Our programs are experiential education programs, meaning that learning is hands-on and tangible. For example, students will learn about a country’s history and culture by immersing themselves in it, meeting local people and hearing life stories.
Experience on its own does not translate into learning. But learning from your experiences is important. To encourage ‘learning from experience’ our program leaders facilitate opportunities for participants to regularly reflect upon their experiences, and provide historical, cultural, geographical and environmental background so that personal experience can be connected to a broader understanding of place.
The educational component of our programs is multi-disciplinary and covers:
Service-learning elements built into our programs allow participants to really immerse themselves in a place and share an experience with local people, bridging the gap that often exists between visitor and host. We work hard to ensure that the work our groups do are grounded in community needs, vision and are executed through local leadership. Additionally, volunteer work helps build self-confidence and self-belief as students learn new skills and take on new roles. Service-learning components vary by program. Examples undertaken by students are: habitat restoration and species monitoring; assisting local students with English-language development; and improving school environments in poor rural communities.
Our students are not travelling in a ‘bubble’ separated from local people; instead we immerse participants in the local culture, through home-stays (may change due to our Covid protocols), volunteer projects, and language study. Participants learn empathy for other cultures and build bridges of shared understanding.
Travel and the realities of ‘life on the road’ teaches a lot of valuable lessons: how to communicate and relate to people from different cultures; how to be happy with few possessions and a simple life; how to overcome temporary discomfort. Travel ultimately exposes students to the myriad possibilities and realities in the world and in their lives. This allows for personal growth and a clarity in students' passion and direction as they do this important learning away from the expectations of family, friends, and peers.
Our goal is that students will learn the ‘Tao of Travel’ – how to plan; how to keep safe; what to take; and how to be comfortable and find what you need in an unfamiliar place. By the end of a program, we expect most students will have the skills necessary to travel safely anywhere on earth.
Students will also gain a deeper understanding of ethics and sustainability through learning respect for local customs; developing meaningful cross-cultural relationships; learning minimum-impact grassroots travel techniques and coming to understand social and ecological issues on a deeper level. Students will learn that the world is both infinitely large, full of possibility, and yet also very small, in that our personal choices affect all living things.
We use the wilderness as a medium to take participants outside their comfort zones and challenge them. Personal growth and self-confidence increases through overcoming obstacles presented during the program.
Immersion in the wilderness is also an opportunity for participants to become more grounded, develop an appreciation for wild places and explore local environmental issues as they relate to global patterns and problems.
A variety of outdoor and adventure activities are included in our programs, such as backpacking, rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, snorkeling, and mountain biking. These activities require physical effort, mastery of technique, teamwork and trust between members of the group.
Pacific Discovery takes a 'challenge by choice' approach to the adventure components of our programs. Adventure activities and instruction are aimed at the novice/beginner level, and no prior experience in any of the activities is required. However, we are able to facilitate more challenges for anyone who is experienced in a particular discipline. Students do need to have a fitness level where they are able to comfortably hike for 4+hours with a backpack.
By taking participants out of their comfort zone and challenging them physically, culturally and mentally, we encourage students to gain confidence in their abilities and provide a supportive group environment where they can grow. Throughout the program, participants are given leadership opportunities from facilitating reflection to coordinating the daily schedule. Facilitation and feedback allows participants to further develop their skills. This is strengthened by creating an intentional learning community where the group gathers to make meaning of what they’ve seen and apply it to broader global themes as well as personal application.
Pacific Discovery’s primary goals are to assist you to become a more confident, capable, and self-reliant person who is empathetic, environmentally aware, and has a global perspective.
We will endeavor to do this without telling you what to think or do. Instead by taking you out of your familiar surroundings, putting you in challenging situations, and exposing you to different ideas about the world, and through the hands-on nature of the program, and the shared perspective of the entire group, you will be supported to grow and develop along your own unique path.
Although our primary goals are your personal development, we also want to ensure we travel in a way that is aware of and trying to minimize our impacts upon the local environment and communities visited.
In order to achieve these goals, our programs differ from a regular ‘educational tour’ because deep learning does not occur from within the security of a bubble (insulated from local culture and experiences). Instead, you have to step outside your comfort zone, challenge yourself, and be open to the world, open to new ideas, and open to questioning your assumptions. You will have a real and authentic experience, rather than a sanitized version. We are unapologetic if the program is challenging, tough, or uncomfortable at times because it is at these times that the greatest learning occurs.
The philosophy underpinning our programs is that of experiential education – where learning through facilitated hands-on physical involvement and guided reflection is deeper and more meaningful than either regular classroom learning or experience without reflection.
These components create an experiential education structure that is facilitated by our program leaders and presents enormous learning and growth opportunities.
Our programs are a shared group experience - you will share the challenges, laughter, discomforts, tears and moments of sublime beauty that you’ll experience during the program, with your group mates. You will have a much richer experience because you will benefit from the dozen shared perspectives of your team.
By giving you responsibilities and freedom within the framework and safety of a well-designed and carefully managed program, you will be empowered, helping you become more capable and self-reliant.
The educational core of the program is multi-faceted and comprises three main areas of learning.
Students Learn about the people, culture, religion, history, environments and issues of the region the program travels through. They then relate these experiences to bigger picture concepts of globalization, human rights, environment, sustainability, and ethics.
We provide an environment for students to learn about themselves, to push their boundaries, question their assumptions, and to develop problem solving and inquiry skills. Our programs are as much a journey of personal development as they are a physical journey, and participants are regularly encouraged to reflect and think about their values, goals, leadership and future application of their program experience.
Having the shared perspective of the group creates a much richer learning environment as participants are exposed to a variety of perspectives. Additionally, traveling in an intentional small-group environment leads to the necessity of developing great group skills. Group skills are of critical importance in today's workplaces and changemaking efforts. Students learn cooperation, leadership, conflict resolution, and consensus building, all leading to a deepened knowledge of self and heightened emotional intelligence EQ.
Pacific Discovery takes experiential education to a whole new level, blending the personal development experiential philosophy pioneered by the likes of Outward Bound; the wilderness appreciation goals of organizations like NOLS; best practices in international service learning; a strong grounding in environmental and social responsibility; and a local/global education curriculum, to create a dynamic and transformational overland journey of discovery.
Instrumental in this is a core curriculum that parallels the students journey on the program, to complement the and support the inner journey of self-exploration, outer discovery of the world and shared group experience.
Our core curriculum comprises nine experiential sessions spaced roughly one per week of program. These sessions are designed to get students more thoughtfully engaged in their lives, values, impact, and interconnectedness. In these sessions, the group engage in experiential activities designed to have students question assumptions. Learning is teased out during the debrief of each session, where questions, insights and perspectives are shared amongst the group. These sessions are simply starting places, both for further conversations during the program and reflection in students’ lives long term.
The core curriculum holds up a mirror for students to see themselves and their worldview more clearly. It allows students to:
Guiding questions: What are my core values? How do these values inform the way that I live? How can I better align my values and action?
Guiding questions: How is development often thought about and implemented? What does that mean for the communities and ecosystems which we’re visiting? What is the purpose and value of service/volunteering? What makes an ethical approach to service?
Guiding questions: What has shaped who I am? What are my social identities? How have these impacted my experience of privilege and marginalization? What identities do the rest of the group hold? How have they contributed to our shared and distinct experiences?
Guiding questions: What is culture? How do I practice good cross-cultural communication and intercultural competency? What might it feel like to host foreign visitors? What does that mean for my engagement on the program/with travel?
Guiding questions: How do we participate in creating a healthy future for the planet and our species? What thought patterns lead to unsustainable behaviors and patterns? What new cultural narratives might support a sustainable future? How do we think about ourselves in relationship to the earth?
Guiding questions: How do I understand the ‘other’? Where have my stories about the 'other' come from? How does empathy serve in creating shared understanding and transcending these divisions? What does empathy have to do with global citizenship?
Guiding questions: What is healthy communication? How do we create collaboration and shared understanding across difference? How have we communicated as a group?
Guiding questions: What role(s) do I take on in groups? What are some of my preferences and strengths in working with groups? How do these inform my leadership style and approach?
Guiding questions: What does it mean to be a global citizen? How has my experience with Pacific Discovery impacted my sense of interconnectedness? What role do I want to play in creating change in the world? What does all of this mean for my life moving forward?
We have four wellness workshops that support student life skills development. These workshops are Wellness, Mindfulness, Substances & Sex. These workshops are designed to be informative and educational rather than prescriptive or puritanical.
Guiding questions: What is wellness? What are the multiple dimensions to wellness? How is wellness interconnected and a holistic pursuit? What can you do to support your wellness while on the program?
Guiding questions: What is mindfulness? What are the benefits of mindfulness? How will we practice mindfulness on the program? What are some strategies to incorporate mindfulness into our lives?
Guiding questions: What’s influenced my relationship with alcohol and other drugs? What do I know about alcohol and other drugs? What are the different ways that people engage with alcohol and other drugs? What can a healthy relationship with drugs and alcohol look like in my life after the program?
This session was written in a collaboration between Pacific Discovery and The Body of Sex, a college campus sex education project designed and facilitated by Sarah Byrden.
Guiding questions: How can we have a more inclusive and safe conversation about sex? What has my culture taught me about sex, sexuality and gender? How can I learn to listen and trust myself more deeply? What is consent and how do I access it in any moment?
A few weeks prior to program start, students are asked to articulate their goals for the program, and then have a Skype interview to discuss these goals. Students goals are personal and unique to each individual group member. Students are given a suggested outline of skills and competencies that they can choose to focus upon.
At program orientation, students discuss their identified goals in a one on one meeting with the program instructors. Over the course of the program instructors mentor each student, using ideas, tools and strategies to help achieve their goals as well as support overall growth.
Students are encouraged to journal during the program to reflect upon their experience and better define their learning. They also meet as a whole group to explore big topics and questions, ranging from 'what are my core values?' to 'how do I be a responsible citizen in our globalized world?'
At the end of the program, students give a presentation to their group summarizing how they were challenged, what they learned, if they’ve grown, and how they intend to apply their learning to their lives moving forward.
Towards the end of the program, students are asked to write a letter to themselves imagining where they want to be in six months time. These letters are collected and mailed to them six months after program conclusion, helping reinforce the learning that has occurred.
After the program, students are invited to join an alumni Facebook group where they remain in contact with others who have had similar experiences. This community supports the continued journey of personal development after the Pacific Discovery program experience.
We use hands on experiences during the programs to learn about a particular ecosystem, history, belief, or issue, then build off of this connection to explore broader themes such as resource over-use or habitat loss, world history, theories of people and place, or global issues such as human trafficking. In this way, we connect the local to the global, illuminating how connected our world is and asking questions of the responsibility that comes from this interdependence.
The process of learning is the result of reflecting upon experience. Having an experience does not equate to learning. You have to reflect upon the experience to learn from it.
The purpose of learning is to gain something new and to put that new skill or information to the test of usefulness. In order to learn, one must be willing to risk exposing oneself to new things, be willing to test the validity of old things in relation to the new, and be willing to form new conclusions.
To adventure is to risk exposing oneself to an unknown outcome. Therefore, to learn is to venture into the unknown: to learn is to adventure!
Learning and adventure are both delving into the unknown…Everyone should have the opportunity to achieve self-fulfillment by engaging in learning that involves stress, striving, self-direction, sacrifice, goal-setting, perfecting skills, and working cooperatively with others to achieve goals. That is experiential education.
[Paraphrased from experiential education guru Dr. Keith King]
Placing students into an unfamiliar learning environment can foster important development. Such environments are often valuable because they present a stark contrast to the students’ previous contexts, allowing students to see old thought patterns, behaviors, and choices that they may have overlooked in familiar settings. Unfamiliar physical environments also allow students to try on new roles and ways of being in a context that does not encompass some of the limitations or fears from home.
The social environment has a great deal of bearing on the success of experiential education programs. Research points to the need to create an interdependent peer group of 7 - 15 participants who have a common objective. We find our group size of 12-14 participants is ideal.
Our programs are very structured and yet have down-time and free-time built into them. We want to have space for participants to create their own experiences, discover things for themselves and gain independence and self-reliance.
“Going into this program I was expecting 10 weeks of seeing more of the world and learning some new Spanish. I walked away feeling like a global citizen with new skills, new ambitions, lifelong friends and some of the most incredible memories that I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life. I am starting a new chapter of my life with much more confidence, curiosity, and motivation.”
Elle Francis, 2018
Utah State University