Laura and James met on the New Zealand & Australia Gap Year Semester Program back in 2016 and it changed their lives forever. They talk to us about their program experiences and their new home Alaska.
How did you end up in Alaska?
Laura was born and raised just outside of Anchorage, Alaska. I was born and raised outside of Toronto, Canada. We developed a tight bond and strong friendship from the program, and we were interested in visiting each other after the program had ended. I was always interested in the beautiful landscape of Alaska and thought it would be a great opportunity to visit.
On my first visit, I not only fell in love with Laura, but also Alaska. The mountains, endless summer days and the endless hikes were all so amazing. Alaska is truly breath-taking and such a unique place to live. We ended up doing long distance for four years, before we ultimately decided that Alaska would be the better choice to live for both of us. Laura already had an established career in nursing, and I always felt drawn to the West.
I moved here in June 2020 and we got married in September 2020. For the last year, I have been working on a master’s in teaching while going through the process of immigrating and becoming a permanent resident in the United States. We both truly love Alaska. It is not quite like any other place we have been.
What advice would you give a student pre-Program?
The main piece of advice we could give students who enter this program is to have an open mind, say yes to trying new things and embrace going out of your comfort zone. It is scary to leave your family, friends, home, and most of your comfort items, but this experience is life-changing and will push you to be a better person.
There will be times where you may want to quit, but that is when you turn to your peers and work together as a team to be successful. It is inevitable that you will develop a strong bond with your team, and by the end you feel like one family. You go through so many highs and lows together and share countless special moments that you will never forget.
Take advantage of all the adventure that this program has to offer and embrace the challenges that you face, as you will feel humbled and rewarded after. Finally, the hardest part of the trip is on the last day when you have to say goodbye to the people that have experienced this great adventure with you.
How did Pacific Discovery affect your life?
This program pushed both of us outside our comfort zones. We left our family and friends, packed very minimally, and set off to what would be one of the greatest adventures of our lives. This program taught us that it's the people you are with that matter, not necessarily the things you have. It taught us to be more independent, to be more environmentally conscious, to work hard, and the values of working together as a team. We left this program with a rich, new perspective on what truly matters in life and we developed lifelong friendships.
Are you still in touch with the other group members?
Five years later, we have not yet reunited as a group yet, but we do keep in touch over Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Every member of our trip holds a special place in our hearts.
What was your favourite Pacific Discovery moment on your Program?
There are so many fond memories of this program. We find it nearly impossible to pick just one! From white water rafting, rock climbing, skydiving, hiking through caves, surfing, snorkeling, canoeing beautiful rivers, to endless laughs, all experiences were special in different ways.
The conservation and volunteer work was very rewarding as well. Knowing that you made a difference in the community and environment is something that you can be proud of for the rest of your life. Anytime we think back on this experience, we smile. For us, it truly was life changing. We never would have met if it were not for this trip!