Adventure-seekers Kelly Hendrix and Mary Critchlow have begun a journey into Cambodia studying cultural and environmental issues.
The pair will visit the capital city Phnom Penh and its nearby beaches, the forests of the Cardamom Mountains, the rice-producing province of Battambang and the floating villages and ancient temple complex at Siem Reap.
Hendrix is a Flathead High School student and Critchlow is a Glacier High School teacher.
They are among 20 students and two teachers chosen from among 180 applicants to take the all-expenses paid trip through the U.S. State Department’s American Youth Leadership Program.
This is the first time the program has been offered in Montana, made possible by a $175,000 grant to the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center at The University of Montana.
The group departed Tuesday; the trip will end July 12. The group will study environmental issues in water, forestry and ecotourism that affect both Cambodia and Montana.
In addition to environmental issues, the group will learn about Cambodian culture, society, and history. Part of the trip will be spent living with Cambodian host families. A highlight of the program will be a visit to Angkor Archaeological Park, a World Heritage Site that contains remains of the Khmer Empire dating from the ninth to 15th centuries — most notably the religious temple Angkor Wat.
The American Youth Leadership Program sought participants with experience or interest in environmental studies and international affairs.
Hendrix, 17, is an International Baccalaureate student who will be a senior next year at Flathead. Hendrix has also traveled abroad to Spain and Italy on a National Honor Society trip and has been to Mexico.
“I really enjoy environmental studies and I love to travel. I think you learn more about yourself and where you live,” Hendrix said. “I had three teachers approach me about the program. One was my Environmental Systems and Societies teacher because the program does have a focus on environmental challenges and climate changes.”
Hendrix would like to pursue a career working with water systems internationally.
Critchlow teaches health and physical education at Glacier and has a passion for traveling and has been to more than 40 countries.
“I primarily wanted to get outside of my comfort zone and learn about other geography and cultures,” Critchlow said.
Critchlow also has an interest in the environment and started a recycling program in Kalispell Public Schools.
Hendrix and Critchlow are looking forward to visiting temples such Angkor Wat.
“It’s breathtaking, some of the pictures we’ve seen in our guidebooks,” Hendrix said.
Hendrix is also looking forward to touring the country by bike, boat and foot, eventually camping in a jungle for one night.
Area students also participating on the trip include Louis Bunce, Courtney Perry and Nichole Rang, all of Arlee.
Critchlow said the best part of the trip is that students are provided the opportunity to travel abroad.
“The most wonderful part is seeing kids who haven’t had a real chance to travel experience everything for the first time,” Critchlow said. “For me, there’s nothing like travel for encouraging tolerance with others.”
When the group returns home, participants will lead service projects in their communities. Critchlow said traveling helps her understand the magnitude of natural resources people use.
“When I get back from traveling I look at the space I live in, the amount of water I use and the things we take for granted in the U.S.,” Critchlow said.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at email@example.com.
Flathead High School student Kelly Hendrix recently embarked on a trip to Cambodia where she will learn about environmental issues and be immersed in the local culture.