It is an exciting time to visit Cambodia. VISIONS teen volunteers will experience both the new and the very old in this beautiful Southeast Asian country. They will come to know Cambodia’s compelling contrasts in palpable ways –– from navigating the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh to taking in the quiet serenity of the countryside.

Cambodia is generally known for the two extremes of its history. Beauty on the one extreme is exemplified by the Khmer empire which built the astonishing Angkor cities and temples, some of the most sublime combination of art and architecture on the planet. Devastation at the other extreme took place from 1975 to 1979 when the Khmer Rouge gained a power during a period of tumult and instability. Under the Khmer Rouge an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians, over one-fifth the then total population, died through execution, torture, starvation and forced labor.

To know Cambodia is to understand Cambodian identity as indelibly forged and shaped by these two opposing forces of its history. It is remarkable that after centuries of struggle Cambodia today has overcome these obstacles to achieve a sense of normalcy, a hard-earned testament to the Cambodian character. Progress is real and visible.

As Cambodia enters the world market, younger Cambodians and those in the business class have begun to learn English, which is widely spoken in the major cities and tourist centers and taught in many schools. Even in rural outposts, young people learn and speak at least some English.

Cambodians are a gentle, warm and welcoming people. VISIONS youth volunteers will meet many new friends during their summer cross-cultural experience: entrepreneurs, farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, artisans; very young children, teenagers, and elders who have lived to see peaceful times and Cambodia’s emergence as a growing nation.

VISIONS in The New York Times