Educational Structure and Core Curriculum

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 change making efforts. Students learn cooperation, leadership, conflict resolution, and consensus building, all leading to a deepened knowledge of self and heightened emotional intelligence EQ.


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.


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  


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.

Pacific Discovery is a small organization and is very personable. Our team takes an active interest in each student’s journey with Pacific Discovery. We deliberately use an overseas adventure travel environment to maximize the educational and life-skills potential for our students. Our programs are made up of six different but interrelated components – experiential education, service projects, cultural immersion, international travel, adventure education, and personal and leadership development. We facilitate these program elements to maximize the educational opportunities making our programs so much more than a travel or traditional study abroad experience.

Our programs are meticulously researched and individually designed by our Program Directors. We continually refine our programs so that they are cutting-edge in the field of experiential education. Every program is a very special and unique experience. We work directly with each individual student and family to ensure programs are a good fit and help students gain as much as they can from their program experience. The Program Directors and a small team of dedicated staff are involved in every aspect of the programs – from answering phone and email inquiries to developing and running our programs. As a small educational travel organization, we are able to offer some of the most affordable Gap Year programs while maintaining integrity and excellence. If you want to travel with a small organization offering 'real' unsantized experiences; if you want to travel with a group of like-minded people who become family;  if you want your sides to hurt from laughing; if you want a program that's like a shot of adrenaline, snapping you into the present moment, engaging you, then holding your interest through a deliberate series of challenging and rewarding experiences, facilitated to enable learning and growth...then cool, join us!

We have undergone and maintain comprehensive accreditations with the  Gap Year Association (USA), Year Out Group (UK), and OutdoorsMark (NZ). We have chosen to go through a rigorous accreditation process with these bodies to ensure that Pacific Discovery has cutting edge ‘best practice’ policies in the gap-year and outdoor education fields and to assure the students and families we work with that we maintain the highest safety and program standards in the industry.

Pacific Discovery has no religious affiliations and has no bias for or against any religion. We embrace diversity and are happy to have students of any faith join our programs and will happily accommodate religious students so long as their observances do not adversely impact their group mates.

Each program varies in physical challenge, wilderness expeditions, and service-learning projects; however, they all are designed to push your comfort zones and facilitate a meaningful experience. If you are unsure of which program you want to participate in, contact us and we will help you to find the right fit. You can also check out our program specific itineraries for a day-to-day schedule of each program, or take our gap semester and summer program quiz.

Our published age range is 17-22. We will also take participants up to 26 years of age if they are still a student or have recently graduated. In either case, we reserve the right to decline applicants outside the 17-22 age range and require those applying to contact us before registering.

Our minimum group size is 8 students and our maximum is either 12 or 14 (varies by program). Research into experiential education programs has found that the size of the group has a great deal of bearing on the success of the program. The ideal size being an interdependent peer group with between 7 - 15 participants.

Our programs are open to anyone, students and non-students, aged 17-22 years old. Anyone within this age range who meets our essential eligibility requirements may apply. 

The majority of students come from North America (USA and Canada). Students regularly join us from Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. We have also had students from Bermuda, Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Japan, Latvia, Mexico,  Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Puerto Rico, South Africa and South Korea. We enjoy having students from other countries and encourage you to join us.