We keep on talking about this idea of experiential education like it’s a really big deal, but what is it?! 

Experiential education one of our guiding philosophies - for good reason! This concept is rooted in the idea of learning by doing, followed by facilitated reflection. Experiential education is a shared methodology across many disciplines, from teaching to counseling to outdoor education. 

Since 2001, we’ve been taking students on epic overland journeys across the world, jam-packed with outdoor activities and expeditions. These activities are always paired with intentional conversations and reflection, designed to maximize learning and growth. 

Pacific Discovery instructors are master facilitators. Every year, our program instructors come together to train and learn about the tools and techniques of experiential education. The instructors have tips and tricks and games up their sleeves while out in the field, and know which one to pull out at just the right learning moment. There are many books written on this concept, and the techniques have been successfully tried and tested. 

Sure, you can take a Gap Year and travel the world alone or with a friend. Undoubtedly, you will experience life-changing aha moments that alter the course of your life. However, by joining small, group-based travel with craft facilitators, the learning from impactful travel moments is amplified. We roll out staged workshops that are designed to explore your values, identity and comfort zones. We facilitate reflection on our action-value alignment, and your perceived-versus-actual level of global citizenship. We delve into the multifaceted opportunities that organically arise through immersive travel. Every day is filled with activities, and we use experiential learning to get the most from those activities. 

Here’s a snippet of life learning from the field. The following blog is from an instructor leading the Australia New Zealand program, whilst on a remote four-day canoeing trip: 

‘I feel so much gratitude toward everyone on this journey; something as simple as a hug or a meaningful question about how someone is doing conveys this when we wake up each day. We have been together for some forty days now. 

Piling barrels down to the canoes, tightening life jackets and attempting to pull fingers through recently formed dreadlocks, we gathered everyone in to reflect on the past few days together before pushing off. We spoke of the majestic morning views, cliff jumps, baby goats crying alongside the shores of the river, singing and laughing, classic moments and our heroes from the trip. 

On the river again for the last section of our 100km paddle, we soaked up the feeling because we all knew how quickly we would be transitioning to our next adventure. We will never forget the Whanganui river experience; sliding over waterfalls high on air and rowing canoes through some sort of Jurassic park. Flawlessly reflective river water doubles the size of the sheer moss-covered cliffs. Our voices made ripples in the water and our laughter crashed through the trees; the only habitation we saw on the first days was a hut hidden high above the riverbanks. 

We carved lines through the gleaming black water; life’s only dilemmas were avoiding swirling into eddies or wrapping your boat around a rock. 

Down river, we stopped for a break, laying back and looking at the world from an upside down perspective. It’s wild to imagine that we will be amongst hundreds and thousands of people in the capital of New Zealand tomorrow. We walked to the bridge to nowhere and lay silent in the beating sun. Simple campsites welcomed us and tired arms poured methylated spirits into burners under falling pink skies. 

As I hand-washed clothes, I looked over at Gillian patching a hole, Jenny doing yoga, Ricki sorting belongings and Freddie unraveling a tent. Everyone has come a long way in their camp craft. We ate outside under the bluest sky and the students made morning plans for a sunrise hike to the highest peak we could see. I urged them to go, as these are the moments that make you.’

This blog excerpt touches on the beauty of the shared collective pause, and the opportunities for growth that exist in this space. Everyone has different lessons to learn at varying stages of life, and therefore the experience of every student on the program differs. However, there are shared lessons. The common thread that we have in feedback from our thousands of Pacific Discovery alumni students is that programs are so much more than just an overland trip; students grow and develop internally. Alumni students overwhelmingly feel more confident, resilient, open-minded, empathetic and connected. Students are more aware of how their actions impact others, and how they want their actions to impact others. Students report on lifelong connections made with their group members through the shared program experience. This is the power of experiential education. 

The form of experiential learning looks different for everyone, and instructors spend the first days and weeks of the program getting to know individual learning styles. Journaling, yoga, meditation, structured conversations, informal chats, games, and routine debriefs; are varied forms of reflection. We all know there are extroverts and introverts among us, and we are on a sliding scale. We all know that we are comfortable in some realms and extremely uncomfortable in others. Some of us would take a silent walk in nature over public speaking any day, and vice versa. Take a moment to ponder what your reflection tools look like? (The best types aren’t obvious, they just feel natural.) The wonderful thing about being on a small, group-based program is that you can explore different avenues of learning and reflection, and take these learnings back into your life at home. There will be times when we need these, trust us on this one. 

Now that we’ve broken down experiential education a little more, we hope it makes sense. It’s an intangible concept that allows us to get the most out of everything we do. Put simply, seventy days on a semester program feels like years of learning to many of our students. We are proud to operate across the world and take students into this alternative classroom.

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Author Orla O'Muiri Posted