Our programs are an overland journey of discovery, where participants are immersed in a facilitated learning environment.

Core educational components

The educational core of the program is multi-faceted and comprises three main areas of learning.

Outer Journey

Students Learn about the people, culture, religion, history, environments and issues of the region the program travels through. They then relate these experiences to bigger picture concepts of globalization, human rights, environment, sustainability, and ethics.

Inner Journey

We provide an environment for students to learn about themselves, to push their boundaries, question their assumptions, and to develop problem solving and inquiry skills. Our programs are as much a journey of personal development as they are a physical journey, and participants are regularly encouraged to reflect and think about their values, goals, leadership and future application of their program experience.

Group learning

Having the shared perspective of the group creates a much richer learning environment as participants are exposed to a variety of perspectives. Additionally, traveling in an intentional small-group environment leads to the necessity of developing great group skills. Group skills are of critical importance in today's workplaces and changemaking efforts. Students learn cooperation, leadership, conflict resolution, and consensus building, all leading to a deepened knowledge of self and heightened emotional intelligence EQ.

Education

Pacific Discovery takes experiential education to a whole new level, blending the personal development experiential philosophy pioneered by the likes of Outward Bound; the wilderness appreciation goals of organizations like NOLS; best practices in international service learning; a strong grounding in environmental and social responsibility; and a local/global education curriculum, to create a dynamic and transformational overland journey of discovery.

Instrumental in this is a core curriculum that parallels the students journey on the program, to complement the and support the inner journey of self-exploration, outer discovery of the world and shared group experience.

Pacific Discovery educational cirriculum

Core curriculum

Our core curriculum comprises nine experiential sessions spaced roughly one per week of program. These sessions are designed to get students more thoughtfully engaged in their lives, values, impact, and interconnectedness. In these sessions, the group engage in experiential activities designed to have students question assumptions. Learning is teased out during the debrief of each session, where questions, insights and perspectives are shared amongst the group.  These sessions are simply starting places, both for further conversations during the program and reflection in students’ lives long term.

The core curriculum holds up a mirror for students to see themselves and their worldview more clearly.  It allows students to:

  • Discover or articulate something new about themselves
  • Piques curiosity and interest
  • Challenges previous assumptions or worldviews
  • Reminds students of realities/perspectives outside their own
  • Opens possibilities
  • Attends to learning holistically (head/heart/body)
  • Sparks social imagination- i.e. ideas of how we can create a better world

Core Curriculum Sessions 

Session 1: Values

Guiding questions: What are my core values? How do these values inform the way that I live? How can I better align my values and action?

Session 2: Humanitarianism – Service & Development

Guiding questions: How is development often thought about and implemented? What does that mean for the communities and ecosystems which we’re visiting? What is the purpose and value of service/volunteering? What makes an ethical approach to service?

Session 3: Identity

Guiding questions: What has shaped who I am? What are my social identities? How have these impacted my experience of privilege and marginalization? What identities do the rest of the group hold? How have they contributed to our shared and distinct experiences?

Session 4: Culture

Guiding questions: What is culture? How do I practice good cross-cultural communication and intercultural competency? What might it feel like to host foreign visitors? What does that mean for my engagement on the program/with travel?

Session 5: Environment

Guiding questions: How do we participate in creating a healthy future for the planet and our species? What thought patterns lead to unsustainable behaviors and patterns? What new cultural narratives might support a sustainable future? How do we think about ourselves in relationship to the earth?

Session 6: Empathy

Guiding questions: How do I understand the ‘other’? Where have my stories about the 'other' come from? How does empathy serve in creating shared understanding and transcending these divisions? What does empathy have to do with global citizenship?

Session 7: Communication & Community

Guiding questions: What is healthy communication? How do we create collaboration and shared understanding across difference? How have we communicated as a group?

Session 8: Leadership

Guiding questions: What role(s) do I take on in groups? What are some of my preferences and strengths in working with groups? How do these inform my leadership style and approach?

Session 9: Global Citizenship

Guiding questions: What does it mean to be a global citizen? How has my experience with Pacific Discovery impacted my sense of interconnectedness? What role do I want to play in creating change in the world? What does all of this mean for my life moving forward?

Wellness Workshops

We have four wellness workshops that support student life skills development. These workshops are Wellness, Mindfulness, Substances & Sex.  These workshops are designed to be informative and educational rather than prescriptive or puritanical.

Workshop 1: Te Whare Tapa Wha [Wellness]           

Guiding questions: What is wellness? What are the multiple dimensions to wellness? How is wellness interconnected and a holistic pursuit? What can you do to support your wellness while on the program?

Workshop 2: Mindfulness   

Guiding questions: What is mindfulness? What are the benefits of mindfulness? How will we practice mindfulness on the program? What are some strategies to incorporate mindfulness into our lives?

Workshop 3: Substances       

Guiding questions: What’s influenced my relationship with alcohol and other drugs? What do I know about alcohol and other drugs? What are the different ways that people engage with alcohol and other drugs? What can a healthy relationship with drugs and alcohol look like in my life after the program?

Workshop 4: Sex

This session was written in a collaboration between Pacific Discovery and The Body of Sex, a college campus sex education project designed and facilitated by Sarah Byrden.
Guiding questions: How can we have a more inclusive and safe conversation about sex? What has my culture taught me about sex, sexuality and gender? How can I learn to listen and trust myself more deeply? What is consent and how do I access it in any moment?

Closing the circle – a complete journey

Pre-program

A few weeks prior to program start, students are asked to articulate their goals for the program, and then have a Skype interview to discuss these goals. Students goals are personal and unique to each individual group member. Students are given a suggested outline of skills and competencies that they can choose to focus upon.

During program

At program orientation, students discuss their identified goals in a one on one meeting with the program instructors. Over the course of the program instructors mentor each student, using ideas, tools and strategies to help achieve their goals as well as support overall growth.

Students are encouraged to journal during the program to reflect upon their experience and better define their learning. They also meet as a whole group to explore big topics and questions, ranging from 'what are my core values?' to 'how do I be a responsible citizen in our globalized world?'

At the end of the program, students give a presentation to their group summarizing how they were challenged, what they learned, if they’ve grown, and how they intend to apply their learning to their lives moving forward.

Transfer and follow up

Towards the end of the program, students are asked to write a letter to themselves imagining where they want to be in six months time. These letters are collected and mailed to them six months after program conclusion, helping reinforce the learning that has occurred.

After the program, students are invited to join an alumni Facebook group where they remain in contact with others who have had similar experiences. This community supports the continued journey of personal development after the Pacific Discovery program experience.

Local/global education

We use hands on experiences during the programs to learn about a particular ecosystem, history, belief, or issue, then build off of this connection to explore broader themes such as resource over-use or habitat loss, world history, theories of people and place, or global issues such as human trafficking. In this way, we connect the local to the global, illuminating how connected our world is and asking questions of the responsibility that comes from this interdependence.

Corinne's students, with homestay families, Lake Titicaca

“I have been a global trip leader and world language educator for over a decade and I’ve never encountered a company as authentic, flexible and reliable as Pacific Discovery. They are absolute superstars and fulfill every aspect of their mission- to assist participants in gaining the skills, confidence and insight to realize their potential in an increasingly global society.” Every trip I have coordinated with them has exceeded my expectations in a variety of ways. Firstly, they have exceptional connections and partnerships with remote communities in all of the locations they offer. The relationships with the communities in the host cultures are very unique, well established and sustained. One of the many strengths of this company is their responsiveness and willingness to meet the needs and goals of the Global Travel Program mission at my institution. The Pacific Discovery staff consists of highly knowledgeable and experienced trip leaders that have the ability to customize the trip to fit the individual vision and academic learning goals for all participants. Due to the authenticity of the program offerings, my students consistently have a transformative experience. Pacific Discovery provides my students with unique learning adventures through meaningful community-initiated service projects. Additionally, they afford students authentic language and cultural immersion opportunities via home-stay excursions. They challenge students to lean into discomfort while maintaining a safe and supportive environment for students to achieve their personal educational learning goals. I have no doubt that facilitating and/or participating in a Pacific Discovery program would be the most rewarding and extraordinary travel experience you will ever have.” Read more Corinne Dionne
HOD Spanish Language
SCH Academy

Each of our programs incorporates the following six core program components:

  • Education
  • Service learning
  • Cultural immersion
  • Ethical travel and sustainability
  • Wilderness exploration and outdoor adventure
  • Leadership and personal development

1 Education

Our programs are experiential education programs, meaning that learning is hands-on and tangible. For example, students will learn about a country’s history and culture by immersing themselves in it, meeting local people and hearing life stories.

Experience on its own does not translate into learning. But learning from your experiences is important. To encourage ‘learning from experience’ our program leaders facilitate opportunities for participants to regularly reflect upon their experiences, and provide historical, cultural, geographical and environmental background so that personal experience can be connected to a broader understanding of place.

The educational component of our programs is multi-disciplinary and covers:

  • Host country: history, politics, culture, geography, ecology, environmental and social issues.
  • Broader themes: globalization, development, environmentalism, religion, ethics and sustainability.
  • How to travel: how to plan and keep safe, realities of life on the road, ethical and sustainable travel.
  • Outdoor education: learning the soft and hard skills of a number of outdoor activities, such as camping, trekking, cycling, canoeing (varies by program).
  • Group skills: collaboration, leadership, communication, facilitation and trust.
  • Personal Development: New skills and interests, resilience, self-reliance, self-reflection, self-discovery and personal direction.

2 Service-learning – volunteer and community service projects

Service-learning elements built into our programs allow participants 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 work hard to ensure that the work our groups do are grounded in community needs and vision and are executed through local leadership. Additionally, volunteer work helps build self-confidence and self-belief as students learn new skills and take on new roles. Service-learning components vary by program. Examples undertaken by students are: habitat restoration and species monitoring; assisting local students with English-language development; and improving school environments in poor rural communities.

3 Cultural immersion

Our students are not travelling in a ‘bubble’ separated from local people; instead we immerse participants in the local culture, through home-stays, volunteer projects, and language study. Participants learn empathy for other cultures and build bridges of shared understanding.

4 Ethical travel and sustainability

Travel and the realities of ‘life on the road’ teaches a lot of valuable lessons: how to communicate and relate to people from different cultures; how to be happy with few possessions and a simple life; how to overcome temporary discomfort. Travel ultimately exposes students to the myriad possibilities and realities in the world and in their lives. This allows for personal growth and a clarity in students' passion and direction as they do this important learning away from the expectations of family, friends, and peers.

Our goal is that students will learn the ‘Tao of Travel’ – how to plan; how to keep safe; what to take; and how to be comfortable and find what you need in an unfamiliar place. By the end of a program, we expect most students will have the skills necessary to travel safely anywhere on earth.

Students will also gain a deeper understanding of ethics and sustainability through learning respect for local customs; developing meaningful cross-cultural relationships; learning minimum-impact grassroots travel techniques and coming to understand social and ecological issues on a deeper level. Students will learn that the world is both infinitely large, full of possibility, and yet also very small, in that our personal choices affect all living things.

5 Outdoors and wilderness exploration

We use the wilderness as a medium to take participants outside their comfort zones and challenge them. Personal growth and self-confidence increases through overcoming obstacles presented during the program.

Immersion in the wilderness is also an opportunity for participants to become more grounded, develop appreciation for wild places and explore local environmental issues as they relate to global patterns and problems.

A variety of outdoor and adventure activities are included in our programs, such as back packing, rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, snorkeling, and mountain biking. These activities require physical effort, mastery of technique, teamwork and trust between members of the group.

Pacific Discovery takes a 'challenge by choice' approach to the adventure components of our programs. Adventure activities and instruction are aimed at the novice/beginner level, and no prior experience in any of the activities is required. However, we are able to facilitate more challenge for anyone who is experienced in a particular discipline. Students do need to have a fitness level where they are able to comfortably hike for 4+hours with a back pack.

6 Personal and leadership development

By taking participants out of their comfort zone and challenging them physically, culturally and mentally, we encourage students to gain confidence in their abilities and provide a supportive group environment where they can grow. Throughout the program, participants are given leadership opportunities from facilitating reflection to coordinating the daily schedule. Facilitation and feedback allows participants to further develop their skills. This is strengthened by creating an intentional learning community where the group gathers to make meaning of what they’ve seen and apply it to broader global themes as well as personal application.

Tara stands high above Quito, Ecuador

“Pacific Discovery was the perfect first step into the wonderful world of travel and backpacking.” Although at first I was worried the program would not give me the independence I craved, my doubts were soon replaced by an abundance of gratitude. What was to follow was a series of life changing adventures that I will forever stay with me. Every member of the group helped me view the world from a new perspective, just as much as the wonderful communities and locals we were visiting. I have most definitely returned with the travel bug and an unquenchable thirst for new experiences. I can't wait to see what life gives me next!!!” Read more Tara Beynon, 2015
University College, London

Pacific Discovery Educational Manifesto

  1. We value discomfort and challenge as a productive learning space
  2. Whenever possible, we learn by doing
  3. For the best learning to occur, we need time, space, and support to reflect on what we’ve done
  4. “We” means both instructor and student; we are co-learners
  5. We value our thoughts, emotions, and bodies in our learning journey
  6. We ask deep and hard questions of ourselves and the world
  7. We prioritize the voices of the communities we’re visiting- and others on the margins - in our learning
  8. We connect, become grounded in, and learn from the natural world
  9. We know that the solutions to the issues we hope to address don’t yet fully exist, but that black and white thinking and polarization isn’t getting us (humanity) any closer
  10. We aren’t interested in an educational model that creates passive citizens
  11.  Instead, we seek to be engaged, critical, and reflective learners, listeners, citizens
  12.  We are not here to find the “right” answer, but to practice ways of being that can help create a better world
  13. We use mindfulness as a tool in this pursuit
  14. We believe that to change the world, we have to change ourselves
  15. We think that paying attention is a good starting place
  16. We are a community learning to pay attention together
Erika and buddies - underwater in Thailand

“Yes. The program has changed me in indescribable ways. I return feeling different in my body. It is impossible to really explain the experience and to get a taste until you do it yourself, so I highly recommend taking that step. I return with much more confidence in myself and in traveling. The leaders gave me the support and skills I needed to grow. The places we stayed gave the the experiences to grow. I know now that I am able to travel solo with the confidence that I know how to take care of myself. This is an educational experience in the most special way.” Erika Williams, 2016
American University of Paris

Our programs are grounded in the philosophy of experiential education.

The process of learning is the result of reflecting upon experience. Having an experience does not equate to learning. You have to reflect upon the experience to learn from it.

The purpose of learning is to gain something new and to put that new skill or information to the test of usefulness. In order to learn, one must be willing to risk exposing oneself to new things, be willing to test the validity of old things in relation to the new, and be willing to form new conclusions.

To adventure is to risk exposing oneself to an unknown outcome. Therefore, to learn is to venture into the unknown: to learn is to adventure!

Learning and adventure are both delving into the unknown…Everyone should have the opportunity to achieve self-fulfillment by engaging in learning that involves stress, striving, self-direction, sacrifice, goal-setting, perfecting skills, and working cooperatively with others to achieve goals. That is experiential education.
[Paraphrased from experiential education guru Dr. Keith King]

Learning environment

Placing students into an unfamiliar learning environment can foster important development. Such environments are often valuable because they present a stark contrast to the students’ previous contexts, allowing students to see old thought patterns, behaviors, and choices that they may have overlooked in familiar settings. Unfamiliar physical environments also allow students to try on new roles and ways of being in a context that does not encompass some of the limitations or fears from home.

Group size

The social environment has a great deal of bearing on the success of experiential education programs. Research points to the need to create an interdependent peer group of 7 - 15 participants who have a common objective. We find our group size of 12-14 participants is ideal.

Structure vs Freedom

Our programs are very structured and yet have down-time and free-time built into them. We want to have space for participants to create their own experiences, discover things for themselves and gain independence and self-reliance.

Alec connects with the homestay community kids, Lake Titicaca, Peru

“I think Alec could be the 'poster child' for Pacific Discovery! After suffering a significant loss Alec was looking for some direction and purpose. This trip was exactly what he needed.” He stepped way outside his comfort zone and was challenged in the best possible way. He's always been a stay-close-to-home kinda guy and as his parents we hoped he would embrace this adventure. With the incredible support of his group leaders and the great group he traveled with, he was able to not only embrace this experience but mature and grow from it. As parents, it's incredible to see the changes and I am so grateful he was able to do all this in an exciting, safe environment. It's something he will never forget. Thank you so much.I cannot say enough positive things about how incredible this experience was for our son Alec. This is an amazing program. To be able to talk directly with Scott and Rachel was just great. They were so accessible. I would recommend this program highly. Thank you for making this such a great adventure for Alec. Adam and Laurel were just the best. Alec went on and on about them. They really did a great job with their group. We are forever grateful.” Read more Denise Munson, 2015
Mother of Alec, South America Semester

We expect students to build upon a number of skills during our programs…

  • Higher order empathy – Learning to see the world through other peoples lenses.
  • International perspective – Learning about local history, culture, environments of the region traveled through to gain a broader perspective.
  • Clarity – Using the program experience for students to discover who they are, what they want to do and the change they want to make in the world. to help figure out who you are and/or what you want to do?
  • Leadership – Working on communication and group skills so that students can successfully lead people and change efforts.
  • Emotional intelligence (EQ) - Practicing cooperation, support, leadership, conflict resolution, consensus-building, and decision-making.
  • Cross-cultural communication - Learning how to communicate with people from different cultures.
  • Gaining independence – Becoming more self-reliant, taking responsibility, budgeting, and attending to diet, health, and mindfulness.
  • Pushing boundaries – Overcoming challenges in a supportive group environment.
  • Resilience – Learning to persevere and prevail through difficulty. Learning that setbacks are not failures but rather opportunities for growth.
  • Humility/Service - Learning that giving of yourself benefits far more than what you give. Practicing a spirit of giving that is more powerful than paradigms of saving and coming to honor local knowledge, capacity, and guidance in the service that you offer. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “To find yourself, lose yourself in the service of others.”
  • Self-discovery – Trying new ways of being away from peer or family expectations.
  • Choosing adventure – Learning that getting out of your comfort zone and taking small calculated risks in life holds rewards.
  • Environmental awareness – Learning about the ecosystems of the region you are traveling through, what makes them special, the issues they face and broadening your understanding of global environmental issues.
  • Travel skills – learning how to travel safely, responsibly and successfully.
  • Identity – Questioning values and beliefs, strengthening a sense of self, and coming to understand social identities in the context of systems of power.
  • Mindfulness – Practicing mindfulness and taking the time to just ‘be’.
  • Spirituality – Exploring spirituality through gaining new perspectives and examining spiritual practices in other parts of the world. Giving students the space to reflect and figure out their own spirituality.
  • Wilderness skills – Practicing navigation, back-packing, camp-craft, reading the weather, and assessing risk.
  • Developing hard skills in things like back-packing, service-work, canoeing, rafting, rock climbing, knot tying, cooking, etc.
A gibbon hangs out with Jillian in Thailand

“What we experienced wasn’t the shallow surface learning that the everyday tourist gets.” We may have been to the same places and seen the same sites, but we got to know the culture, the people, what goes on in their daily lives. Not only did we get a feel for the history and the politics of each region, but we got so see how it affected the people by talking about it to them and their families while they put us up in their homes. What I experienced on this program was more than I could ever have imagined, and so much more than I could have gotten on my own” Read more Jillian Forte, 20099
Franklin College, Switzerland