HQ Team

Based at Pacific Discovery HQ in Nelson, New Zealand, and in Portland, Maine, we have an outstanding and dynamic team leading Pacific Discovery.

Rachel Sanson

Founder and Executive Director

MBA Business Sustainability
Canterbury University

Growing up in a small town in New Zealand, international travel seemed like an unobtainable dream! Fuelled by a thirst for adventure and an unwavering 'can do' attitude, she studied, scrimped and saved for her very first overseas experience - backpacking through Sumatra, Indonesia in the early 90s. She went on to cycle 5000kms around Europe, and then four years sailing the world, visiting over 50 countries, and pursuing her interest in environmental education.

Rachel continues to be inspired about learning and immersing herself (and our students) in different cultures, communities, and environments. She has researched and led programs in all regions, loves working with our wonderful network of colleagues all over the world, and is passionate about creating inspiring and transformative experiences for our students.

Rachel values the richness of cultural diversity and others perspectives - while also being amazed at how we often share so many core values, aspirations for our children, and hopes for our future, despite our varied backgrounds and life experiences.

These days she is mostly based in Nelson, New Zealand, with Scott and their son, Kahurangi. When not pulling crazy hours in the office, she can be found on local mountain bike and hiking trails, practicing Spanish, yoga or working on her new-found surfing skills.

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Scott Burnett

Founder and Executive Director

Experiential Educator
Practical Guy

Scott's path was shaped by growing up wanting to be an adventurer; climbing mountains and exploring; through the Scout movement with it's emphasis on leadership, group dynamics and service; and through holiday work at a wildlife sanctuary. After high school, he decided that the way to gain independence and fund his adventurous dreams was through hard work and cold cash. He completed a 4-year carpentry apprenticeship. This gave him practical skills, valuable self belief and funded an enviable lifestyle of climbing, mountain biking, travel and adventure. The study of philosophy and experiential education, led to work as an outdoor instructor and to work for the environmental organization Greenpeace, where he met Rachel.

Pacific Discovery grew out of this grounding in practical self-directed learning and a desire to share with others his love of travel, the outdoors, adventure and experiential education. Scott has now led in excess of 30 programs for Pacific Discovery, gaining an unmatched understanding of how to mentor young adults. Today he researches new programs, trains our wonderful program instructors, designed our website, and recently took time out to build a solar-powered Pacific Discovery office. He contributes to the gap year field best practice, serving on both the Standards and the Ethics Committees of the American Gap Association.

Scott has also spent 9 years on the board of a grassroots development organization, Books for Cambodia; and has resumed his studies, currently mid-way through a BA in Development Studies. When time permits he loves adventures with his family, mountain biking, orienteering and ultimate frisbee.

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Rebecca Thomas

Outreach and Alumni Director

BA Spanish Literature & Education
Colorado College

Rebecca is a former Pacific Discovery participant, and subsequently a program leader with us for many years. She grew up outside Baltimore, Maryland and went to university in Colorado.

Colorado was the perfect playground for Rebecca where she continued her passion for traveling and the outdoors. When she was not in the classroom, Rebecca spent most of her time hiking, skiing and camping. During her junior year, she spent a semester abroad in Salamanca, Spain, living with a host family and studying advanced Spanish. To complete her minor in Education, Rebecca received a grant to study teaching methods at a special needs school outside of San José, Costa Rica.

Since she graduated in 2010, Rebecca has been a leader and facilitator for various organizations, leading groups in Southeast Asia, the US Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Tanzania.

Rebecca is now based in Portland, Maine, as Outreach and Alumni Director and loves working closely with our students and families. She continues to lead programs in South America and Southeast Asia.

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Stacey Williams

Education, Student Welfare, & Admissions

MA Higher Education Leadership
University of San Diego

Stacey grew up in San Diego where she enjoyed the beach and annual trips to California’s high sierras. She had the privilege of beginning her travels early in life through trips with her sister and grandparents. During her undergraduate career, Stacey spent six months in Tanzania where she simultaneously fell in love with East African culture and international living and became perplexed by western interventions abroad.

With a Bachelor's in Social Science and concentration in Sociology, Stacey turned her focus to domestic issues after school. She spent two years in Pensacola, FL serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA and VISTA Leader working on poverty-related initiatives. During her service, Stacey grew to love building the capacity of volunteer teams be it through coaching individual AmeriCorps members or writing curriculum around nonprofit management.

With this discovered passion for service-learning education, Stacey went on to earn a Master's degree in Higher Education Leadership at the University of San Diego. While there, she also served at the university's women’s center, lived on-campus as residential support staff, and co-instructed leadership courses for undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students. Through her thesis research on social justice education, Stacey deepened her commitment to expanding social and ecological consciousness. Believing that international education is a powerful vehicle for supporting this work, Stacey has since had the privilege of leading international programs for several organizations in eight countries around the world. Most recently, she lived in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she was able to enjoy the region’s amazing rock climbing, yoga, and trekking

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Aaron Agnew

Operations, Staffing & Safety Director

MA Education (Counselling)
Canterbury University

Aaron has a  passion for the growth and development of people including his own. Aaron grew up in the North island of New Zealand but never found this quite satisfying. After completing a Leisure Studies degree at Waikato university he spent the next 6 years travelling, working and adventuring around the world. This ranged from a winter in the Canadian Arctic to selling time shares in the Canary Islands. Aaron also has a love of the outdoors, and spent much of his recreation and work time developing his outdoor skills, particularly in the bush and rivers of the world.

On returning to New Zealand, Aaron shifted to Anakiwa in the South Island to fulfill his dream to work for Outward Bound NZ, where he stayed for the next 5 years combining both his passion for the outdoors and adventure, with students personal development and growth. He then led programs for 2 years for Pacific Discovery (2008-2009). Fueled by the many outdoor adventures on offer in the South Island, Aaron stayed down south and took on a range of jobs and challenges from managing an outdoor center to completing a Master’s in Education with a focus on Counselling. This led Aaron to work in the field of Adventure Therapy where he facilitated programs for the Department of Corrections before re-joining the Pacific Discovery team. When not at work, Aaron's latest inspirations are surfing and adventure racing.

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Anna Frisk

Admissions Director

BA Journalism and International Studies
University of Iowa

It wasn't until university that Anna had an opportunity to ink her passport for the first time. She landed in Okinawa, Japan, where she spent the summer working as a camp counselor. Three months later, she was hooked on international travel. Since then, Anna has chased opportunities to volunteer, study, and work around the globe. With that aim, Anna has studied Spanish in Chile, worked with fair-trade chocolate in Peru, taught social studies and math in a bilingual school in Spain, photographed weddings and tourism campaigns in Turkey, worked on an organic farm in Sweden, interviewed athletes at the Beijing Olympics, and taught ESL in China.

In the United States, Anna has worked with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and National Geographic, where she has helped students and travelers alike explore the world in a sustainable, educational manner. While her academic background is in journalism and mass communication, she has found her passion in environmental awareness and international education. Originally from America's Midwest, she's thrilled to be living minutes from the ocean and mountain peaks in New Zealand.

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Meagan Goodman

Admissions Director (on year-long maternity leave)

BA Psychology and Environmental Studies
Warren Wilson College

She grew up on a small island in the Puget Sound, where she spent her summers exploring tidal flats and her winters snowboarding in the Northern Cascades. She has adventured around the world - highlights being traveling across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway and hiking through Tasmania’s stunning World Heritage Wilderness. Meagan’s first study abroad experience was in France when she was fourteen. During her time in college she attended an environmental action and sustainability study abroad program in Australia, where she conducted a study on Aboriginal ecological identity and well-being. Meagan gained her BA in Psychology and Environmental Studies from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. This is where she fell in love with experiential education. Meagan’s love of the outdoors, psychology, and working with troubled youth, led her to work in Wilderness Therapy in the Appalachian mountains. In 2011 she relocated to Nelson, New Zealand, where she was employed in the field of Social Work, helping New Zealand’s most vulnerable families. Meagan has committed to varied volunteer projects around the world and is a passionate environmentalist. In her spare time she plays Roller Derby, enjoys geocaching, riding motorcycles, and exploring the beautiful Nelson/Tasman region with her family.

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Jessica O'Sullivan

Program Coordinator

BA Fashion Design & Business Management
Christchurch Design College

Jessica was born in Ireland and moved to New Zealand at a very young age. Before her high-school years in Nelson, she spent her childhood in a remote gold mining town south of Nelson. She spent her younger years horse riding, camping, river swimming & tubing and helping her parents on the farm. After completing her studies in Christchurch she decided to retrace her roots, moving to Ireland for 3 years. It was the perfect opportunity for her to be close to extended family members and be immersed within the Irish culture. With wanting to be closer to the sunshine she decided to move to Melbourne, where she spent 6 years working in various roles and exploring what Australia has to offer. Jessica has recently relocated back to her home time of Nelson, living in the country. She spends her weekends camping, horse-riding, cycling, painting and planting vegetables.

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Program Instructors

We value our dedicated Program Instructors - they are the cornerstone of a safe, transformative, and outstanding experience for our students.

Our Program Instructors are inspiring people with extensive experience in the regions we visit, who share a deep respect for the people and cultures, a fascination with local history, and an in-depth understanding of contemporary issues and politics.

They are people in whom you can trust, who remain objective and supportive even in challenging circumstances, and who take a genuine interest in your well-being and safety. They implicitly understand the importance of balancing the needs of individuals with group objectives, facilitating healthy group dynamics, inspiring a genuine appreciation for the areas visited, and an awareness of minimum impact travel ethics.

Pacific Discovery Program Instructors are generally aged 25 - 35, with an average age of 28. All are Wilderness First Responder (WFR) first aid certified, and they are trained in experiential education facilitation, group leadership and risk assessment/management.

Kevin Connelly

Instructor: Southeast Asia, Nepal & Tibet, India

BA Fine Arts
University of Montana

Kevin is a documentary photographer and avid traveller, and for several years has led many young people on inspiring experiences throughout Southeast Asia.

Kevin graduated from the University of Montana specializing in fine art and photography. After graduating in 2008, Kevin began leading photography and adventure trips through Southeast Asia where he has spent most of his time since then, also working on various human rights projects. He has worked with refugees, landmine victims, migrant workers, transgenders, and ethnic soldiers. He has also conducted several photography workshops for non government organizations along the Thai/Burma border.

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Kimberley Kenyon

Instructor: Australia, New Zealand

BA Community Development
University of Queensland

Kim has an enthusiasm for life that she loves to share. Kim had an adventurous childhood, living on a sailboat on the Great Barrier Reef, in a treehouse, a haunted Tasmanian pub, and a remote Solomon Island village. This gave her a love of adventure that has not abated. Kim holds a BA in Community Development from the University of Queensland. She is passionate about experiential education and has facilitated many workshops in the Pacific using arts as a form of community engagement. She spent four years co-running a 53ft sailboat, Karaka, around the world, and has travelled and lived extensively throughout the Pacific, the America's and the Caribbean. She speaks French, Spanish, Solomon Island's Pijin and Bislama. She was involved in various community projects in Haiti, Panama, Mexico and Australia. When not daydreaming about sailing or playing music, she leads programs in New Zealand and Australia, is also a mountain bike and canoe guide, and a part-time writer.

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Caitlin Dee

Instructor: Central & South America, Southeast Asia

BA Spanish
Skidmore College

Ever since learning her first word in 8th grade Spanish, Caitlin discovered the thrill of understanding a new language and knew that she wanted to learn Spanish in its entirety. Reaching near-fluency in high school inspired her to spend her junior year of college studying in Spain. After graduating with a BA in Spanish Language and Literature and Studio Art in 2006, Caitlin taught French and Spanish. However, her hunger for travel motivated her to leave the teaching world and travel. Since 2010, Caitlin has been working as a program leader in Latin America, sharing her love of travel, adventure and cultural exchange. She spent the past winter running a Bed and Breakfast in a small beach town on the West coast of Mexico and is excited to get back to leading programs with Pacific Discovery. Caitlin is fluent in Spanish and French, and conversant in Italian.

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Joshua Moreton

Instructor: New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia

BA Outdoor Education
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology

Josh picked up the adventure bug at an early age. He grew up in a hardworking family farming environment in the South Island of New Zealand, and during his teenage years spent most weekends fishing, kayaking, hunting, diving, mountain biking, tramping and rock climbing. These experiences fueled his passion for the the outdoors, and he went on to complete a Bachelor's degree in Outdoor Education. Ever since he has pursued a career in outdoor guiding and group facilitation...interspersed with time off for his own adventures (kayaking in the USA, rocking climbing in Thailand, trekking in Nepal). Josh has a permanent hiking-boot tan (which some say he was born with!), a vast repertoire of jokes, and is always excited when off on another adventure, be it with old friends or new. He is an incredibly genuine, supportive and inspiring program instructor.

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Beth Farrell

Instructor: Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia

BSc Human Movement Studies/Education
University of Queensland

Beth grew up in the outdoor playground that is Magnetic Island in north Queensland, Australia, and rarely a day went by that she and friends were not off on an adventure. Graduating from the University of Queensland with a degree in Human Movement Studies and Education, Beth has taught in various styles and environments in England, Spain and Australia, but firmly believes the outdoors to be the best learning environment. Beth is an avid traveller and loves spending time in new environments, getting to know the people and culture. She lived in Spain for 2 years and has recently spent a year in Fiji developing accessibility to sport for people with disabilities. Her favorite mode of travel is by bike, followed closely by sailing - but is quick to jump onboard any adventure, often packing a slack-line, ukelele and skateboard, in the belief these tools facilitate the most fun out of any experience.

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Laurel Starr

Instructor: South America, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Australia

BA Peace and Justice Studies
Tufts University

Laurel grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she cultivated an early love for the outdoors through canoe trips in her home state and backpacking trips across the country. Her parents, who met as Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay, also fostered a strong sense of social justice and love for travel. Graduating with a degree from Tufts University in Peace & Justice studies, Laurel has worked for non-profits in the United States and abroad. She speaks fluent Spanish and also works as an outdoor instructor, running multi-day backpacking trips in Colorado. Laurel is mature, confident and outgoing, yet is also thoughtful and compassionate – perfect attributes in a Pacific Discovery instructor.

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Lee Neale

Instructor: South America, Southeast Asia, China, New Zealand, Australia

BA History, Latin American Studies
Furman University

Lee grew up happily playing soccer and shredding out guitar riffs while planning a life of adventure from the quiet suburbs of Charlotte, NC, USA. In 2009 Lee earned a Bachelor's degree in History with a concentration in Latin American Studies from Furman University. During his sophomore year in college, Lee took a short break and hiked for 1800 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail through the state of California. This experience inspired a love for the wilderness and allowed him to experience the transformational power of adventure travel. Lee has had the privilege to meet wonderful people and experience breathtakingly beautiful places while paddling, climbing and mountain biking throughout the United States, Central America, Asia and Patagonia. Lee has developed a passion for working with young adults through a variety of roles over the past six years, including Outdoor Instructor, EMT, Guide and Director of Student Life at a small boarding school. Lee is currently based out of Yangshuo, China, guiding, climbing beautiful Karst peaks, and studying Mandarin.

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Louise Henderson

Instructor: New Zealand, Australia, Nepal & Tibet

Diploma in Outdoor Education
Aoraki Polytechnic

Lou springs from the rugged west coast of the North Island, New Zealand, which proved to be an adventurous stomping ground growing up. At the ripe age of 12, Lou stumbled across an Outward Bound course advertised on the back of a cereal box, which after completing, ignited her desire to work and lead a life in the outdoors. Ever since this, Lou has been pursuing the path of adventure education - completing a 3 year Diploma of Outdoor Education, and working and exploring in the wilderness of Canada. She spent several months traversing rivers throughout Nepal, raising awareness of the environmental and social consequences of the damming that is happening at an unprecedented rate. Lou is an enthusiastic proponent for using the outdoors and travel as a pivotal teaching medium, and never tires of passing on her infectious passion to those around her.

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Kate Sabo

Instructor: Southeast Asia, South America

BA Cultural Anthropology
Willamette University

Kate hails from the farmlands of Western Massachusetts and has spent the better portion of her life pursuing her next big adventure. Kate has lived in Spain, summited mountains in the Andes, backpacked through Morocco, and worked at a tea shop in Turkey. From a young age Kate learnt the importance and power that comes from travel and engaging with different cultures. Kate holds a BA in Anthropology, completing her capstone research on the influence of cultural tourism on rural communities in developing countries. In 2013 Kate moved to Asia where she has lived ever since, working as a rock climbing guide in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay and on the limestone karats of SE China. Outside of travel Kate enjoys whitewater sports, spontaneous dancing and getting dirty from long days outdoors.

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Andrew Loveridge

Instructor: New Zealand, Australia, Nepal & Tibet, Thailand

BA Sport and Leisure Studies
Waikato University

Andy was born and raised in the rural west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Much of Andy's youth was spent on the farm, playing sport, and finding adventure with friends and family. He completed a Bachelor and Postgrad Diploma in Sport and Recreation, with minors in Geography and History, from Waikato University, and then studied Outdoor Education at the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Center.  Andy has worked and travelled all over the world - most notably New Zealand, Nepal, Southeast Asia, Japan, Eastern and Southern Africa. He is focused on sharing his passion for the outdoors, whilst keeping his clients (and our participants) safe, especially in whitewater and oceanic environments, where his expertise comes to the fore. When not on expedition, Andy seeks fulfilment in sea kayaking, spear fishing, surfing, music, cooking, and living a sustainable life.

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Jessica Dick

Instructor: Southeast Asia, Nepal & Tibet, India

BSc Environmental Science
University of New Hampshire

Jess is thankful for her small town start to life in Northern Alberta, Canada. At age 4, she began to explore by horseback, quickly developing a sense of adventure, a respect for nature, learning how to nurture that which you love, and a strong work ethic. When she finally climbed down from the saddle, Jess found herself on a volleyball court. Her perseverance and dedication resulted in the invitation to play for the University of New Hampshire, USA, where she divided her time between passions - the environment and volleyball.

After graduating, Jess set off to provide support for organic agriculturalists throughout India. Her continuing quest for adventure led to Nepal where she trekked in the Solu Khumbu towards Everest. She has been based in Thailand for the last three years, where she's had opportunities to pursue her love of diving, traveling and a discover a surprising passion for teaching. Her grasp on Thai language, appreciation for different cultures, and a love of the outdoors enable her to be both mentor and inspiration to our students.

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Matt Schweiker

Instructor: Southeast Asia, China

BA Business & Marketing
University of Alabama

Matthew Schweiker is from the home of blues and barbeque, Memphis, Tennessee. Growing up he mountain biked, competed in sprint triathlons and was always interested in the world outside of his hometown. He attended the University of Alabama to study Business Marketing and jumped on his first chance to travel for a study abroad semester in Stirling, Scotland. Upon graduation from university, Matt relocated to the Pacific Northwest and fell in love with the outdoors. After years spent climbing, skiing, and cycling through the Cascade Mountains on the weekends he left corporate life behind to pursue travel and adventures fulltime. Matt moved to Yangshuo, China in 2012 to lead experiential education trips throughout China’s vast landscape. When not working he has made time for his own adventures: cycle-touring across South America, dogsled guiding in Canada, and exploring diverse cultures and landscapes across the globe. Matt has experienced, first-hand, the transformative power of travel and the outdoors and loves to share these experiences with his students and friends from around the world. When not traveling or working Matt enjoys reading, rock climbing and studying Mandarin Chinese.

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Jessica Thomas

Instructor: Australia, New Zealand, Nepal & Tibet

BA International Studies
University of New South Wales

Jessica Thomas is a travel writer, facilitator of empowerment, adventurer and cycle-tourer. She grew up on the beautiful South Coast of New South Wales. At six she would visit the elderly in hospital to ask about their lives, and at 16 she was raising money to send wheelchairs to children in developing countries. When she left home at 17, her father’s last words were ‘don’t join a cult’. Jessica carried these words with her while she trained as a soldier and army officer in the Australian Defence Force, before having a pivotal experience in Nepal and subsequently leaving the military to travel the world. Jessica graduated from the University of New South Wales with a Bachelor of International Studies, majoring in development. She has explored over 50 countries, many of these by bicycle. She stood on Kala Pattar for Christmas; looked at the pyramids from the back of a camel; slept in the Gobi desert watching shooting stars; walked with a blind boy along the Camino de Santiago; made cheese in the Swiss alps; peered at her reflection in the salt flats of Bolivia; and dined with highland minorities in northern Thailand. Jessica has become more hungry for life and it’s endless possibilities with each new experience. Her next big life goal is to cycle around the world.

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Devin Perno

Instructor: Southeast Asia, China

BS Environmental Science
University of Colorado, Boulder

Devin Perno was fortunate to grow up in the beautiful sunny state of Colorado, where he developed a passion for the outdoors and everything related to nature - camping with the family, going on hiking expeditions, skiing through the mountains, and biking . Devin completed a BS in Environmental Science with two minors in Geology and Geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He pursued experience in this field working at the US Geological Society and Colorado State Parks.

With an urge to see more of the world, Devin packed his bags to work at an outdoor company in Hawaii before venturing further afield to work at an outdoor education company in Yangshuo, China. He gained valuable insight into how a change of scene can cause a change of mind - boundaries were pushed, new experiences gained. Devin discovered that working in outdoor education allowed him to be in the outdoors, sharing with others the same experiences that he loved, and the valuable learning and personal growth implicit in this. Three years later, Devin is still based in China while working as an educator all across Asia. He enjoys being in an environment that can teach others new experiences and gain new insights. In his free-time he is climbing, hiking, playing music, studying mandarin, and exploring the hidden corners of Asia.

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Shane Bracegirdle

Instructor: Australia, New Zealand

BA Health Science, BA Education
University of South Australia

Surfing ruled Shane’s life from an early age and he basically grew-up in the ocean. He did find time to study at the University of South Australia, completing a BA Health Science and a BA Education. During this period, he began to see the value in living a healthy lifestyle, and developed a passion for the outdoors.

Shane began to travel after completing his studies, using surfing as his motivation to explore the world. He has been venturing to various waves all over the world since then, but will not tell us where, because apparently they are “secret”.

Shane has a wealth of work experience to combine with his love for travel. He was Head of Outdoor Recreation at a summer camp in America. He spent two winters in Eastern Canada as a dog sled guide, where he looked after 35 Husky’s and led tours. He was a vertical cave guide on Vancouver Island, where he was responsible for guiding clients on 5-hour ‘extreme’ cave tours. He spent time working as the head surf coach for a surf camp in northern Portugal. Shane lived in China working as an expedition leader for International schools. He was also a mentor and travel guide for students on a scuba diving and surfing trip in Belize and Costa Rica.

Shane worked with youth-at-risk groups at an extended stay program in Vancouver Island. This very rewarding, as it involved taking students outside their comfort zone on many long remote expeditions and gave him the opportunity to have a very positive influence in their lives. In recent years Shane has been working at an extended stay outdoor education program in South Australia. This program is all about teaching year-9 boy’s healthy life skills, developing independence, resilience, and improving social skills.

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