Mission Statement

Our Mission is to make the world a better place by providing extraordinary learning adventures that assist students in gaining the skills, confidence and insight to realize their potential in an increasingly global society; developing empathy for other cultures; furthering understanding of international issues; and heightening appreciation for the earth's wilderness and diversity.

The vision is for our programs and organizational practices to have a net positive impact on the world.

Our beliefs

Our planet is facing critical threats – unsustainable resource use, overpopulation and global warming.

We believe that the current global economic model is unsustainable and disadvantages large swathes of our world’s population.

We believe that as a planet, the concept of nation states is damaging. One country’s decisions effect every other country, yet this is rarely a consideration in policy and decision making. The world is too connected and too small for nation states to be the ultimate authority.

We believe that individuals can make a positive difference in the world. We believe that to change the world we have to start with ourselves and work outward from there.

We believe that the most effective way to affect positive change is through education and role-modelling. You cannot compel people to change their habits, be more considerate, more empathetic or more environmentally considerate. It is far more effective if people choose to do this themselves because they come to see and believe it is the right thing to do.

Education

Our focus is on teasing out learning that is embedded within hands-on experience. Facilitated experiences on our programs contribute to students building a broader understanding of themselves and the world.

We provide our students new lenses and paradigms to view the world through, assisting students to grow in the direction of clarity, purpose and hope.

We mentor our students to take an actively engaged and inquiry-based approach to their program experience. Through this, students gain self-knowledge, confidence and vocational direction.

We deal in ‘real’ experiences. These can be challenging at the time but with appropriate facilitation are ultimately beneficial and the catalyst for students growth.

Service learning

All of our programs have a service learning component. We really enjoy this aspect of our programs and we work hard to ensure that the well-structured volunteer projects we arrange benefit both our partners and students. Volunteer projects allow our students 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 do not include volunteer activities simply to make our students feel good about themselves. Instead, service projects are planned around the expressed needs of a range of community groups, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

A lot of our students approach the service components of our programs inwardly focused on what they are going to gain from the experience. We turn this thinking around, and have them approach the volunteering without expectation of getting anything back for their efforts and with a true selfless desire to give of themselves. As Ghandi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Service-learning is the interaction between doing something practical (such as planting trees) and gaining a greater knowledge of the 'why' (how it benefits an ecosystem or community, etc.). And what makes it beautiful is that it is an engagement on many levels. Sometimes what is most useful is just hearing someone else’s story, or it could be the physical work done. You won’t always see a tangible impact of your efforts, but the reward is offering yourself to something/someone and being offered a genuine connection, opportunity, and engagement in return.

We strive to shift student orientation from “let me help you” to “let me come alongside you and learn from you." This changes the way students view community, and the way the communities view themselves. The exchange serves to heal some of the stories we’ve learned about ourselves and others.”

Gabe soaks up the power of Kuang Sii waterfall in Laos

“We were thrilled with the global exposure Pacific Discovery gave Gabe at just the right age.” On the first trip, our confidence in your program grew in leaps and bounds once the kids started sending emails home! By the time Gabe went on the SE Asia program, we could not have been more enthusiastic. Even with a departure just after 9/11 when, you'll recall, we all had a heightened degree of concern regarding travel abroad, our confidence in you was very strong. Most appreciated was the slant Pacific Discovery gives to environmental and cultural issues. It's not easy, when travelling with a bunch of fellow countrymen, to pry them loose from each other and force 'em to experience the wonderful foreign-ness of their surroundings. We feel you're doing your best to turn the kids outward on their travels.” Read more Jane Scotti, 2001
Mother of Gabe

Our definition of Sustainability

Human action impacts the world, whether it impacts the physical environment or impacts other living beings. Actions as simple as making a cup of coffee have effects that ripple outwards like a pebble thrown into a pond.

In recognizing that every action has impacts, our vision of sustainability is for our programs and business practices to have a net positive impact on the world. Our goal is for impacts from our programs and business practices to tip the scales towards the positive, so that the negative impacts that do occur are justified through a net overall benefit.

For us, sustainability means balancing the kinds of experiences we offer and the expectations of our students against the ability of our host communities to manage the social impacts of our visiting and the minimization of our impacts upon the environment, so that host communities benefit, environments are sustained and the ability for future travelers to enjoy the same experience is not compromised.

We’ve done a lot of soul searching about the sustainability of international travel. In a nut-shell, we believe that our programs can have a positive effect on the countries and communities we spend time in. We are an important source of income for many communities and provide valuable opportunity for meaningful cultural exchange. We utilize small scale local or family operated businesses for transport, activities and accommodation. We make our programs as low impact as possible, and facilitate as many learning opportunities as we can.

Pacific Discovery - Working Towards Sustainability

Overall Strategies

  • Training and induction of staff on our vision, sustainability policies and organization ethics.
  • Imparting sustainability concepts to students in a way that is constructive and inspiring.
  • Keeping as much of program spending in host communities as possible.
  • Advocating and teaching sustainability and ethical travel.
  • Maintaining assessment of environmental and social impact of our programs in the planning stage and evaluation through student, instructor and host feedback.

Encouraging Positive Impacts

  • Facilitation of genuine cultural exchange between students and host communities.
  • Working with program alumni to facilitate ongoing communication and assistance to communities visited.
  • Encouraging students to share their experiences after their return from a program.
  • Support, use and encouragement of businesses that actively support sustainability.
  • Use of locally owned businesses on our programs, because businesses that are locally owned are more likely to engage in sustainable practices as they are more easily held accountable by their community and money stays in the host community/country.
  • Raising awareness of the importance of sustainability among students throughout their experience with us.
  • Incorporating activities into our programs that highlight the interconnectedness of our world and the importance of students managing their impacts on the world.

Reducing Negative Impacts

  • Provision of our ‘code of ethical travel’ to students, to facilitate mutually positive experiences for students and host communities.
  • Providing constructive feedback to operators with unsustainable practices.
  • Encouraging students to eat local foods during programs, reducing wasteful transporting of foodstuffs long distances.
  • Encouraging students to conserve resources like electricity and water.
  • Banning the use of non-biodegradable soaps and lotions where they could pollute waterways.
  • Requiring our students to use water filter bottles to eliminate the need to buy bottled water.

Giving Back

  • Support of Books for Cambodia, a charity that raises funds to buy books, build libraries and train librarians in Cambodia. We cover all admin and operating costs of Books for Cambodia, so that 100% of donations go towards books, libraries and librarian training in-country. To date Books for Cambodia has established libraries in 15 schools serving around 20,000 children in the Takeo & Kampot Provinces of Cambodia.
  • Volunteer Projects – Students on our programs have collectively contributed in excess of 25,000 volunteer days to projects as diverse as building simple houses for solo mothers in marginalized rural communities in Cambodia to conservation work supporting the threatened New Zealand Dotterel.
  • Support of grassroots organizations within countries we operate in. We regularly donate funds and encourage our students to support a number of grass-roots organisations.

Office Sustainability

  • Solar Powered office. As of Dec 2012 the Pacific Discovery office is entirely powered by the sun.
  • Digitization of as much administration as possible from online program payments, to email receipts, email bookings and student files, to reduce the use of paper.
  • Use of energy efficient light bulbs.
  • Workplace practice of turning off electrical appliances and lights when not in use.
  • Recycling as much waste as possible. Composting, paper, card, and plastic recycling. Recycling of batteries and printer cartridges.
  • Reducing use of motor vehicle and encouragement of use of bicycles.
  • Use of recycled paper and envelopes.
Josie finds her flow on the Whanganui river, New Zealand

“Pacific Discovery is not just an ordinary gap year experience, it reaches above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Pacific Discovery blew my expectations out of the water.” Pacific Discovery allowed me the opportunities I would have never received if I had travelled elsewhere or on my own. They have made incredible connections with the people that we worked with and I genuinely felt like I was contributing something when I was doing environmental work.The program is well-thought out, balancing the perfect amount of work and play. When I was searching for a program, I was looking for something that involved a substantial amount of community service, but also a program that allowed me to spend some time focusing on myself and pushing my boundaries. I wanted a program where I could travel with friends and be surrounded by people who were like-minded. I am so glad I chose to come on this trip. I could have never imagined the opportunities that I was given or how much I could learn just by experiencing real life.” Read more Josie Reed, 2014
Elon University, Canada

Pacific Discovery Code of Travel Ethics

What is ‘Ethical Travel’?

It’s about providing and having a more rewarding and fulfilling travel experience; being culturally sensitive; minimizing negative impacts on the environment; getting involved with the local people to ensure that your visitor dollar benefits the community and that the local people are involved in decisions that affect their lives. It’s about helping to conserve the world’s wild places; sustainability; and creating as much as possible a mutual exchange.

We will help you ‘get beneath the skin’ of the countries you visit. You will meet the local people on their terms, learn about history and culture, and enjoy wilderness experiences that don’t damage the environment. By travelling ‘responsibly,’ you’ll be making a positive contribution to the host communities and environments you visit, ensuring that future travelers will enjoy the same privilege.

Ethical travel is key to our philosophy. We do our best to operate ethically (and welcome any feedback), but we need your help. Following are some suggestions on how to minimize your impact and to engage in away that brings shared understanding. By following these guidelines, we believe you’ll have a far richer  travel experience.

Before You Leave Home

The more you know about your destination before you leave, the more you will be able to appreciate and understand it once you’re there.

Try to read up on the history and culture. There is a recommended reading list provided in the student log-in section of the website.

Many developing countries don’t have very good waste collection services, so try to leave excess packaging at home and when you’re buying toiletries, we recommend bio-degradable products.

Consider the clothes you’re packing. Many countries have a modest dress code. See the packing list for recommended clothing. By dressing inappropriately you may be putting a barrier between yourself and the people you want to interact with. Loose clothing that covers limbs not only protects you from the sun and insects, but also will ensure you’re more readily accepted by local communities.

Similarly, leave expensive jewelry, sunglasses and clothing at home – not only can it attract unwanted attention, but it’s a tactless reminder of the differing standards of wealth between the ‘west’ and the developing world.

People, Customs & Etiquette

Travel in a spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to learn about the people of your host country.

Meeting and interacting meaningfully with the local people and experiencing foreign cultures are often the greatest highlights of your travels. Your program will provide many opportunities for both. However, respect, consideration and an open mind are needed for these interactions to be mutually enjoyable. Don’t be surprised if local people – especially in remote areas – treat you with an equal measure of curiosity.

Put yourself in their shoes. It’s easy to judge another culture by our own standards and assumptions, but it’s worth keeping in mind that you are a guest in their community – please respect your hosts and behave as you’d expect a guest to behave in your home/country.

Other cultures have a different concept of ‘time’ – you’ll find it a lot less stressful if you go with the flow. Keep an open mind and don’t be too quick to judge; we do things differently back home, not better, just differently.

Don’t be too quick to generalize. One experience with a local culture is never going to accurately reflect the whole culture.

Please be respectful of local customs. Read up before you go, and ask your program instructor, or a local, if you’re unsure. Observe, listen, and take your cue from the community.

Please respect private property and sites where access may be limited, by asking permission. Please also abide by the laws of the country and community you’re visiting.

Cultivate the habit of listening and observing, not just hearing and seeing.

Support local traders by buying locally made goods.

Begging

It’s often difficult to resist the pleadings of beggars, be it children calling for sweets or adults with terrible disabilities. We strongly recommend you do not give money or other ‘gifts’ (such as pens or candy) to beggars. Doing so can help create a begging fraternity that undermines traditional culture and social structures, and almost inevitably eliminates any chance for equitable interaction between locals and foreigners.

Gift Giving

Please do not give gifts indiscriminately. It is easy when travelling in the developing world, to be shocked by the seemingly primitive living conditions you encounter. Many travelers compare the locals’ resources with their own, and experience guilt or outrage at inequalities. In an attempt to relieve the guilt or inspire goodwill, many visitors distribute gifts of sweets, money and other items to local children and adults. However the lack of money, modern conveniences, or expensive playthings in developing countries does not necessarily indicate poverty. Most rural people have crops, animals and homes that provide sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. They work hard on the land and it, in turn, takes care of them. When the visitor hands out sweets or cigarettes, they contribute to dental and health problems that cannot be remedied locally; when they give money, they impose a culture of consumerism that might not ultimately be good for the community or the planet.

If you wish to be accepted by local people, you can perhaps share a conversation, teach a game from home, or share a photograph of your friends or family. If you wish to make a bigger difference, you can donate your time, money and supplies to organizations working to improve livelihoods.

Photography

Please ask before taking someone’s photo, and respect the persons wishes. Usually just lifting your camera with a questioning look will suffice as a request, although asking in the person’s own language is even better. A smile goes a long way.

We suggest that you don’t pay for taking photos of people – it becomes another form of begging, with similar consequences. Usually, if you take a little time to communicate with your subject, they will agree to be photographed – you end up with a more relaxed subject, and you each have a more enjoyable and memorable experience.

If you promise to send someone a photo, please follow though. We are more than happy to help out and can deliver prints next time we pass through.

Bargaining

Bargaining is a fundamental part of the shopping experience in many countries. What many visitors don’t realize is that it’s not about securing the lowest possible price. It’s about fair trade and reaching a tactical agreement that suits both parties. The social interaction is as much a part of the process as the financial outcome. Keep this in mind, and perhaps consider that low prices often mean low wages. Please don’t be mean-spirited, instead approach bargaining with a ready smile and a willingness to have an interaction. Does haggling over that last dollar really make a difference to you, compared to the vendor?

Religious & Historic Sites

Ensure that you are appropriately dressed and aware of particular actions that may cause offence.

Food

The countries we visit have a distinctive and exciting cuisine – local delicacies and shared meals with the local people are invariably the stuff of rich memories. We encourage you to support local restaurants by trying their food.

Trash

Disposing of waste properly in the developing world is more complicated than back home. Most of the countries we visit don’t have ‘organised’ waste disposal systems. In many places, almost all the waste generated was biodegradable or recyclable until the recent introduction of plastics and other consumables. The local infrastructure cannot cope with this change.

Please dispose of your own trash thoughtfully. Consider carrying a reusable cloth bag with you for purchases and carry a plastic bag with you for trash you generate during the day

Washing & Water Pollution

Protecting water resources is vital. In many places shower and hand basin water drains unfiltered into rivers. We urge you to use biodegradable soaps, shampoos, and conditioners that don’t contain phosphates.

Environment

Ecosystems throughout the world are under enormous pressure from the unsustainable harvesting of resources. Please do not contribute to this by buying any souvenirs that have been made with wild animals or their parts, insects, shells and coral or tropical hardwoods.

Wild foods are popular in many countries. Economic pressures force people to disregard the complexity of eco-systems and how depredation of certain species can cause irreparable damage to entire environments. Please make sure that you do not contribute to this by eating wild food items in restaurants e.g. wild deer or shark-fin soup.

Save precious natural resources and energy. Don’t waste water; switch off lights and AC if you go out.

What Else Can I Do?

Many of our students return with a new perspective on life and a desire to be pro-active in ‘giving something back’. Please ask us about the grass roots social and environmental initiatives we support.

Adopt these guidelines for your future travels.

If you have any suggestions for existing causes you think worthy of our support, or if you have feedback on how we can reduce our impacts, please let us know.

Michael and his students at Machu Picchu

“Over the past five years, Pacific Discovery has taken our students on transformative learning experiences abroad. Rachel and Scott, along with their team, are wonderfully responsive to our school's needs, tailoring each trip to our global curricular goals and curating an itinerary that emphasizes immersion, deep learning, and connections to local communities.” Pacific Discovery's focus on sustainable and ethical travel aligns closely with our goal to teach students to be responsible global citizens who are committed to changing the world. On the ground, the trip leaders are consummate professionals--skilled experts in risk management and their respective regions of the world. More than any other travel partner that we have used, Pacific Discovery allows our students to gain critical understanding of global and regional issues and provide meaningful opportunities to see in real time what communities are doing to address these challenges. I recommend this company with the greatest enthusiasm.” Read more Michael Ferrier
Director of Global Programs
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy