Absorb the Deep South's culture, food, music and history on this epic gap semester program around Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia!
The Deep South has its own distinctive flavor, and is uniquely beautiful with a diverse range of scenery and charming cultures. There’s a lot to explore, from picturesque mountain ranges and coastal beaches in Georgia to the swamps of Louisiana, and everything in between. Uncover the complex history and culture that accompanies these incredible landscapes while you explore your own backyard. As you travel around Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, you’ll fall in love with the lively music scene, the celebrated cuisine, the cultural heritage, and all that jazz.
Be open to embrace all the adventures that will come your way on this gap year program, and start looking forward to hiking the famous Appalachian Trail, rafting down the Chattahoochee River, and kayaking around Tybee Island, as well as meaningful conservation work. While you travel across the Southern States and give a helping hand in different National Parks, forests and reserves, you will learn more about the environmental differences between states than you ever thought possible.
This gap semester program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and gap year students, ideally 17 to 22 years old. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.
We say a classic ‘where y’at?’ to each other as we settle into our program orientation in the world-famous New Orleans, Louisiana. Known for its rich culture of history, food and the arts, this city is vibrant and full of life and the perfect place for us to lay the foundations of our program moving through the Deep South of the USA.
During our first week of program, we’ll get to know one another while we explore the French Quarter, try the regional famous dishes and lend our hands to our first culinary class, and of course, what’s a stay in New Orleans without a jazz show? We’ll begin to unpack the vast history of the city and see first-hand how the changing cultural influences have moulded the architecture, food and music around us.
At the end of the week, we’ll get our first introduction to the local environment and will start to learn about the swamps, climate and wildlife that inhabit one of the most unique cities of the United States.
Our second week sees us moving out to Houma, a city known for its swamp, fishing opportunities, Cajun food and wildlife. We’ve got a bit of time to get our bearings and explore the area before we get down and dirty with our first service project, focusing on swamp restoration.
Our focus and intention are to learn all about the unique environmental challenges that face Louisiana and more specifically, Houma. How does our footprint aid or hinder the environment here and what does the future look like for the area? It will be a week of learning, education and hands-on work so be prepared to get mucky and laugh it off with your fellow students! We’ll camp under the stars while we’re here so that we are fully immersed in our surroundings, so be prepared for smores around the firepit and of course, storytelling galore!
As we traverse our way through to our second state, Mississippi, we’ll stop off in the state capitol of Baton Rouge. We’ll take a few days to check out the local area and continue to learn about Louisiana’s historical, cultural and environmental make up, visiting museums and conservation areas.
From here, we’re off to De Soto National Forest in Mississippi. These 518,587 acres of pine forests is one of the most important protected areas for the biological diversity of the Gulf Coast ecoregion of North America. We’re moving away from the swamps and wildlife of Louisiana to head into the wilderness. While we’re here, we’ll be partnering with local coordinators to upskill ourselves on the changes of environment from state to state. We’ll learn about the local flora and fauna that inhabit the area as well as the fallout from a change of climate. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and be sure to ask your local project instructors lots of questions!
Again, camping in the local area will give us the most authentic experience in nature here, so be sure to stock up on mallows!
Talk about a change in scenery! We head from Mississippi to Alabama and settle into the naval city of Mobile on the Gulf of Mexico. This coastal town is known for having the oldest organized Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States, and it just so happens that we’re here for it! We’ll immerse ourselves in the city’s cultural celebration, eat local seafood and take in its USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.
We’ll have the opportunity here to partake in a boat tour just off the coast which will set us up for a few days of reef restoration. It’s no secret that the waters of the Gulf of Mexico are subject to overuse, pollution and run off from human contamination. We’ve got a couple of days scheduled to work alongside a local initiative where we’ll learn how to support and restore the oceans ecosystem.
On to Montgomery, the home of the Alabama War Memorial and the Civil Rights Memorial. A city draped in history and culture, there is so much to see and learn here. We’ve got a week to explore and take it all in, we’ll also try our hand at our second culinary experience and see what local delicacies we can create. Do you prefer the staple food of Louisiana or Alabama?
We’ve got our last few days of service work scheduled here too, in the National Parks of Montgomery and once again we’ll be learning from the local experts. At the midpoint of our program, we’ll take some time to reflect on what we’ve learned so far in terms of environmental contrasts from state to state, as well as our journey through culture, history, the arts, and cuisine.
As we leave Alabama and head into the last state on our Deep South journey, we reach Columbus, Georgia, home to the longest running white water course in the world, and we’re about to tackle it!
We’ll set up camp and check out our new surroundings, starting with a walk on the Black Heritage Trail. Known as an urban trail connecting 30 African American heritage points of interest, the trail features many contributions and significant events in the African American History of Columbus and once again lends itself to our historical journey through the Deep South. We’ll also visit the National Civil War Naval Museum and of course, check out the local culinary delicacies of the Peach State, Georgia.
Up ahead are an action packed few days on the Chattahoochee River! Buckle up for some white-water rafting and tubing as we see Columbus from a different view. Designed to gently push those comfort zones and challenge our limits, these few days will be full of adventure!
We have a short stopover in Atlanta before we head onto our big stint of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. On our way we’ll take a day trip to a peach farm - because when in Georgia it’d be rude not to, right? – and we’ll also make sure we visit the Atlanta History Centre. Then we’ve got a full day to get ourselves ready mentally and physically to tackle our 10-day backpacking expedition, it’s going to be a blast!
We’ll set off from Amicalola Falls State Park and follow this famous track through the mountains of Georgia, camping every night and learning to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. These days will be full of incredible views, mind blowing sights and of course, challenges that encourage you to push your boundaries. We’ll learn first-hand how to work as a team as we share the load of our packs, pitch tents together and cook hearty meals over camp stove.
We finish our 10-day backpacking expedition back in Atlanta, ready to rest and reenergize!
This week, we’ll have a good look around Atlanta and Savannah, two of the bigger cities in Georgia.
We’ve been able to learn a lot over the last 9 weeks and the history lesson doesn’t stop yet as we continue to unpack the past on our journey through the USA and visit The Centre of Civil and Human Rights. On our last day, we’ll take a trip to Rock City up on Lookout Mountain and see the signature sweeping views of the Tennessee Valley from Lover’s Leap. If we’re feeling daring, we’ll walk across the Swing-A-Long Bridge too!
Driving over to Savannah and we are at the coast once again! These days are spent exploring this seaside city and keeping our eyes peeled for all of the environmental similarities and comparisons that we have learnt to identify from the states that we have visited so far. At the center of Savannah’s historic, picturesque district is the landmark Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist that we’ll be sure to visit.
Our last week sees us on a boat and over to the quaint Tybee Island. It’s here that we’ll get amongst nature once again and take in the sights and sounds of this wildlife sanctuary and explorers’ paradise. We’ve got a day out on the kayak to explore Tybee’s smaller sibling Little Tybee Island and, to stick with what we know; we’ll enjoy the starry night skies as we camp again and reflect on what an amazing 10 weeks it’s been.
Finishing here, we’ll embark on our program wrap, a time spent in appreciation for all of the growth we have been through together. There’ll be time to explore the local shops and landmarks before heading home and saying farewell or simply, see you later, to the friends we have made this semester.
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
This gap year program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and non-students, ideally 17-22 years old. Anyone with an intermediate fitness level and an interest in conservation, humanitarian work, new experiences and different cultures will have a great time on this gap semester! You need to be openminded, and prepared for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program. You don’t need to have had previous experience with international travel or any of the activities offered.
The program is a shared group experience. Join this program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
Be prepared to spend a fair amount of time out in nature. You will spend a lot of nights camping, telling stories around the camp fire, breathing in fresh air and stargazing the night away. Other times, you will spend nights in comfortable, clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and Wi-Fi facilities will be available most days, except during the weeks in the field on the volunteer projects and on expeditions. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
You’ll be at home in the United States with the comfort of foods you already know but we encourage you to try new foods and be aware that when you’re shopping and cooking for a whole group on a budget, you may not be able to eat the way you do at home!
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. All meals are included in the program cost. Food preparation, shared by all students, is fun, social and often a highlight. An average day on program would consist of the following:
Regular food to expect:
Special foods to try: jambalaya (southern version of a paella), gumbo (seafood stew), fried chicken, po’boy (sandwich), hot tamales, peach cobbler, Mississippi mud pie (actually made from sticky chocolate), beignets