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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Fiona Davies

Pacific Discovery Director

A born and bred Kiwi, Fiona (or 'Fe' as her friends call her) grew up around the sunny beaches of Auckland, always within a 2 minute walk to the beach, so her childhood was filled with beaches, fishing and boating.

This inevitably led to a love of the natural world so after getting a degree in Zoology, she worked in aquariums around the world with penguins, sharks and turtles! After a while the lure of New Zealand drew her back, though this time to the mountains of Queenstown where she has worked in adventure travel ever since. She spent 5 years as a hiking guide on the famous Milford and Routeburn tracks, thus bringing a wealth of outdoor expertise to our team.

A self-confessed 'bird nerd', Fe loves the New Zealand wilderness, and on the weekends you'll find her with her husband and daughter hiking up a mountain to a backcountry hut, drinking wine at the top or skiing back down it!

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Becky Hensman

Student Success Manager

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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Vicky Vleugels

Digital Marketing Manager

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 a few years 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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Mechi von der Becke

Program Planning Manager

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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Megan Glenn

Program Planning Manager

From Missouri to Colorado in the States, to Uganda and eventually New Zealand… Megan has lived in her fair share of the world, but it was Queenstown that ultimately took her breath away.

The lakes and mountains are perfect for her outdoor pursuits, which is why she’s still calling Queenstown her home seven years after arriving here on a Working Holiday. On the weekends, you’re likely to find her outside, rock climbing in the area, paddle boarding on Lake Wakatipu or running the many amazing trails nearby.

Her excellent planning and organizational skills come in handy as a Program Director for Pacific Discovery, and have previously served her well when she worked as a volunteer coordinator for a non-profit in Uganda and as a wedding planner in New Zealand. You’ve heard that right, she’s created a lot of special days for grooms and brides, but these days, she uses her skills to create special experiences for our gap year students.

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Carla Strong

Program Planning Manager

Hailing from a small town in South Canterbury, New Zealand, Carla developed a love for the outdoors at a young age and jumped into the adventurous lifestyle of studying outdoor recreation after leaving school.

From there, she embarked on international adventures guiding and working in outdoor education centers throughout New Zealand, Australia, and Malaysia until she realized that it was too hot - she missed the cold weather, and the South Island of New Zealand was calling! After dabbling in personal training for a few years, she again felt the pull of the outdoors and returned to the nomadic lifestyle, this time as a Program Instructor, leading month-long programs in developing countries. Over a number of years, she led 16 of these expeditions in amazing places such as Nepal, Southeast Asia, Tanzania, Central and South America.

Wanting to again put down some roots, she returned to New Zealand's South Island again, this time to the small skiing town of Wanaka where she worked with Aspiring guides, at first doing some guiding but then slowly moving into the office roles and over the course of eight years eventually working her way up to management! This year, Carla, her partner and their cat, have decided to jump over the hill to Queenstown where the Pacific Discovery Headquarter is located.

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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.

Henry Grayson

Instructor: Thailand

Henry grew up in the capital city of New Zealand, Wellington. Growing up, Henry played plenty of sports, all of which connected him to people and the outdoors. At the age of 17, he would get his first taste of culture shock on a 2 month exchange in Munich, Germany.

Henry would complete a Commerce degree and a diploma in German Language at Otago University by visiting Germany for a final semester in Heidelberg. Following on from these travels around Europe and then Southeast Asia, Henry worked for an Insurance company in Auckland. After 3 years climbing the corporate ladder, his life changed course when he bought a one-way ticket to Latin America. Throughout the two years he spent backpacking the 'Gringo Trail', Henry balanced his time travelling by working a variety of jobs such as a barman, receptionist and nature guide, all of which changed his perspective on life.

In recent times Henry has been working in Tourism as a Team Leader on Stewart Island and at Milford Sound in New Zealand. He brings with him much experience about remote living, learning languages, making remarkable experiences and having some fun along the way.

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John Flagiello

Instructor: Hawaii

For over 5 years John has been on a journey of exploration, excitement, and most importantly education. Finding his own path, John followed his heart to find a way of life filled with beauty, adventure, and connection to the world he lives in as well as the people involved.

After traveling through 6 continents and exploring the beauty of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, parts of Europe, South America, Central America and his home in North America, he finds himself in love with the cultures and experiences each place has to offer but always highlights the importance of his connection with the people he meets on his journey.

John is constantly reminded to challenge himself, to leave his comfort zone, and stay open to new thoughts ideas and perspectives. John has cooked different cuisines in restaurants all around the world, worked on farms and vineyards in Australia, snowboarded to work every day on a mountain resort in New Zealand, worked in multiple National Parks around the world, and most recently completed a year leading a conservation corps in the US, amongst many other diverse jobs.

To John, the greatest wisdom in the world is having, understanding, and being open to new perspectives you are faced with daily when being around people from different backgrounds. He is a strong believer in facing challenges head on because each obstacle brings us growth and new ways of thinking to help us navigate and understand the world we live in. John is passionate about connecting with others and experiencing all that he can in this life. His passion is fueled by his endless curiosity to learn, explore, and grow as an individual and strives to help others along on their journey through the human experience. John has been on the move for over 5 years and doesn’t plan on slowing down in the years to come. In his spare time John finds ways to challenge himself with a list of activities that continues to grow including yoga, rock climbing, snowboarding, slack-lining, juggling, hiking, kayaking, and rafting.

John believes that finding yourself in a moment of awe is one of the most rewarding aspects of life. Moments of awe can be experienced with beautiful views, being able to connect with nature, connecting with others, connecting with yourself, being mindful, and using your body. Each of these activities require a connection between mind, body and nature, allowing you to amplify the beauty and awe we are surrounded by, but not always conscious enough to connect with.

John looks forward to working with his students to help them see a bigger picture in the world and to find a way to bring comfort and excitement to our quest for meaning and purpose throughout our lives.

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Laurel Starr

Instructor: Hawaii

Laurel hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She spent several seasons instructing Pacific Discovery programs in South America, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and Australia before signing on for three years to run wilderness programs in New Zealand. Laurel now resides on the West Coast of New Zealand and is studying her Master’s in Social Work. She is grateful for the opportunity to combine her passion for healthy human development and social justice with the outdoors and group facilitation. Having lived on Maui as a child and having strong family ties to the Hawaiian Islands, she is stoked to be able to return to this incredible part of the world with Pacific Discovery.

Travel has been a formative part of Laurel’s worldview - having spent a semester as a high school exchange student in Ghana, a university semester abroad in Chile, and backpacking throughout the world. She has also pursued her love for adventure, nature, and challenge by walking from Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail and following the humbling journey of learning to whitewater kayak and surf as an adult. Laurel hopes that through supporting young folks to travel to new places in an intentional and humble way, she can help to foster compassion and positive action for the earth and its people.

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Manuel Olvera

Instructor: The Galapagos Islands

Manuel was born and raised in Mexico City, where he graduated with a degree in Industrial Engineering. After 10 years of experience and training in Chinese martial arts, he followed his passion and ventured to China to learn more. While in China, he also studied the language and traditional Chinese medicine.

For the past eight years, Manuel participated in many cultural exchange and volunteering programs in China, focused on experiential education in multiple leadership roles, which led him to work as a facilitator and senior program manager for The Jump! Foundation, an experiential education provided operating in China and Southeast Asia. He also worked in the adventure tourism industry as a hiking and camping guide to the un-renovated sections of the Great Wall of China, and in the service-learning industry in China and Costa Rica. Some of his passions are permaculture, holistic medicine, martial arts and meditation.

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Tari Kumari

Instructor: Australia

Tari has been travelling between worlds ever since she arrived on earth. Tari was born on 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, global citizenship and intergenerational change which led her to her studies in anthropology and development.

From community organizing within the grassroots women’s movement on the streets of Kathmandu, participating in humanitarian food aid distribution initiatives on the Jordanian-Syrian border, facilitating international education programs for students throughout Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, taking students on learning adventures in nature at the Green School in Bali, crafting curriculum through program development with education initiatives in Australia and America, architecting capacity building trainings for indigenous women leaders from Central Asia and Central America, providing support to refugee communities in Germany and sharing trauma informed yoga with diverse groups of people as often as she can- Tari is a student of the world and facilitator of connection. Between adventures, you will find her making pottery from recycled clay in her studio in Germany. An artist, activist and educator, Tari is a lover of life and the privilege of sharing adventures with young people from around the world.

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Annie Waschko

Instructor: Thailand

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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Kimberly Pfeifle

Instructor: The Galapagos Islands

Born and raised outside of the city of Boston, Kim spent most of her childhood hiking, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and ice skating around New England. She returned to Boston to study music but spending all day in classrooms learning about different musical traditions created a longing to explore these cultures first hand.

Kim has traveled across Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania and has led students in Australia, Germany, Thailand, and Hawai’i. Her favorite part of these programs is guiding the students through new experiences and seeing them - as well as staff - 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 through 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 thrilled to continue to grow with all of you!

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Justin Ming

Instructor: Costa Rica

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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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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Natalie Welch

Instructor: Hawaii

Born on the eastern shore of Maryland, Natalie was introduced to the natural world at a young age and spent her summers exploring the estuaries and lands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay teaching her the importance of environmental stewardship through conservation and community action. Her parents instilled a passion for cultural exchange through family vacations deep into the heart of the Amazon rainforest, exploring the ruins of Tulum, and the rich histories and importance of fishing on Alaskan natives.

After graduating from University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a dual degree in Psychology and Sociology and minor in Political Science in 2015, she realized education did not simply occur in the 4 walls of the classroom, and took a gap year to travel North America with her sister and a semester program in Southeast Asia with Pacific Discovery! The experience with Pacific Discovery was so influential for her self-growth and passion for cultural exchange, that she moved to Nicaragua to assist local communities with health and sustainable development projects for 6 months.

She has held a myriad of jobs ranging from customer service jobs, to group development projects with university students, to a corporate 9-5, and knows that her true passion lies in the natural world and sharing this passion with others, especially students. In her free time she loves to read, hike, kayak and explore new places with her friends and family. Natalie has traveled to over 26 countries and 40 states within the USA through a combination of group travel, family vacations, or self-organized travel with her sister and partner. Through these travels, Natalie has gained such an appreciation for the importance of community and self growth, even in challenging moments and is excited to help support students within Pacific Discovery programs!

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Breanna Miles

Instructor: Hawaii & Western United States

Breanna Grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where she spent her childhood years exploring the rivers and forests of the area. Her fondest childhood memories involved sitting around the fireside up her family's cabin in the Appalachian mountains telling stories and making memories with her cousins.

She always had a passion and drive to want to help the people around her which led her to pursue a degree in Nursing, where she would eventually become a travel nurse exploring the beauty of the United states. During this time she pursued many outdoor activities (mountain biking, rock climbing, backpacking) and fell in love with the power connecting with nature had on her mental/emotional health. She then spent 8 months doing medical work in Southeast Asia (Indonesia/Thailand) where she experienced first hand the impact that working alongside different communities and cultures had on her growth as an individual. The idea of health being a balance of body/mind/spirit began to take root - and while in Bali she completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training course so she could help teach others to connect to their bodies and their breath.

Throughout her twenties she spent her personal time traveling both in the United States (specifically in the National Parks) and abroad to Ireland, Czech, Germany, Spain, Thailand, Indonesia, and Canada. As well as devoting any free time to volunteer organizations in the communities she lived, most recently working in the Denver Homeless Shelters and Traveling to Puerto Rico with a non-profit organization that focuses on bringing basic health care to the underserved populations.

For the last few years she has been pursuing a career in Wilderness Therapy and began working with adolescents and young adults in the desert landscapes of Utah and the Mountains of Colorado, where she taught how the wilderness could be a powerful tool for personal development. She continues to pursue her passion for helping people find their authentic selves and to teach them to see the power of their own stories; and believes that this can be fostered through developing deeper connections to the natural world, different cultures/communities, and ourselves.

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Jane Desmond

Instructor: Hawaii

Jane was born in a sleepy Chicago suburb. At 6 months old she made her way west for warmer weather, growing up in sunny Southern California. On school breaks, her family would take road trips to state and national parks. Highlights were building forts, using walkie talkies, and skipping rocks. For college she stayed close, going to UCLA. She studied abroad in Florence, Italy where she did lots of traveling around Europe... and even more eating.

After college Jane lived and worked in San Francisco for a couple of years. During this time she travelled to Hawaii, Costa Rica and Poland on her times off. Then Jane wanted a change, so she moved to Sitka Alaska where she did a service year at a residential/ wilderness program for teens with substance abuse issues. Besides the angsty teens, whales, bears, salmon, and eagles kept her company.

After Alaska, Jane moved back to the "lower 48" and quickly decided she was sick of the mainland so in early 2021 she moved out to Hawaii for a month. She ended up staying 6 months, splitting her time between Oahu and Kauai. Now, Jane is stoked to check out the Big Island and be back on Hawaii with the Pacific Discovery crew!

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Amelia Sease

Instructor: South America

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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Ashley Bertolini

Instructor: Thailand

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.

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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Verny Chavarria

Instructor: South America

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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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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Lauren Gilhuly

Instructor: Costa Rica

Originally from the Bay Area, Lauren spent her early childhood running around in the sunshine and forests of Northern California where she developed a love for adventure in the great outdoors. At the age of nine, she and her family moved to England, which instilled in her an insatiable curiosity about the world and a deep respect for all you can learn from immersing yourself in a new place and different culture. Since then, Lauren has sought out opportunities to do just that all over the U.S. and abroad.

Lauren got her start in education as a Teach for America corps member in Phoenix, Arizona. She quickly became passionate about integrating experiential learning into the classroom and expanding access to enriching educational opportunities. For the past ten years, Lauren has been working as an educator in all kinds of environments and locations, most recently in Italy and Greece on a gap year program and in Denver Public Schools as a founding teacher of World Literature, French, and Senior Projects.

In her free time, you can find Lauren backpacking and backcountry skiing in the Rocky Mountains, reading fiction on the porch, and spending time with her friends and family. Her favorite band is the California Honeydrops and she loves breakfast burritos. She can’t wait to learn more about her Pacific Discovery students this season!

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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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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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Jack Leathers

Instructor: Central 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 with student groups on boat trips on the Potomac River in DC / 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 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, jamming on his keyboard, roaming around Latin America, or trying to convince dogs to hang out with him. He’s pumped for his second season at Pacific Discovery, and looks forward to meeting all of the Fall students!

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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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Liz Lucas

Instructor: Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia

Hailing from the great state of Colorado Liz is stoked to be instructing for Pacific Discovery again. Her early years consisted of playing in the dirt on the softball field, taking her playing to Lehigh University and then in Germany. Playing professionally was a great joy and exploring new places continued calling. That bug took her to New Zealand where she lived and worked instructing students through New Zealand and Australia. She can’t wait to meet her group and work with these students to push them, support them, grow with them, mentor them and experience new things.

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Amber Latimer

Instructor: Thailand

Amber comes to you from the cornfield-covered state of Wisconsin (and you bet, she’s a proud cheesehead). However, there’s a lot more than corn and cheese to her home state including thousands of lakes, parks, and the Northwoods, which is home to her grandparent’s tree farm - a special place that fostered her love for play, exploration, and the outdoors from a young age.

In college, Amber studied Psychology, Education, and Studio Art at Lawrence University, and during that time completed two study abroad experiences in London. It was here that the travel bug first bit her. After graduation, she spent two and a half years in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia where she worked as an au pair, travel booking receptionist, in the service industry, and in hostel accommodation.

Some non-work highlights were road tripping the west coast of Australia in a campervan, doing all things adventure in Queenstown, and learning from the perspectives of people from all corners of the world. Upon return to the US, she worked as an Instructor in a therapeutic wilderness environment before entering into Higher Education where she has held positions at two college campuses. At St. Norbert College, she led a semester-long, experiential-based service-learning program that combined outdoor adventure challenge and demanding study and travel domestically and in Guatemala, and most recently, she held a Fellowship role at her alma mater in Spiritual and Religious Life.

Amber believes a gap experience is one of the most powerful approaches to a holistic emergence into adulthood and is looking forward to helping students connect deeper with themselves, others, and the natural world during their Pacific Discovery program. She enjoys (in no particular order) cozy coffee shops, rivers that run north, yoga, random acts of kindness, maps, and natural lighting. She sends peace, light, and love to you all.

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