HQ Team

Based at Pacific Discovery HQ in Queenstown, and in Nelson, New Zealand, we have an outstanding and dynamic team leading Pacific Discovery.

Zach Johnston

Executive Director

Zach grew up on a farm in the North Island of New Zealand. In his youth he hunted on horseback and scuba dived for food. At age 18 he joined the military and soon became a captain, commanding tanks and then to a specialized role in sniping and reconnaissance. After several other leadership roles, it was a 12-month position as the Senior Leadership Development Instructor at officer cadet school,  that he discovered his passion for mentoring young adults. 

After the military Zach ventured around the world rock climbing, discovering a passion for travel, exploration and adventure, believing they open and strengthen the mind, as well as inspire us to connect with ourselves and others.  He worked as an ambulance EMT and then began working as an Outdoor Educator and an International Expedition Leader, guiding expeditions on every continent except Antarctica. He has also ran a rock climbing company and a small group tour company. Wishing to enable more young adults to gain the skills and experience necessary to safely undertake adventures he developed the adventure travel program Pure Exploration.

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Scott Burnett

Founding Advisor

Scott's path was shaped by growing up wanting to be an adventurer; climbing mountains and exploring; through the Scout movement with it's emphasis on leadership, group dynamics and service; and through holiday work at a wildlife sanctuary. After high school, he decided that the way to gain independence and fund his adventurous dreams was through hard work and cold cash. He completed a 4-year carpentry apprenticeship. This gave him practical skills, valuable self belief and funded an enviable lifestyle of climbing, mountain biking, travel and adventure. The study of philosophy and experiential education, led to work as an outdoor instructor and to work for the environmental organization Greenpeace, where he met Rachel.

Pacific Discovery grew out of this grounding in practical self-directed learning and a desire to share with others his love of travel, the outdoors, adventure and experiential education. Scott has now led in excess of 30 programs for Pacific Discovery, gaining an unmatched understanding of how to mentor young adults. He's researched new programs, trained our wonderful program instructors, designed our website, and recently took time out to build a solar-powered Pacific Discovery office. He contributes to the gap year field best practice, serving on both the Standards and the Ethics Committees of the American Gap Association.

Scott has also spent 9 years on the board of a grassroots development organization, Books for Cambodia; and has resumed his studies, currently mid-way through a BA in Development Studies. When time permits he loves adventures with his family, mountain biking, orienteering and ultimate frisbee.

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Graham Kinlan

General Manager

Graham grew up amongst the cathedrals and pubs of lively Dublin. The Guinness didn’t get in his way of getting a master’s degree at the Dublin Institute of Technology though. He still loves going back to Ireland for a visit but has been calling New Zealand his home since 2011.

Of course, it’s hard to leave a place like Queenstown, which has so many outdoor activities to get involved with. You can often find him exploring new mountain bike trails, playing a game of ice hockey with his mates or shredding the slopes on skis or a board.

Travel has been a big part of Graham’s life as he has explored most of Europe and took an unforgettable six-month trip around Southeast Asia. Knowing all these countries has been a huge advantage managing travel companies. He has previously been a General Manager for a small group tour company and a Business Manager for a well-known extreme activity company, before taking on Pacific Discovery and Pure Exploration.

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Austin Rogers

Admissions Director

Austin grew up in Texas and graduated from Baylor University with a B.A. in International Studies with a concentration in Political Science, during which she studied abroad in Italy at John Cabot University studying foreign affairs. Afterwards, she served an AmeriCorps VISTA term as a community organizer at the Texas Hunger Initiative, a capacity-building and collaborative organization seeking to develop and implement strategies to end hunger through policy, education, community organizing, and community development.

Having enjoyed her VISTA year, she became a VISTA Leader and recruited, trained, and oversaw 25 VISTAs across five southern states, simultaneously serving as a manger, events coordinator, and program assistant with the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. To gain more for-profit experience Austin joined Gap Inc in Washington, DC and managed a 6-million-dollar business for four years. Wishing to apply her experience to her love of traveling and adventure she moved to New Zealand to pursue an outdoor adventure guide program with Pure Exploration, Pacific Discovery's sister organization.

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Poppy Kupreichik

Headquarters Manager

Originally from the South West of England, Poppy moved to Queenstown 9 years ago and never left. Having travelled through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali and lastly Australia, Poppy found that immersing herself in new cultures and unknown countries ignited her passion for adventure and experience.

Since settling in Queenstown, Poppy has taken up numerous activities and continued her journey of self development. Now an avid hiker and explorer, Poppy enjoys everything this beautiful region has to offer right on her doorstep, the beautiful summers and the fluffy winters. She loves being active, spending mornings and/or evenings as a Les Mills Instructor and her weekends hiking around the area. On lazier days you can find her with her cats and partner with a good book, relaxing in their home.

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Becky Hensman

Administration Director

Becky has grown up in our very own hub location of Queenstown New Zealand. She developed a love for travel at an early age with her family taking yearly visits to explore the USA in their RV. Throughout school she partook in any exchange programs she could get her hands on which allowed her to have home stays in Japan and New Caledonia.

After high school she completed her Bachelor of Social Work at University before spending 3 months backpacking around South East Asia. Upon returning to New Zealand she began combining her two loves in life travel and people by stepping into the industry as a travel agent. After 4 years with Helloworld and travelling to 13 countries within that time she took a break to see her own backyard and has just completed a 4 month campervan trip around New Zealand.

All of her travel has spurred her on to help others have similar life changing experiences. Opportunities that will let individuals grow into incredible human beings, which is how she's stepped into her current role.

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Mechi von der Becke

Program Director

Mechi was born into a large and close-knit family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After graduating from university with a
degree in Tourism and Hotel Management, Mechi decided to leave the comfort of her family and home for
world travel.

Her global repertoire includes South and Central America, Europe, the USA, the Philippines, East
Asia, Southeast Asia, Fiji, and Australia. It was true love when, after all that traveling, Mechi landed in New
Zealand 10 years ago; she hasn’t called another country home since! Mechi values traveling for allowing her to
step out of her comfort zone, build confidence, and develop cultural sensitivity and empathy for others.
Since arriving in NZ, Mechi’s zeal for the outdoors has flourished.

In winter, you will find her on the tops of mountains, snowboarding her heart out. In summer, Mechi enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and camping around the beautifully lush South Island of NZ. When she’s not working, Mechi is either at the gym training for her next marathon, FaceTiming with her many nieces and nephews in Argentina and the USA, or planning her next international adventure.

Mechi is bilingual in Spanish and English. She deeply cares for others and is thrilled for the opportunity to
combine her love of travel, and passion for bringing the world to reach with the students of Pacific Discovery.

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Arthur Davey

Marketing Manager

Arthur grew up on a farm in the UK taking advantage of the outdoor lifestyle that the farm brought with it.

Before studying Geography at University Arthur qualified as Ski Instructor in his gap year. This program was an eye opener for him and really helped mould who he is today.

Arthur started documenting his travels around Europe while dipping his toe into the marketing world at a chain of restaurants. 9 years on Arthur is a well versed videographer and photographer and enjoys nothing more than capturing an epic sunset or sunrise.

With his passion for the outdoors he decided to move to the adventure capital of Queenstown with his equally adventurous wife (Bex) and hasn't looked back since.

At weekends and any time off he can be found climbing mountains, biking or skiing! Ticking off all the great hikes around New Zealand.

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Vicky Vleugels

Marketing Coordinator

Vicky is from Belgium and even though she enjoyed growing up in her beer-loving country, she didn’t stick around after she graduated university with degrees in Linguistics & Literature and Business Communication.

Instead, she wanted to see the beauty this planet has to offer. A 5-month trip around Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, a Working Holiday year in Australia and magnificent trips to Peru, Cuba, Iran and Sri Lanka are some of her more memorable experiences.

Vicky has been lucky enough to use her love for travel in her job for a while. She started off as a Digital Content Creator at a travel company in Amsterdam and is using her writing and marketing skills now for Pure Exploration and Pacific Discovery.

Queenstown has been her home for over a year now, but it still feels like paradise to her. From hiking up the many mountains in summer to skiing down them in winter, it’s her kind of place.

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Program Instructors

We value our dedicated Program Instructors - they are the cornerstone of a safe, transformative, and outstanding experience for our students.

Our Program Instructors are inspiring people with extensive experience in the regions we visit, who share a deep respect for the people and cultures, a fascination with local history, and an in-depth understanding of contemporary issues and politics.

They are people in whom you can trust, who remain objective and supportive even in challenging circumstances, and who take a genuine interest in your well-being and safety. They implicitly understand the importance of balancing the needs of individuals with group objectives, facilitating healthy group dynamics, inspiring a genuine appreciation for the areas visited, and an awareness of minimum impact travel ethics.

Pacific Discovery Program Instructors are generally aged 25 - 35, with an average age of 28. All are Wilderness First Responder (WFR) first aid certified, and they are trained in experiential education facilitation, group leadership and risk assessment/management.

Gabrielle Jolly

Instructor: Hawaii, Southeast Asia

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Gabby spent most of her childhood next to the mountains and the ocean. The outdoors have always been a passion, closely followed by travelling. She spent her undergrad in and out of the classroom, venturing off on semesters abroad and outdoor expeditions. Gabby continued this trend long after graduation, dipping her toes in all sorts of career paths, where she now finds herself settled in to the guiding and outdoor education industry.

As an instructor she hopes to share with you some of the knowledge gained from travelling and working in all sorts of regions around the world such as South East Asia, East Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand. Experiential travel opened up a realm of opportunities for her, and she aspires to pass some of those insights on to you. The world is a beautiful place to explore and Hawaii is an awesome place to start!

In between guiding, you can generally find Gabby hiking, sailing, skiing, lounging on a beach, or playing with every dog that passes by.

BA International/Global Studies
Simon Fraser University

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Arlen Horton

Instructor: Hawaii

It was from a very early age that Arlen’s love for the outdoors, adventure, and Australia grew.

School holidays were usually a 2-week trip exploring NSW’s towns, National Parks and campgrounds; Minnie Waters, New England National Park, Crescent Head, Mullumbimby, Warrumbungle National Park, Katoomba and Blue Mountains, Perisher and the Snowy Mountains to name a few of his favorite places and where many holidays were spent. Arlen loves surfing and spending time in the ocean, if he is not surfing it is snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, or treasure hunting (sea glass). He finds it to be relaxing, a way to forget and be in the present, and a sense of cleansing; of leaving everything behind you and moving forward.

At times travel and adventure have taken Arlen away from the ocean but to other outdoor activities such as snowboarding, hiking, and camping. In the last few years Arlen has spent considerable amounts of time exploring areas of the western USA including Alaska, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington. Arlen comes from a High School Teaching background and thoroughly enjoys working with others and relishes the opportunity to learn from his students as well. He believes that due to everyone having a different upbringing they will have their own ideas, beliefs, or what the world calls common sense and its importance to learn and share with others.

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Kimberly Pfeifle

Instructor: Europe, Australia, Hawaii, Thailand

Kim was born in Boston and raised outside the city before returning for college at Northeastern University. “Curious” has always been used to describe Kim, whether it related to her desire to try every sport and musical instrument growing up or her wide range of internships during undergrad. True to her New England roots, she has spent every summer in Maine kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and hiking.

She has travelled to 13 countries in the last two years across Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania as well taking every opportunity to drive across the U.S.A. Hawaii will be the 25th state she has explored (cue Bon Jovi’s Halfway There).

Since graduating Kim has led two groups of first year college students through a semester abroad in Sydney, Australia, and Berlin, Germany. Her favorite part of these semesters was guiding the students through new experiences and seeing all them - and the staff as well - grow as a result. Her passion lives in access to education. Many people limit the idea of “education” to books and classrooms but there is so much that we can learn from nature and the experiences and cultures of others. Educational travel allows participants to personally develop, step outside of their comfort zones and challenge their perspectives and she's delighted to continue to grow with all of you!

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Amelia Sease

Instructor: South America, Western United States

Amelia grew up in Colorado exploring the many mountains and rocks of the Western United States. While studying Biochemistry and Environmental Design in college, she decided to take a semester off and spent Fall as a student on a Pacific Discovery Southeast Asia program. The experiences she had, the relationships she formed, and the incredible mentorship from the instructors coupled with all of the outdoor adventures were an enormous stepping stone in her personal growth and discovery, and since then she has been dedicated to being a part of facilitating that wonderful growth and experience in others.

Throughout college, Amelia began rock climbing and developing skills in alpine mountaineering, allowing her to explore some of the most isolated mountains in the deserts of the West, the Rocky Mountains, and the Cascades. This led to her passion for traveling to explore crags and mountain ranges across the globe and experiencing new and wonderful cultures everywhere. Each culture and country taught her something new about the world and about herself - from rock climbing up steep gorges in Morocco and dining on delicious tagine, to ice climbing up Andean Peaks in Peru whilst practicing her Spanish with local guides. Amelia learned how every person you meet along your many journeys has words of wisdom to learn from, as well as how important outdoor and experiential education is to personal development.

Between traveling and leading programs, she spends her time building out her van/home and working on organic farms, using permaculture and sustainable food production practices to grow veggies and experiment with preserving produce. She loves making kimchi, and is working on perfecting her kombucha brew.

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Cade Chapman

Instructor: Western United States, New Zealand

Cade was born and raised in the great state of Texas, Yee-Haw! Growing up he dabbled in just about everything. Cade loves all things outside, from white water rafting and kayaking to rock climbing and hiking, but he especially love board sports ( i.e. snowboarding, long boarding, wake boarding, skating...anything with a board, he's sold!).

Yearning for a new beginning, he ventured off to New Zealand, where he lived for a year and began his path into the guiding industry. The aspect he enjoyed most about outdoor educational programs is that it forces people out of our comfort zones. Cade is extremely passionate about teaching and helping others find themselves. Everyone needs to take the time to figure out who they are as a person. Travel and the outdoors will open you up to a plethora of new experiences—all of which you may not be comfortable with—but if we never step out of our comfort zones, we can never grow.

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Jonathan Hakim

Instructor: Hawaii, Australia

Jonathan is an avid traveler, born and raised in Philadelphia, PA and has spent the last six years living in New York City. From an early age, he spent a lot of time outdoors thanks to his father, who often took Jonathan and his siblings out skiing, camping, hiking, and dirt bike riding. As a kid, he spent many summers on the kibbutz in Israel where his dad grew up and enjoyed the time spent with family camping in craters, going on jeep trips in the desert, and snorkeling in the Red Sea.

Jonathan spent a year abroad in Australia during his undergrad and it was a life changing experience. It provided him an exciting opportunity to try new things such as hiking Cradle Mountain in Tasmania, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, and watching the sunset over Uluru. During his time in Australia he developed a passion for international and experiential education and since then has dedicated his professional career to working for study abroad programs to help gap year and undergraduate students experience the personal, professional, and academic growth that comes with stepping out of their comfort zone.

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Rebecca Thomas

Instructor: Southeast Asia, Latin America

Rebecca is a former Pacific Discovery participant, subsequently Outreach and Alumni Director and a program instructor with us for many years. She grew up outside Baltimore, Maryland and went to university in Colorado.

Colorado was the perfect playground for Rebecca where she continued her passion for traveling and the outdoors. When she was not in the classroom, Rebecca spent most of her time hiking, skiing and camping. During her junior year, she spent a semester abroad in Salamanca, Spain, living with a host family and studying advanced Spanish. To complete her minor in Education, Rebecca received a grant to study teaching methods at a special needs school outside of San José, Costa Rica.

Since she graduated in 2010, Rebecca has been a leader and facilitator for various organizations, leading groups in Southeast Asia, the US Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru and Tanzania.

Rebecca is now based in Portland, Maine, where she combines leading our shorter custom programs, with work with local youth getting them into the outdoors.

BA Spanish Literature & Education
Colorado College

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Lucy McGrath

Instructor: Hawaii, Western USA

Lucy grew up on the Jersey shore collecting seashells and swimming in the sea. While studying at Arcadia University, she spent two semesters abroad in South Africa and India, then decided she wanted to travel the world forever. After college, she served in the Peace Corps and spent two years in Zambia.

Lucy goes with the flow and lives where she ends up. Since Zambia, she's lived in New York City, New Orleans, London, Boston, and currently San Francisco.
She considers herself an exceptional problem solver because once while camping when her french press broke, she made coffee in a sock. She's held a diverse array of jobs from a-balloon-animal-making princess for kids' birthday parties, kitchen product demonstrator, podcast host, waitress, and teacher. She's devoted to social justice, art, and educating kind and mindful citizens. She's happiest on a bicycle; and loves laundromats, her grandma's attic, and forests.

BFA Theater for Social Justice
Arcadia University

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Austin O'Brien

Instructor

Austin grew up on the South Shore of New England before heading out West for University. Graduating with a degree in expedition leadership from Western State Colorado College Austin took pride in actually using his degree! As a Guide for hire in expeditions all over the globe, Austin loved the fact he was advancing his career surfing, rock climbing, and skiing with absolutely amazing people.

Austin took to experiential education as well as working with schools like Outward Bound, The Brandon school, and co-founding Soulstainable. Austin is spending most of his free time in the great outdoors getting after it but also loves his ever-growing Spotify playlist and crushing a good book!

BA Expedition Leadership
Western State Colorado College

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Jenn Amos

Instructor: North America

Jenn grew up in Arizona and spent a lot of her childhood traveling around the country and the world with her family. It wasn't until Jenn got to college that she found her love for working with people and sharing the amazing connections the outdoors can bring.

Her college years were spent exploring the mountains of North Carolina while gaining her degree in Parks and Recreation Management. She made sure to take the time to study abroad in Ireland and spent the year exploring Europe while working towards her Outdoor Education degree. Jenn was able to climb, cave, surf, canoe and hike all over Ireland while learning and growing.

Jenn has spent many years working in different capacities at Summer Camps in North Carolina and Washington. For the past few years, she has been living in Washington working at a summer camp teaching kids about the outdoors. She believes there is no better way of learning and growing than through travel and emerging yourself in the community that you are surrounded by.

BS Parks and Recreation Management

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Chris Davies

Instructor: North America

Chris hails from Auckland, New Zealand. He has a background in sport science and physical education, and absolutely fizzes over any outdoor pursuits! Chris has spent the last two and a half years working and traveling around North America, currently calling Fernie (a small ski town in British Columbia) his winter home. He cannot wait to swap the snowboard boots & thermals for flip flops & boardshorts and spend some time at the beach.

Chirs is most looking forward to donating his time and energy to the local communities on Oahu and Hawaii. The ecosystem in these areas can be pretty slammed by tourism, so it'll be quite rewarding for the program to have a positive impact in the weeks that they spend there.

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Beth Farrell

Instructor: Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia

Beth grew up in the outdoor playground that is Magnetic Island in north Queensland, Australia, and rarely a day went by that she and friends were not off on an adventure. Graduating from the University of Queensland with a degree in Human Movement Studies and Education, Beth has taught in various styles and environments in England, Spain and Australia, but firmly believes the outdoors to be the best learning environment. Beth is an avid traveller and loves spending time in new environments, getting to know the people and culture. She lived in Spain for 2 years and has recently spent a year in Fiji developing accessibility to sport for people with disabilities. Her favorite mode of travel is by bike, followed closely by sailing - but is quick to jump onboard any adventure, often packing a slack-line, ukelele and skateboard, in the belief these tools facilitate the most fun out of any experience.

BSc Human Movement Studies/Education
University of Queensland

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Devin Perno

Instructor: Southeast Asia, China

Devin Perno was fortunate to grow up in the beautiful sunny state of Colorado, where he developed a passion for the outdoors and everything related to nature - camping with the family, going on hiking expeditions, skiing through the mountains, and biking . Devin completed a BS in Environmental Science with two minors in Geology and Geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He pursued experience in this field working at the US Geological Society and Colorado State Parks.

With an urge to see more of the world, Devin packed his bags to work at an outdoor company in Hawaii before venturing further afield to work at an outdoor education company in Yangshuo, China. He gained valuable insight into how a change of scene can cause a change of mind - boundaries were pushed, new experiences gained. Devin discovered that working in outdoor education allowed him to be in the outdoors, sharing with others the same experiences that he loved, and the valuable learning and personal growth implicit in this. Three years later, Devin is still based in China while working as an educator all across Asia. He enjoys being in an environment that can teach others new experiences and gain new insights. In his free-time he is climbing, hiking, playing music, studying mandarin, and exploring the hidden corners of Asia.

BS Environmental Science
University of Colorado, Boulder

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Justin Ming

Instructor: North America,

Reigning from the rocky shores of Victoria, B.C., Justin loves all things outdoors. For over half his life, he has been an avid rock climber, scaling cliffs in Senegal, China, and western North America. In 2008, he competed for Canada at the World Youth Climbing Championships in Sydney Australia.

Mountain unicycler, highliner, and acroyogi, Justin has an inclination towards niche outdoor sports. On the water, Justin regularly goes kayaking and surfing off the coast of Vancouver Island. In his downtime, Justin loves to play music, read, and chainsaw carve - a classic Canadian pastime. Linguistically, Justin is fluent in French, speaks Spanish conversationally, and knows a fair bit of Mandarin.

In 2010, his zest for discovery took him 8,607km cycling from the west coast to the east coast of Canada. Over the years, Justin has facilitated engaging outdoor educational programs for youth in Central America, China, France, and Canada. More than anything, Justin loves to share his passion for adventurous self-discovery with young aspiring minds.

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Daniel Thomas

Instructor: South East Asia

Growing up on small-town farms ignited Daniel's adventurous imagination and encouraged his parents to take the family overseas to open his eyes to what happens outside of their microcosms of existence. Vietnam and Cambodia, Indonesia, French Polynesia, and throughout our home country of Australia only made him want to see more of the world.

On weekends, his family would travel an hour and a half to the beach; this was when Daniel was introduced to surf lifesaving and started his passion for all things ocean. This has been the main foundation of how Daniel has based his travels since. It has taken him to over thirty islands in Indonesia, through central and South America, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines to name a few.

Daniel spent nearly a month trekking through Nepal to the Tibetan border and through the sacred Tsun Valley. Hiked the Quilotoa loop in Ecuador, got lost, and stumbled upon a view that had him struggling for words. Used crampons and ice picks to summit a snow-covered volcano only to pass out from the altitude near the top. Spent nights under the stars on sandy beaches on uninhabited islands in the pacific. He was lucky to make it through an ocean storm somewhere between Australia and Sumba but was rewarded with memorable waves on a reef pass near Papua New Guinea. Held hands with wild orangutans in the Sumatran jungle and swam with river dolphins in the Amazon.

Daniel has met countless smiling faces and been invited into homes to share meals and stories. Travel broadens your understanding of the world, other people, how we got to where we are and gives you overall gratitude for our planet. Daniel is passionate about joining others on their journey, and sharing the adventure along the way.

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Jessica Thomas

Instructor: Australia, New Zealand, Nepal & Tibet

Jessica Thomas is a travel writer, facilitator of empowerment, adventurer and cycle-tourer. She grew up on the beautiful South Coast of New South Wales. At six she would visit the elderly in hospital to ask about their lives, and at 16 she was raising money to send wheelchairs to children in developing countries. When she left home at 17, her father’s last words were ‘don’t join a cult’. Jessica carried these words with her while she trained as a soldier and army officer in the Australian Defence Force, before having a pivotal experience in Nepal and subsequently leaving the military to travel the world. Jessica graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Bachelor of International Studies, majoring in development. She has explored over 50 countries, many of these by bicycle. She stood on Kala Pattar for Christmas; looked at the pyramids from the back of a camel; slept in the Gobi desert watching shooting stars; walked with a blind boy along the Camino de Santiago; made cheese in the Swiss alps; peered at her reflection in the salt flats of Bolivia; and dined with highland minorities in northern Thailand. Jessica has become more hungry for life and it’s endless possibilities with each new experience. Her next big life goal is to cycle around the world.

BA International Studies
University of New South Wales

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Jack Leathers

Instructor: South America

Jack grew up in College Park, MD, and owes much of his love for the outdoors to his mom, who took him hiking and on road trips whenever the chance arose. After graduating college, he worked on some boats on the Potomac River in DC and Maryland and a Marine Science Institute in Wallops, Island, VA.

Jack then took his enthusiasm for education to a pair of schools in Washington, DC; teaching Environmental Science, Biology, and coaching basketball. Jack eventually settled in his favorite country - Colombia, where he started a socially conscious hiking organization and worked as an Environmental Educator at the city’s Botanic Garden. When he’s not leading groups of travelers you can find him playing basketball, messing around on his keyboard, or trying to convince dogs to hang out with him.

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Caitlin Neal

Instructor: Southeast Asia, Nepal & Tibet

When your father is a US Army officer, travel and moving are a way of life. Caitlin was born on the largest populated post in the United States and spent her preschool years in Heidelberg, Germany. Learning to snow ski in the Barbarian Alps, exploring medieval castles, and crisscrossing Europe on family vacations provided “childhood as usual” experiences that would be bucket list items for most folks.

Later, while living outside urban Washington, DC, she spent weekends and holidays marveling the natural and cultural history preserved at the Smithsonian Museums and climbing the steps of many of America’s most notable monuments.

Growing up on the move (7 moves and 9 different schools), Caitlin's local neighborhoods provided terrific diversity — military family members originate from all parts of the world! This allowed her to develop childhood skills of empathy for others who are new to a place, and to use her big smile and interest in all people to make new friends!

Caitlin chose Montreat College in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains - she was drawn to the beauty of the area. One course provided her with a deeper appreciation for the wilderness through a month-long excursion whitewater canoeing, rock climbing, backpacking, and a three-day solo. This experience at such an influential period in her education provided her with the motivation to share wilderness instruction with other young adults. The next summer, she was asked to join an environmental scientist along the South Carolina coast and chronicle his work through her photography. University also allowed her to star in multiple theater productions, as varied as Shakespeare to the tale of Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic adventures.

Recognizing the immense healing power of authentic wilderness experiences, Caitlin began work as a wilderness therapy instructor with struggling teens. For two and a half years, she led adolescents through the mountains of Western North Carolina and found a tremendous passion in aiding the development of individuals at such an impactful stage of life. Her enthusiasm for their personal growth combined with her creativity in theatrics made for epic ceremonies and fun times around the camp fires.

Always inspired by her former students, Caitlin recently followed one of her own life goals and traveled to India to study Ashtanga yoga. Her course was followed by a trip through ancient ashrams and temples, treks in the Himalaya mountains of Nepal and rock climbing in Thailand.

When Caitlin is not leading Pacific Discovery trips she enjoys searching for hot springs in remote places, practicing yoga on mountain tops, visiting her international community of friends, capturing her experiences through photography and painting, and adding recipes to her forever growing cookbook.

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Jordan Richardson

Instructor: North America, Africa, South America

Jordan attended the University of Missouri where she majored in Animal Sciences and minored in Captive Wild Animal Management. During her time in University, Jordan was fortunate enough to study abroad several times. Her first trip was to Ireland where she spent four weeks exploring the country and learning all about its history while focusing on agricultural systems. Jordan continued to seek out new and exciting international experiences, such as participating in a wildlife management internship in South Africa and spending a semester in New Zealand. All of these experiences allowed her to look at life through a lens different from the one she had been accustomed to.

After graduating college she signed up for the Peace Corps and was assigned to Paraguay where she spent 27 months serving as an environmental conservation volunteer. After completing the Peace Corps in 2017, She backpacked through Colombia and Peru, and then returned to the US to reconnect with family and friends.

Jordan was drawn to the Gap Year community because of the dedication to providing students with meaningful and impactful service opportunities all around the world. Having had incredible mentors in her own life that helped her navigate the new, exciting, and sometimes uncomfortable experiences she faced traveling abroad, Jordan felt that becoming a Gap Year Instructor was a perfect opportunity for her to become that mentor for students seeking to discover more about themselves and the world around them. Jordan has led programs in East Africa, Chile, and most recently in Hawaii. She is excited to return to Hawaii this semester to eat all the exotic fruits, rides some waves, and have some major fun under the sun.

BS Animal Sciences
University of Missouri

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Tari Kumari Shrestha

Instructor: South East Asia

Tari has been traveling between worlds ever since she arrived on earth. Tari was born in Yuin country, on the remote south coast of Australia. Her life has been shaped by the boundless beauty of Australia’s coastline and Nepal’s majestic Himalayas: the two contrasting places she calls home as a half Nepalese half Australian person. Her curiosities and unique lens for experiencing the world have instilled a deep sense of social justice and global citizenship, leading her to study anthropology and development. Tari’s love of adventure has inspired her travels throughout the Middle East, southeast and central Asia, east Africa, remote Australia, and Europe.

From community organising within the grassroots women’s movement on the streets of Kathmandu, architecting capacity building training for indigenous women leaders, facilitating accelerated education programs for students throughout Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, and Malaysia, participating in humanitarian food aid distribution initiatives on the Jordanian-Syrian border, taking students on learning adventures in nature at the Green School in Bali, working in facilitation and program development with experiential education initiatives in Australia and America, providing support to recently arrived refugee communities in Germany and teaching trauma-informed yoga often as she can- Tari is a student of the world and facilitator of connection, inspired by the boundless human potential for learning and growth.

BA Anthropology, Arabic
Deakin University

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Kimberly Guzman

Instructor: North America

Originally from Athens, Georgia, Kim spent most of her childhood traveling in some form or fashion. Whether it was weekend city explorations, holiday road trips or summers visiting family in Colombia Kim has always had a spirit of adventure. She pursued opportunities, such as study abroad programs, through her educational career that took her further on her path of global exploration and self-discovery, visiting more than 30 countries.

As an instructor, she hopes to share with you some of the knowledge gained from her experience in and out of the classroom. Experiential travel programming has and continues to inspire and influence her outlook, she aspires to pass some of those insights on to you. Every day is a journey of its own, it's all the better if we get to go through and make meaning of these experiences together in beautiful places!

She loves being active while learning new skills, she is currently learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but on lazier days you can find her revisiting some of her favorite books, tv shows, or movies while cooking up some yummy dish.

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Marcus Michael

Instructor: North America

Marcus grew up in farmland Ohio. With four siblings and no TV, he learned to spend all of his time outdoors.  As a teenager, he bought two kayaks so he could invite others to join him in his favorite way of spending time. Marcus has spent the last 4 years living outside of the US. He is an EFL teacher and spends his days off exploring hikes or anything outdoors. This most recent summer has given him the opportunity to kayak more than 1000+ miles.  Marcus loves being immersed in natures classroom! 

 

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Jackie Palmer

Instructor: Hawaii

Originally from Maryland, Jackie has always had a passion for education and learning. She had the opportunity to attend Rider University for her Bachelors where she had an amazing study abroad experience in Ireland and London. During undergrad Jackie began really embracing the importance of experiential learning, which gave her the desire to pursue a Masters Degree in Student Affairs which she received from Clemson University. Through her experiences in Graduate school, she became more intentional about fueling her combined passion of experiential learning and international education. Jackie is excited to be able to hop into this new venture to assist in challenging students as they continue to find themselves and their passions. She is a big advocate that learning never stops and recognizes she is always learning from and alongside students. Jackie believes educational travel to be extremely powerful as it provides the chance for challenge, ability to broaden one's perspectives through lived experiences of others and allows for intentional reflection. With a passion for new experiences and a spirit for adventure, Jackie is eager to begin assisting the students of Pacific Discovery in identifying their passions, fostering community, engaging them through learning and challenging them outside their comfort zone to continue working to become their best selves.

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Verny

Costa Rica Instructor

Hola!! My name is Verny, I am from beautiful Costa Rica. I grew up in a sporty family and my father became the first Costa Rican triathlete at the World Championships. I spend my childhood practicing all kinds of sports such as triathlon, adventure racing, open water swimming and more. Oceans, lakes and mountains were a big part of my childhood.

After high school, I started training to become an adventure guide. This included river guiding, white water kayaking, sea kayaking, rappelling, horseback riding, mountain biking, trekking and much more. Being around the water and the mountains for my whole life has made me so passionate about the outdoors. I have worked in adventure travel since high school and it has been such a great journey.

Working with people from all over the world and having the opportunity to visit countries such as Peru, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Guatemala, United States, and recently Mexico has been a life-changing experience.

Working in an industry that allows me to share my passion, my hobbies, my knowledge and skills with others makes me feel very fortunate.

Pura Vida and see you all soon.

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Ashley Bertolini

Costa Rica Instructor

Hi, I’m Ashley! I am from Jamestown, New York, a small town south of Buffalo best known as the birthplace of Lucille Ball. In 2015, I graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia where I double majored in Social Studies Education and History. It was also during this time that I received my high school teaching certification. I continued to study education at New York University where I received my master's in International Education. I believe combining the fields of international relations with teaching and learning helps us to gain a broader worldview of the ways we use our relationships with others and our environment to facilitate learning.

I have always loved to challenge myself by stepping out of my comfort zone to meet new people and learn from shared experiences. Over the past several years, I have traveled throughout Latin America, Europe, and Africa. More recently, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone where I taught high school English and co-facilitated a program for out-of-school girls. Prior to joining the Peace Corps, I held various positions working in non-formal education as a mentor, tutor, and leader. I spent 7 summers working for the Girl Scouts of Western New York facilitating camp activities and backpacking in upstate New York. I have always been passionate about experiential, “hands-on” learning and look forward to continuing that work.

This will be my second program with Pacific Discovery and I am so excited to be part of the Hawaii MiniMester this summer. This is a unique opportunity to learn directly from different communities while experiencing the breathtaking scenery. When I am not working, traveling, or studying, I love to spend time with my family. I am the oldest of my 3 sisters. On any given day you can find me reading a book, hiking a new trail, playing badminton, or practicing my violin.

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Annie Waschko

Program Instructor

Annie Waschko was born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania (near Scranton if you’re a fan of The Office!) but has committed to exploring as many new places as possible. Her motto is “life is not short; it’s the longest thing you get” - she believes that there is lots of room for growth and adventure in life as long as you step intentionally towards it.

She received her BA in English from Loyola University Maryland and her MA in Cross-Cultural Communication from Newcastle University. Her travels have taken her to more than twenty states and more than twenty countries, but the most meaningful, extended amounts of time have been in Boston, Texas, Thailand, Greece, Spain, England, and Vietnam. Led by her curiosity, she sees every day as a school day in the most fun way possible and as a result, places the utmost value on experiential learning. Her passion for working with children and young people has taken her through the worlds of study abroad, TEFL, outdoor education, summer camp, and now gap year programming.

Annie is thrilled to help guide Pacific Discovery students through this incredible experience and to promote empathy, community, and self-reflection. She loves cats and goats, punk rock, any and all cuisine, hiking, open-air markets, thrift stores, and museums with unusual themes.

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Nathan Swanson

Instructor: Western United States, Oceania

Nathan grew up in the beautiful Pacific North West adventuring all over Washington and Oregon from an early age. Soon after turning 18 he started on his journey abroad. Nathan has been to the South Pacific multiple times, East Africa where he volunteered with dolphins in Zanzibar, safari adventures in the Masai Mara and bike-packing expeditions traveling through the Caucasus mountains starting at the Black Sea and finishing at the Caspian Sea.

While Nathan loves to wander around this beautiful planet feeling like a nomad, he finds himself in the same place every summer. Working at a summer camp in Washington is where he feels most at home and is something he's have been doing for just shy of a decade.

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Arlen Horton

Instructor: New Zealand, Australia

It was from a very early age that my love for the outdoors and Australia grew. My school holidays were usually a 2-week trip exploring NSW’s towns, National Parks and campgrounds....Minnie Waters, New England National Park, Crescent Head, Mullumbimby, Warrumbungle National Park, Katoomba and Blue Mountains, Perisher and the Snowy Mountains to name a few of my favourite places!

I love surfing and spending time in the ocean, if I am not surfing it is snorkelling, fishing, kayaking, treasure hunting (sea glass) or diving in the big blue. These things have allowed me to spend as much time in the ocean as possible. I find it to be relaxing, a way to forget and be in the present and a sense of cleansing; of leaving everything behind you and moving forward.

I thoroughly enjoy working with others and relish the opportunity to learn from students as well. I believe that due to everyone having a different upbringing they will have their own ideas, beliefs, or what the world calls common sense to share.

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Neal Crosson

Instructor: Hawaii, Europe

Neal got his first taste of travel from a young age during family vacations to places like Italy, Mexico, Canada, and the Philippines. After that, the travel bug stuck and he ended up seeking out opportunities left and right. Neal love the sense of adventure and taking on the unknown.

He has studied Spanish for his entire life and his passion for language eventually became his major in university. After graduation, Neal moved to Spain where he lived and taught English for 3 years. During those years, Neal worked in various capacities as a bilingual language teacher and cultural guide. He really enjoy sharing his knowledge and experiences with students. He joined Pacific Discovery after returning from Spain and began leading gap-year programs in Hawaii.

Living (and traveling) abroad, in wholly new cultural settings, has taught him invaluable life lessons. Those experiences take time to process and fully set in, so he highly encourages you all to regularly reflect on them! Lessons can be garnered from the people you’ll meet or even just the awe-inspiring nature you’ll encounter on our trip.


MA Bilingual and Multilingual Education
Universidad de Alacla

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Jeff David

Instructor: Europe, Oceania, Central and South America, Asia

Originally from Pennsylvania, Jeff got his first taste of living internationally while studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. While there, he found himself consistently impressed with the program staff and wondered how he might one day facilitate similarly eye-opening experiences for young adults. Jeff’s desire to be an adventurer and educator led him first to life on a small island off the coast of California where he instructed marine science and spent his working days in a wetsuit and mask.

Since California Jeff has led life-changing student programs from pacific island villages, to cobblestoned European streets, Caribbean reefs, the vast and varied landscapes of central and south America, and most recently to the streams and towns of ancient Asia.

Steeped in the belief that global citizenship is a young person’s ticket to the future, Jeff is looking forward to inspiring passion, building community, and supporting Pacific Discovery students on their path to self-discovery through the journey of a lifetime.

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Sheila Moloney

Instructor: Western United States, North Africa, Central America

Sheila was born in Chicago and raised in the northwest suburbs. Her youth consisted of team sports and summers spent always outdoors. Sheila developed a passion for travel during her undergraduate studies through a Semester at Sea study abroad program. She traveled to twelve countries on a ship over the span of ninety days. Eager for more time overseas, she then spent five years teaching in Cairo, Egypt. Living in Egypt allowed her to feed her passion for travel by exploring over sixty countries, planning adventures in scuba diving, mountain trekking and city walking. Sheila's top three adventures are trekking Mount Kilimanjaro, swimming in the Adriatic Sea and overeating in Rovinj, Croatia, and sailing down the Nile River on Friday evenings in Cairo, Egypt.

Wanting to pursue a career in international higher education, she moved home to Chicago to complete her Masters. During her Masters, she studied abroad in Vietnam and Italy. Sheila strongly believes that international and adventure education transcends borders, and opens minds, enabling individuals to go beyond their comfort zone. Since being back home stateside, she has begun to appreciate the adventure opportunities in her own backyard.

During the fall of 2020 Sheila led the Western USA Program and couldn’t rave more about what an awesome experience it was to see our own backyard in the US and explore with students from all over the States. She is eager to continue to be a part of the Pacific Discovery team for Spring of 2021 with Discovery Campus.

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