Since its inception in 2001, Pacific Discovery has taken more than 2,000 students and many faculty-led groups on our experiential journeys. We value our incredible team of experienced, qualified and passionate Program Instructors. We have an excellent safety record, comprehensive safety management systems and a database of alumni, parents, advisers and faculty, who are happy to be contacted by you, to discuss their experience.
Pacific Discovery has undergone independent safety accreditations with Gap Year Association (USA), Year Out Group (UK), and OutdoorsMark (NZ).
Our summer, semester and gap year programs are grounded in the philosophy of experiential education, where learning is facilitated and hands-on. Our programs are overland journeys, blending cultural immersion, personal and leadership development, volunteer and community service projects, experiential education, wilderness exploration and optional transferable academic credit. Our Mission is to offer the world’s best experiential programs - providing insights into our increasingly global society, developing empathy for other cultures, furthering understanding of international issues, heightening appreciation for the earth’s wild places, and assisting you to stretch and grow.
Kiwi’s Rachel Sanson and Scott Burnett, founded Pacific Discovery in 2001, utilizing experience gained through working in environmental and outdoor education, teaching, tourism, grass-roots community development and extensive travels. From the start the focus was offering deeply meaningful programs where students would gain new insights and ways of thinking about our world, through educational journeys. These journeys were ethically sound, ensured a positive outcome for host communities, and a lower impact on the environment. Initially based in Oregon, they relocated Pacific Discovery's home to New Zealand in 2005 to raise family.
In 2018 the reins were handed to another kiwi, Zach Johnston. Alongside continued input from Rachel and Scott, Zach’s varied educational and leadership experience made him the perfect person to continue the focus on authentic and inspiring international travel. As a Senior Instructor in Leadership Development, General Manager in the Tourism Industry, Field Based Outdoor Educator, International Expedition Leader, and Operational Ambulance Officer with extensive travel experience around the world, his input into program development and commitment to consistency of service is apparent.
Today, Pacific Discovery runs 25+ programs annually. We continue to be a small and personal organization that strives to offer authentic, inspiring and pivotal experiences.
As an organisation, we remain passionately and personally involved in all aspects of the program, from answering phone and email enquiries, to researching, developing and evaluating programs. We even manage to get out and lead programs from time to time. This means you have a very personalized experience and can trust that we are always focused on providing you with an inspiring and safe journey with Pacific Discovery.
“I cannot say enough nice things about my semester with Pacific Discovery. I overcame challenges of all varieties this semester: physical, mental and emotional. I am a better version of myself now and I have learned so much about myself and who I am.”
I would recommend this program to anyone needing a break from school, a change in perspective, or an eye-opening experience. Pacific Discovery is an exceptional program that will provide you with the skills, experiences, and opportunities to challenge yourself, grow as a person, and open up your world. I can say with confidence that I feel ready and excited to travel independently. Taking a gap year has been the best decision of my life thus far. I only wish I could do it over and over again.”
Abigail Hasselbrink, 2021
Central America Semester Program
“I had an incredible experience! The amount that I grew as an individual is astounding. I learned how to be independent and shop for meals while keeping price and budget in mind. I would recommend this program to others because of how much I learned about myself. ”
Through the many spiritual experiences that we shared as a group on this program, I was able to straighten out my values and figure out what aspects of life are actually important to me. All in all, I had the time of my life on this trip!”
Danny Fournier, 2021
Hawaii Semester Program
When Scott and Rachel created Pacific Discovery, they were two young New Zealanders living in the United States. They were very conscious of the vast ocean between our old and new homes.
Covering 1/3 of the earth’s surface and larger than the entire combined land areas, the Pacific Ocean was named the ‘peaceful ocean’ by Spanish explorer Magellan during a voyage of discovery and the first circumnavigation of our planet in 1521.
Polynesian seafarers had earlier undertaken some of humanity’s greatest journeys of discovery over the 2,500 years preceding Magellan, as they gradually explored and settled the Pacific Ocean, voyaging from Asia to South America, to New Zealand and to Hawaii.
Magellan's voyage was an important early step in an accelerating process of making us aware of ‘our world’, a process that today is of critical importance as we stretch the capacity of our planet to provide for us all.
The name Pacific Discovery celebrates these early journeys of discovery and celebrates the journeys of discovery that our students undertake on our programs, as they deepen their understanding of our world, their understanding of themselves, and understanding the perspectives of others.
Our students undertake a Pacific (peaceful) Discovery - treading lightly on our world, learning the perspectives of others, and in the process becoming a force for peace and humanity.
Our logo incorporates a blue circle representing the Pacific Ocean. Inside this is the silhouette of two of our students. They are looking out from a peak. We love their embrace of the view and an openness to the world in all its richness, beauty and fragility. This moment encapsulates what our programs are all about.
“I had such a great experience growing and learning about myself. I got an in-depth view of what it’s like to live in Thailand and be apart of a new culture, especially during home stays and visiting rural villages. ”
Not only did I get to travel for almost 3 months and see all the beautiful things that Thailand has to offer, I have also seen the hard truth of a developing country and was able to deepen my global perspective. I was challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone and I’m so grateful I got to experience everything I did.
I would say this program was life-changing and exciting. Not only did I grow as a person, I made life long friendships and learned how to deal with situations in group settings. I’ve learned how to be a leader and how to adapt in a new setting, as well as how to be a global citizen and accept new cultures and values. This was a life changing experience not many people will get to have in their lives, and I’m so happy I got to be a part of the lucky few.” Read more Tanner Barnes, 2021
Thailand Semester Program
“I have known Scott and Rachel for several years, and I can recommend them in the strongest positive terms. In my opinion, they run the most impressive student-oriented programs available anywhere. I have led numerous study abroad programs and worked with many other companies over the years, so I am most confident in this assessment.”
I worked with Pacific Discovery extensively in the planning, development, and implementation of a Texas State School of Social Work study abroad program to Cambodia and Thailand in winter 2007-2008. This was a three-week in-country program involving fifteen students. I was immediately impressed with Pacific Discovery by their excellent, extensive website, and their quick and professional response to my initial inquiries. They were very attentive to the details of the trip as well as responding to my needs. They gained my full confidence very quickly. Our planning time was shorter than desirable, but they were able to make it all happen very efficiently and effectively. They handled every aspect of the program from start to finish without any problems of any kind, and I truly enjoyed their pleasant, friendly attitude.
Scott was our tour leader, and the students really loved him. I appreciated that he not only managed the logistics of the program so well, but also greatly enhanced the academic quality with his extensive knowledge of Southeast Asia, particularly the history and contemporary culture of Cambodia and Thailand. In addition, Pacific Discovery arranged for several very unique learning opportunities, such as staying with a wonderful family in a village, visiting local schools to interact with students and donate books, volunteering at non-governmental social service agencies, and touring an ecologically-based nature preserve.
I can say that Scott and Rachel changed our lives through this amazing adventure.” Read more Catherine Hawkins, 2019
Professor of Social Work
Honorary Professor of International Studies
Texas State University-San Marcos