’d worked with the Mighty Girls throughout the entire trip, and building something that I knew would have an impact on the lives of people I’d made a connection with was especially fulfilling.

How about travel excursions – what were the real highlights?
Backpacking in Montana, exploring the ancient temples and ruins in Cambodia, and swimming with sea lions in the Galápagos were all very memorable for me!

Did you get a lot of time to interact with community members? What were they like?
For me, the local people are the defining factor of a VISIONS trip. They are the instruments for making your VISIONS community into a home. On all of my programs there was ample time to spend with them, and I’m grateful for it. Their kindness and eagerness to get to know me automatically made more comfortable. They were always gracious and open. I’ll never forget that Don Shoulderblade, the medicine man on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation who came to speak to my Montana group, told us that we could call or write him any time we were worried about something and wanted well wishes during our lives at home. Interacting with the local people not only sprouted friendships that I will always treasure, but allowed me to learn about different cultures, which is what you go on VISIONS to do.

What kind of things did you take away from your most recent VISIONS experience in Ecuador?
Having to grapple with my Spanish greatly improved my general language skills and ability to think on my feet. I was delighted to be able to make connections with people despite not sharing a primary language. The relationships I formed are another thing I take away from Ecuador, and I have kept in touch with several locals through social media, especially my homestay family!

How has your perspective shifted since participating?
I definitely look at the world with a more aware and mature eye. Positivity, patience, and appreciation are more easily at reach for me than they were before.

If you could only use a few adjectives, how would you describe each of the programs in which you’ve participated?
The words exhilarating, enjoyable, and eye-opening encompass them all!

What do you hope to be doing ten years from now?
Something I love. Having a strong career is very important to me, so hopefully I am well on my way to building that. I’m not exactly sure what career path I want (currently I’m interested in journalism), but I do know that having the ability to travel, at least from time to time, is also a priority for me. It would be great if my job could incorporate my love for that!

VISIONS in The New York Times