Pacific Discovery is an organization offering gap semesters and summer programs targeted to students between high school and college. There are a bunch of places you can sign up for such as Hawaii, Thailand, South America and many more all over the world. The purpose of the program is to have hands-on learning experience and to immerse into a new culture by being involved in service work and wilderness exploration. These experiences create an environment to have personal growth and to learn more about yourself. It pushes you to get out of your comfort zones with the help of your instructors. They are there to help you achieve your personal goals and provide support during your journey.
We chose the Hawaii Program for its emphasis on sustainability and conservation efforts. Many of our interests and majors revolve around sustainability and environmentalism and this program was a great introduction into both. It has been great learning about the traditional Hawaiian agricultural practices that use sustainability and respect for the land at its core.
Our 10-week Hawaii Spring Semester journey started on the Big Island in Hawaii where we spent our first 50 days. We began in the city of Kona where we dove head first into Hawaiian culture with a language lesson followed by night snorkeling with giant Manta Rays. We then headed to Honoka’a, where we learned about native plants and hiked down Waipio Valley, a sacred place to native Hawaiians. We stayed in cabins on Mauna Kea, the tallest Mountain in the world, where we stargazed and woke up to a beautiful sky every morning. We then went to Kohala where we worked with locals to restore an important fish pond to the native species of fish.
Our journey led us to Hilo where we went to a local farmers market with homemade crafts as well as tons of locally grown fruits and vegetables. We drove to Volcano National Park, where we had a few days to hike, cross a volcanic crater and were able to view lava flow at night from an active volcano. We also participated in an Imu which is a Hawaiian tradition where they cook food underground. We ended our time on the Big Island on a beach campsite in Ho’okena where the crashing waves sang us to sleep.
Next we headed to the North Shore of Oahu and spent a week at a hostel right across from the beach. We spent a few days exploring, taking surf lessons, and finished each night with a sunset at the beach.
As our program goes on, we continue to explore all that Hawaii has to offer as well as reflect on all that we have learned on our journey, not only about the culture but about ourselves. Our core sessions, that are ran by some of the students as well as our instructors, have helped us dive deep into ideas about what it means to be a global traveller, a leader, and how to be respectful of the cultures and environments we travel to. Other sessions were more introspective which made us think about our identities and values, how we can be more empathetic, and ways to develop better communication.
Through our service projects we have learned about the importance of Hawaiian culture and the way it impacts our relationship with the land. Two of our operators, Rosa and Traven, taught us how Hawaiians tell stories through oral tradition. Traveling by word of mouth and the beautiful complexities of the Hawaiian language, generations of traditions, stories, and past events are still remembered decades later.
At Ulu Mau Puanui we learned about mana, the energy and intention you gave a space when planting. Before we entered the garden we were asked to leave our negative mana behind, this set a shared positive intention for the food being grown. Olli, Hawaiian chants, was another way we brought good mana and showed our respect for the plants and land, our shared voices mingled into a chorus of positive intentions that we brought into our labors later in the day. We also learned to respect the ‘aina, or the land, by placing rather than throwing the rocks that their ancestors used to build kalo fields. We have learned to respect, set positive intentions, and so much more from Hawaiian culture.
An unexpected aspect of this pacific discovery program that has been a new experience for us has been learning to live with a large group of people. When we first arrived in Hawaii it was a large adjustment for us all, but as time went on we started to learn more about each other and found where each of our comfort levels were. We were able to open up to each other and be vulnerable without feeling judged which helped us build a strong connection within the group. We’ve learned that it’s important to communicate our needs and to appreciate, respect and have empathy for the needs of others.
It hasn’t always been easy, and our group has definitely had our ups and downs but we have always supported each other through everything. Over the past 8 weeks we have been a family and we have been able to truly be ourselves with each other which is very special. We have made so many amazing memories together, like encouraging each other to get through a difficult hike or having late night dance parties. Living with a group of strangers for 70 days can sound pretty scary but from this program we have met some lifelong friends and made some of the best memories of our lives!
We look forward to our last few weeks in Hawaii and are so grateful for this amazing opportunity. We have learned, shared, and connected with each other as well as the land and its people. It has been so rewarding to reflect and look back on how much we have gained and grown from these experiences in so many ways we never expected. Our Pacific Discovery Program has been so impactful and has left us all feeling confident, inspired, excited, and ready to explore whatever life holds for us next!