Gap Year Semester Programs: 10 weeks
+ 1-3 week independent extension options
Summer Programs: 4 weeks
& 2 instructors
2 Read some amazing reviews
3 Learn about the different elements that go into program design
5 Check out the admissions process
Pacific Discovery’s primary goals are to assist you to become a more confident, capable and self-reliant person who is empathetic, environmentally aware and has a global perspective.
We will endeavor to do this without telling you what to think or do. Instead by taking you out of your familiar surrounds, putting you in challenging situations, and exposing you to different ideas about the world, and through the hands-on nature of the program, and the shared perspective of the entire group, you will be supported to grow and develop along your own unique path.
Although our primary goals are your personal development, we also want to ensure we travel in a way that is aware of and trying to minimize our impacts upon the local environment and communities visited.
In order to achieve these goals our programs differ from a regular ‘educational tour’ because deep learning does not occur from within the security of a bubble (insulated from local culture and experiences). Instead you have to step outside your comfort zone, challenge yourself, and be open to the world, open to new ideas, and open to questioning your assumptions. You will have a real and authentic experience, rather than a sanitized version. We are unapologetic if the program is challenging, tough or uncomfortable at times, because it is at these times that the greatest learning occurs.
The philosophy underpinning our programs is that of experiential education – where learning through facilitated hands-on physical involvement and guided reflection is deeper and more meaningful than either regular classroom learning or experience without reflection.
These components create an experiential education structure that is facilitated by our program leaders and presents enormous learning and growth opportunities.
Our programs are a shared group experience - you will share the challenges, laughter, discomforts, tears and moments of sublime beauty that you’ll experience during the program, with your group mates. You will have a much richer experience because you will benefit from the dozen shared perspectives of your team.
By giving you responsibilities and freedom within the framework and safety of a well-designed and carefully managed program, you will be empowered, helping you become more capable and self-reliant.
“Damn, what a trip! This program has been awesome - it's difficult to overstate how interesting, educational, and most of all, how truly different this trip really is.”
This program is exactly what you make it; if you walk into every day with an open mind and truly try to take the most out of every moment, this program promises to be one that will change your life in ways that you would never have thought possible. Every day really is an adventure - the stark diversity of people, places and activities really are something that must be seen to truly understand, and every day promises something new. This trip really is once in a lifetime, so push your limits and jump in!”
Richard Hugessen, 2014
Wilfried Laurier University
“You and your team have provided a life-changing experience for Vivian, and we greatly appreciate your preparation, care, sense-of-adventure, good will, guidance and wisdom offered our 'young', now seasoned traveler. Great guides, great kids, great world, great adventure!”
Paris Toll, 2013
Parents of Vivian, Southeast Asia Semester
You pull on clothes and climb out of the three person hiking tent, trying not to disturb your tent mates. It’s just light enough to see. Gathering with a few others from your group you jump a fence and scramble up a steep hill behind where you’re camping. Finding a comfy spot you sit together and watch the sun rise out of the Pacific Ocean.
Your group of twelve is split into groups of three for meal prep and it’s your crews turn on the kitchen roster. You skip back down the hill and go to the woolshed – a barn-like structure where sheep were once shorn, and now used as your kitchen and living room for a week. You make coffee, cut fruit for fruit salad, put out cereals and bread for toast. You also put out the makings of lunch.
Digging your lunchbox out of your daypack you make lunch, pack it away, then enjoy breakfast, sitting in the morning sun, gazing out at the sand dunes and hearing the boom and schhhh of waves gently breaking on the beach. You are on day six of the program and feel like you’ve been here forever – the days are so long. Arriving in Auckland, full of nerves, less than a week previous, feels like half a lifetime ago. You got to know your group-mates quickly and are now really seeing peoples personalities come out. It’s fun.
Making sure you have filled both your water bottles and have your work gloves and sun hat. You pack away breakfast and lunch, and gather with the rest of your group for work.
This place is a hilly peninsula that juts out from the coast and is surrounded by beaches and steep rocky headlands. It is both a working farm and a conservation park. It is protected by the New Zealand government as it is an important nesting site for two critically endangered bird species, has Maori archaeological sites and the coast and waters are protected as a marine reserve. It’s managed by a ranger named Chris who lives onsite with his wife and son.
The sounds from two roaring chainsaws are somehow hypnotic and the quiet when they stop causes everyone to pause in their work. Smiles are exchanged and a joke is made. Today you’re working with half your group, to clear a tree that has blown down onto a trail along a ridge. As the tree is cut into rounds, the rounds are rolled to a flat area where you’re splitting them into firewood. It’s hard physical work but strangely satisfying. You had to be shown how to use the splitting axe and your first efforts were frustrating and clumsy but now that you’ve developed a feel for it, you love the sense of accomplishment you get when you swing, the axe bites, and the round of wood splits cleanly.
As you sit together eating lunch and staring out at the beautiful coastline below. Chris shares a hilarious story about finding a WWII bomb in a field and the antics of the army bomb disposal team. Then on a more sober note shares some of the Maori history of this area. You finish splitting wood, load the truck and return to camp where a group of you strip off your dirty, sweaty clothes, put on swimsuits and run down to the beach to rinse the grime and sawdust off in the waves. Later you lay on a towel on the beach, making notes in your journal. Along the beach you can see a New Zealand dotterel, a tiny bird and one of only an estimated 1500 alive in the world. The vulnerability of the bird gets you thinking about the fact that you are lying beside an ocean that stretches an unimaginable distance across the globe to the shores of your own country, and how big the world is, and how you’re like the dotterel, one small person in a very big world. Yet the world is small too, you crossed the Pacific in only 12 hours and if you hike up the hill behind the woolshed you can get service and could speak to people on the other side of this vast ocean.
Returning from the beach you help out with dinner prep. Lighting a fire and then volunteering to assist your program leaders wire half a sheep carcass onto an old steel farm gate. This makes you feel queasy but you tell yourself that this is certainly part of the ‘real world’ that you came on this program to experience. The lamb is slowly cooked over coals from the fire and is delicious. Chris and his family join your group for dinner and you sit around the fire into the evening listening to stories and singing along to songs played on a guitar.
Later you brush your teeth, staring up into the Milky Way. The stars are extraordinarily bright and you and your tent mates decide to take your sleeping pads and sleeping bags to sleep on the beach. You lay on your backs counting shooting stars, blinking satellites and sharing stories, before being slowly lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves.
You wake and check the time. Its 15 minutes before your alarm is set to ring. If you’d been asked two months ago whether you’d start to wake naturally at 6am you’d have said no-way! Grabbing some clothes, you tiptoe to the bathroom to get dressed, so you don’t wake your room-mate.
Meeting another group member in the lobby of the guesthouse, you cross the street and turn down a lane to the riverside. The sunrise paints the muddy waters of the Chao Phaya River a sparkling gold. At 6am Bangkok is already awake and busy. Ferries, barges and longtail boats crisscross the river and cars stream across a bridge in the hazy distance. In a riverside park you sit stretching and reflect on how relaxed and comfortable you feel here in Bangkok, compared to how out of your depth and overwhelmed you felt when you first arrived nine weeks ago. Now that you have been here for two months and have journeyed through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia, Bangkok seems so much cleaner, ordered and easy than your first impression.
On the way back to your room, you stop by a little street-side coffee cart. “Sawasdee Ka. Song café rawn Ka”. You order coffee’s, thick and strong. “Jet ha Baht, Kup” says the smiling vendor. Yes! You feel immensely stoked that you understand the price is 70 Baht. The time spent practicing your phrasebook Thai is paying off.
You only just have time to shower, throw everything into your pack and grab a quick breakfast in the downstairs restaurant before your group hops into vans to head to the airport. A short flight lands you in Krabi, Southern Thailand. In the arrivals hall you are met by drivers. You load up vans and drive, via a stop at a supermarket to a small beachside town.
Stepping out of the van into the bright sunlight and white sand of the beach it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust. A broad open beach with a number of wooden long tail boats aground in the shallows. Steep limestone islands are on the horizon. Your group efficiently shoulder backpacks, grab bags of food and carry them down to the water’s edge and the waiting boats. Shuffle out of flip flops, hitch up pants and wade out along the side of the boat till you can shrug a shoulder out of your pack to allow the boat driver to lean over and help you get it on-board. You all climb over the side and find seats. The driver turns a crank to get the engine chug, chug, chugging. Blasting across the Andaman sea, with the wind in your hair is magic. Rounding a point, you realize you’re headed to paradise as the boat turns into a bay with a long golden beach surrounded by incredible jungle clad cliffs.
The peninsula is only accessible from the water. You are staying in a compound of privately owned beach houses. All natural wood, surrounded by trees, with bathrooms open to the sky and little houses for the spirits out front. You claim a bed and then run back to the beach to plunge into the glass-green sea.
After half an hour swimming you head back to the house to make a lunch of crackers, tomato and tuna. Then you spend the afternoon working on your journal preparing for your final presentation in a couple of days. Flipping through the pages of our journal you realize how much has changed. On the outside, not so much, but on the inside there are new thoughts, ideas, new wisdoms and new attitudes towards life. The patience and compassion you find when dealing with people of different cultures and all the respect you have for the people you met along the way. Memories of landscapes more beautiful than anything you’d ever imagined have been etched into your mind.
Your train of thought is interrupted by noises from the kitchen, you get up and go over, surprising a monkey tearing open your packet of crackers. You call for help and a bunch of you shoo the monkey out - it zips up the outside of the house onto the roof where it joins another three monkeys. You’re standing on the deck taking photos of them when two of the monkeys start pulling mortar out from between the roof tiles and throwing it at you all. You fall over laughing because they can’t throw so well but you’re also impressed with how smart they are.
In the late afternoon you meet on the beach to play frisbee. Your group attracts other travelers and locals and you spend a happy hour running back and forward in a big game of ultimate-frisbee. Subbing off to catch your breath, you marvel at the wonderful light from the setting sun. The game stops as the sun sets and you swim with your group, rinsing off the sweat and sand that’s gotten everywhere, watching the sun disappear quickly into the Andaman Sea.
After dinner some of you accompany the instructors on a night adventure. You walk through to a beach on the other side of the peninsula and walk down this till you pick up a trail along the base of the cliffs. This leads to yet another beach that you walk along, Reaching the end of this beach you follow the instructors into the trees, scrambling up a faint path at the base of the cliffs. On a broad ledge the instructors explain that you are at the entrance to a cave that they want you to find your way through. They make clear that the cave involves scrambling and you need to be careful near any drop-offs. You have one headlamp between you and need to work together to light the way ahead and behind.
You start out, climbing a bamboo ladder up a shaft to a higher level. Then pick your way across a ballroom sized open room to a small hole on the far side. You squeeze through this and find yourself in a passage where you can go right or left. To the left you see a rope and use this to help get up a steep slope. The passage turns a corner and you climb another bamboo ladder and find yourself cramped onto a sloping ledge with your group mates. The first person up the next ladder whoops and you hurry up the last rungs and scramble over the top to a breathtaking view. You’re high up on the cliff face at the end of your own beach looking out over the resorts and restaurants. Music from a beach bar drifts up and the lights from beach-side restaurants reflect off the water below. People on the beach are lighting paper lanterns which they release, to float up into the sky. You sit all together on a ledge away from the drop chatting about things you’ve all let go of over the course of the program, as you watch the lanterns rise above the cliffs, getting smaller and smaller, till they are indistinguishable from the stars above.
You make your way back out through the cave to the beach and decide to jump in the ocean to rinse off after getting sweaty and grimy in the cave. The ocean is totally still and tepid warm. Your first steps into the water cause an explosion of stars. Phosphorescence! Giddily you all splash, dive and swim, creating comet trails of phosphorescence in your wakes. Laying on your back you float gazing at the stars above. Floating in the water surrounded by people you feel you know better than anyone, with stars above and stars below, you have a powerful moment where it’s as though the universe aligns and you feel overwhelmed with a feeling of connection to everything. The water, the stars, love for your group mates, appreciation for what you’ve experienced, pride at how you’ve coped during the challenges of the program.
Later you flop into a nice clean bed, not caring that you’re still salty or that you still have some sand on your feet. As you drift off to sleep your mind plays images of monkeys, bamboo ladders, lanterns rising, and frisbee in the gold light of sunset, which leads to thinking about the gold light on the river at sunrise this morning. Another day, where you feel like you fitted a week of experiences into a day.
“Pacific Discovery was easily the most amazing experience of my life. The friends I made on the trip will last a lifetime, and my memories will never fade.”
Michael Hissey, 2014
“Pacific Discovery really gets the balance right between the adventure travel, volunteering and fully experiencing the countries culture and its people.”
This program offered so much more than I could have imagined. From the start I was impressed with the well thought out itinerary, the opportunities provided and the incredible inspirational leaders. It definitely was a life-changing experience and I could not thank Pacific Discovery enough for all the amazing opportunities offered on this program.”
Penny Caudle, 2014
University of Exeter, UK
“Pacific Discovery shed a whole new light on the way I look at the world. Not only did I find bravery, courage, perseverance and creativity within myself, I found it all around me.”
I found strength in the friends I made, people I met, goals we accomplished and the crazy adventures I had. Now, I see the world as an open door to the rest of my life. I can go anywhere and do anything I set my mind to.”
Sophia Hutchison, 2014
Global gypsy, currently teaching dance in Haiti
“This was an amazing trip. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience travelling through Southeast Asia. During this trip I learned a lot about traveling and the different cultures. I also learned a lot about myself by testing my limits and being out of my comfort zone.”
Emily Hom, 2009
“This is a new type of education, one of mind, body, and soul, where you and other students your age challenge each other to become the greatest person you can be.”
Even though I considered myself well-travelled, Pacific Discovery expanded my horizons more than I anticipated. The program challenged my emotional states, gave me opportunities I never dreamed of, and let me achieve the cultural awareness I was hoping for. I had wanted to go to Thailand for years and when I was finally given the opportunity, I wanted to explore the depth of the country in an environment that was safer than traveling alone, and which also gave me the benefits of a group. This program surpassed all of my expectations. Each day is filled with group activities and the chance to explore individually, so you can make friends but also give yourself a chance to grow outside of the group. This program is perfect for those who wish to grow and explore, for it gives you all the opportunities to do so, while making friends, and learning in depth about a new culture. I cannot give a higher recommendation.”
Sasha Howes, 2014