By Pacific Discovery   Reviews (29)   99% Rating
inspiring educational adventures - gap year, semester & summer abroad

Southeast Asia Semester - immersion, service learning, adventure travel

By Pacific Discovery   Reviews (29)   99% Rating

Who do you want to be in the world? Join us for a transformative overland journey through the friendly Buddhist countries of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

Pacific Discovery programs combine authentic immersion, meaningful service, and wilderness adventure. Our programs foster empathy for other cultures, ethical and sustainable travel practices, and awareness of international issues. Students leave with a deepened sense of their identity, passion, and purpose.

Pacific Discovery is a global leader in experiential education, offering inspiring summer, semester, and gap year programs abroad since 2001, and is an inaugural member of the American Gap Association.

>> Visit our website and request a detailed information booklet for this program <<

On our Southeast Asia Semester you'll travel in a fun, safe and supportive small group with two experienced international instructors to facilitate and mentor your experience. You'll get involved in rewarding service learning projects in wildlife conservation and community development; Hike, boat, bike, raft and snorkel through diverse national parks; Have many opportunities for meaningful connections with local people and will deepen your own global perspective from these shared exchanges. We encourage you to challenge your personal boundaries and support development of your leadership skills, resourcefulness, resilience, and independence. Pacific Discovery is committed to sustainability and ethical travel, which we'll be practicing throughout the program.

This program is suitable for high school graduates, gap year students, college students and recent graduates, ideally 18-24 years. Scholarships offered. Transferable academic credit available (official transcript) through Seattle Central College (you may be eligible for financial aid).

Locations
Asia › Thailand
Program Tags
Adventure Travel
Cultural Exploration
Hands-On Learning
Post-College
Post-High School
Study Abroad
Volunteer Abroad
Wilderness
Length
1-3 Months
Timeframe
Fall
Spring
Summer
Winter
Accommodation
Guesthouse
Host Family
Hostel
Hotel
Lodge
Inclusions
Accommodation
Activities
Airport Transfers
Domestic Airfare
Equipment
Meals
Park Fees
Tour Guide
Transportation
Visa
Wifi
Exclusions
Airfare
Primary Language
English
Age Min.
17
Age Max
24
Application Fee
$0.00
Deposit
$400.00
Cost
Program Tuition Includes...
- Visas for all countries
- All in-country travel and transport including four mid-program flights within Asia
- All accommodation
- All meals
- All activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary
- Service learning projects in conservation and community development
- Experiential core curriculum that supports students to reflect and ask questions of themselves - working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose
- Individual mentorship from program instructors, supporting you in your personal goals for the program
- Informal lectures from resident experts on history, conservation, development, eco-tourism and sustainability
- Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
- 1-3-week optional extensions if you wish to continue travelling independently after the program
- Pre-departure web-page with all information you need in one place to prepare for the program
- 24/7 emergency contact number for students and parents
- Global medical rescue and political evacuation insurance
- Instructors have 24/7 access to a physician and a psychologist, for advice and support
- Pacific Discovery T-shirt, water bottle stickers and a buff
- Online image library for your program
Other Locations
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Southern Thailand
Highlights
>> Service learning projects in Elephant Conservation, and in Community Development where we build a home for a marginalized family
>> Develop skills in independent travel, leadership, meditation, yoga, local cooking, climbing, kayaking, trekking, snorkelling
>> Week-long student-led section developing your international travel skills
>> Exploring Southeast Asia's highlights - temples, cities, world heritage sites, islands, beaches, national parks
>> Transformative personal growth that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves, working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose.
Starting Price
10500.00

Rating Values

  • Housing
    70%
  • Support
    98%
  • Fun
    97%
  • Value
    97%
  • Safety
    97%

Program Reviews (29)

Claire
Other

Thinking about traveling with Pacific Discovery? DO IT!!

Overall 10

Pacific Discovery's Southeast Asia program was the perfect mix of volunteering, adventure travel, independent exploring, and personal development. We were given so many opportunities to try new things and experience the culture in a meaningful way. My program leaders Jess & Devin are some of the coolest people I know and they were always there to support us. It was very clear while traveling how much effort was put into planning the program and if you are at all thinking about traveling with Pacific Discovery I would say you ABSOLUTELY should.

Sadie
Female
19 years old
San Diego, California
Elon University

Nine Weeks of Love, Passion, and Adventure

Overall 10

I could not be more grateful to have had the opportunity to travel with Pacific Discovery. The program completely exceeded my expectations. Our group became a family, exuding constant support and always pushing each other to be the best versions of ourselves. Our instructors guided us when needed and taught us valuable lessons but yet they never felt separate; they were one of us, part of the family. These are all people whose friendships I will cherish forever and who I know I can always go to for support, guidance, or another adventure.
During the nine weeks we saw so much, did so much, and learned so much, challenging ourselves in ways we could not have anticipated. Together we marched for animal rights, lived in remote Hmong villages, trekked through rice fields, kayaked through caves, bathed elephants, meditated alongside monks, saw first hand the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Meanwhile, I was constantly pushed to step out of my comfort zone, to think deeper and to ask more questions. Ultimately, I can gratefully say that these nine weeks made me a more curious, passionate, capable and confident being. I leave my nine weeks inspired to learn more, see more, and challenge myself further.

Nine Weeks of Love, Passion, and Adventure
Ellie
Female
20 years old
Grove City, PA
Slippery Rock University

I am Alive

Overall 10

We were standing on the tip of a boat in our last couple days in Vietnam, watching the silence of the night rush past us, while dancing and singing on the top deck celebrating a birthday...when the girl next to me said the one thing that summed up everything I was feeling, "I have never felt so alive. This is real life, not a dream, this is as real as it gets." We then proceeded to scream at the top of our lungs, "I'M ALIVE". Dramatic, but all too honest. Spending nine weeks in four foreign countries, with 14 strangers, sounds terrifying and unreal. But leaving Bangkok for Pennsylvania, on November 14th was the the hardest day of my life. Southeast Asia became home, and my group had become my family. They had become a part of me. I cried as my taxi pulled away from New Siam II, and a guy friend ran along side waving goodbye. We saw and experienced so much together, we saw hardship, loss, inspiration, happiness, and everything else in between. We met locals that changed our view on our world, we helped each other learn more about ourselves than I ever thought was possible, and we had two leaders that taught us so much about life in general, that I will never stop looking at them as two of my greatest role models. There's a lot to say about the little things you do, yeah you live next to elephants for week, or go to the beach, or live on a boat for a couple nights...but it's all so much more than that. The life I live now is completely different than the life I lived 3 months ago, and I have nothing but Pacific Discovery to thank for that. They tested my limits, stretched my comfort zone, and brought a me out of me I never thought was there. I would go on this trip 100 times if I could, and I am sure I would learn just as much as on the 100th time as I did the first time.

Erika
Female
20 years old
Paris
American University of Paris

Go do it!

Overall 10

It's not quite possible to describe just how awesome this experience is. With the support of a group, you can discover so many places in ways I never imagined. I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Southeast Asia with pacific discovery and as far as I'm concerned I couldn't have made a better choice in the organization. The founders of the program have personal relationships with many of the people we encounter (for example one of the families we stayed with in a home stay in Cambodia). This allows for easy access to very authentic experiences with locals. I find this is something hard to find in an organized trip such as this one. A mix between fun, adventure and service, this trip provides the perfect recipe for personal growth. I had so much fun snorkeling in southern Thailand, and was humbled by the service work we did with elephants. Climbing and trekking inspired an adventurer in me I hadn't known until now.
With all that being said, I can't explain just how incredible this trip was for me, so I suggest anyone who may be considering this to go do it!

Gabe
Male
37 years old
Honolulu, HI
University of Oregon

In a word..... OUTSTANDING!

Overall 10

Incredible amount of thought and time given to crafting a unique and extraordinary experience. It's hard to describe what a program like this brings to a gap year student looking to travel and experience the vibrant culture, amazing history and stunning landscapes of SE Asia.

Our trip brought together folks from different parts of the world in an effort to better understand our own lives. Buddhist temples in Thailand and river trips in Laos were among the most memorable but the true strength of the Pacific Discovery program is the extreme care and though that goes into every adventure. Hiking in Vietnam comes to mind as one of those mind blowing experiences that I think back on fondly. Though it was 15 years ago I'm still in contact with my trip leaders and some of my fellow travelers. Thanks so much to the Pacific Discovery crew....... You made Asia accessible and for that I thank you!

Shannon
Female
30 years old
San Diego, CA
Other

A Trip to Always Remember

Overall 10

It has been 7 years since I traveled with Pacific Discovery in South East Asia - it was the best decision I made in college and it could also very well be yours too. I had spent time abroad with other programs, but it was this program that immersed the whole group into different cultures, unique landscapes, unforgettable experiences and lasting memories. Quality is what makes this company stand apart. In this very materialistic age, Pacific Discovery takes you on an adventure to better appreciate what you have, and maybe more importantly, live a more conscious-driven life. Yes, there was fun activities, side-splitting laughter, picturesque settings, and gorgeous photos taken to reflect back on. Traveling around these days, I always find myself thinking about this trip - a trip to always remember.

How can this program be improved?
I wish I had been better prepared, but I think I always wish that on every trip I take. There is really nothing that stands out seven years later.
Shani
Female
18 years old
Redwood City, California

Greatest two months of my life!

Overall 10

This program was absolutely incredible. We spent two months exploring Southeast Asian cities and villages, immersing in the culture, eating the most flavorful (and cheep) food, and enjoying the adventure of travel. On this trip, I met some of my best friends and got to hang out and meet amazing people. I highly recommend this trip to anyone considering travel.

Some of my favorite activities from this trip include:
-watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat
-boating down the Mekong River
-tutoring Cambodian students in English
-teaching Laotian children to hacky sack
-attending a circus in Cambodia

In addition, the trip was very well organized. There was a great balance between planned activities and free time.

How can this program be improved?
I would've loved to stay even longer!
Christian
Male
21 years old
Middlebury, Vermont
Middlebury College

Still reminiscing two years later!

Overall 10

My decision to travel with Pacific Discovery (or, as we lovingly called it in my group, "PacDisco") was the best I have ever made. I decided to take a gap semester before beginning my college career, and PacDisco provided me with the perfect opportunity to do something memorable and different with my time off. The program was perfect for me: it was structured enough to keep me busy with a wide range of activities and adventures but still provided me with enough free time to explore on my own and pursue other things. I quickly bonded with my group leaders and fellow participants and still keep in touch with them today (not a surprise at all, considering we spent two of the most exciting months of our lives together). I had little travel experience before the program and would not have been comfortable traveling on my own beforehand -- I can confidently say the opposite now. PacDisco turns you into a traveler and makes you discover a thirst for adventure.

How can this program be improved?
Too short -- I found myself wishing the program were longer as we neared the end!
Samantha
Female
24 years old
New York City
New York University

Pacific Discovery!

Overall 10

I knew from the very first day I arrived in Thailand I was about to have the adventure of a lifetime. Day one I was out with fellow participants riding a tuk tuk through the crazy streets of Bangkok before the rest of the group arrived! The driver spoke very little English but was so excited to show us around. We went all around Bangkok traveling from temple to temple seeing some AMAZING sights! We spent almost all day traveling around to different sites and stores. And what made it even better? The entire day cost us only five dollars!

When we got back to the hotel that night I knew, this was only the beginning. I had never been so excited for the adventure that Pacific Discovery was about to take me on! I promise you they did not disappoint! The most amazing, inspiring, educational, excited, and overall breathtaking trip of my life!!

Evan
Male
21 years old
Brunswick, Maine
Bowdoin College

Just do it

Overall 10

PD's Southeast Asia semester popped up on my computer after a long search of looking through gap semester programs in the summer of 2014 and there was one space left. I took the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken and signed up and that was by far the best decision of my life. Still almost 2 years later I think about the trip almost daily and how much I miss it. The places we went and the things we saw were so eye-opening culturally and as a foodie, I was in a constant state of wonder and daze with the amazing street food and availability of a variety of options. The people we encountered were some of the most inspiring individuals that opened my eyes to true hard work, passion and love. At first when I left for my trip I was terrified because I am from a small town in Maine and wouldn't have considered myself at all adventurous or outdoorsy. On the long flight to Thailand I accepted the nervousness I felt and harnessed that into an excitement and a thrill that was only exceeded infinitely once I arrived. The group became my family and my closest friends after mere days and waking up every day, even after long travel days felt like a breath of fresh air and a new experience. Since the trip I have gone back to school to finish my degree and I still crave this feeling all the time- pure magic. I not once felt unsafe or like just a participant in a program- I always felt like a world traveler, and most importantly I really developed into my true self. Everyone in the group, which is common for gap year kids, didn't really know where we fit in life and we all had some impediment or anxiety back at home that was keeping us from our true selves. The intense bonding familial experience of PD was the most healing and therapeutic experience I have ever been a part of and I would beg for anyone to take the chance and pay the money to live the same experience that I did. I treasure the memories that I made traveling, singing made up camp songs, exhausted on long hikes with amazing views, watching the stars in Laos, sipping on refreshing smoothies, riding tuk-tuks and laughing our heads off. This is truly in my opinion the best opportunity out there for anyone who wants pure happiness, discovery, friendship, love, food, sunshine, joy, curiosity, and to find themselves as a person, as cliche as that sounds. I am certain that my semester with PD will be one of the best memories of my entire life and I assure you that the risk of uncertainty and going outside of your comfort zone will be the best decision you ever make. Just do it!

How can this program be improved?
I would have liked more scheduled time to really discover art and culture although there was still a plentiful amount of this during the program. I loved the cooking class with Yui and wished we could have taken more classes in other countries. Also I loved downtime and feel that it was very necessary after days of intense work and travel, but there were a couple times when I felt like we had too much free time and the group really went different ways for a little while, but the free time is what you make of it.
Anna
Female
19 years old
Wayland, MA
Middlebury College

The best 2 months!

Overall 10

In making my college decision, I knew I wanted to be able to take time off so I could travel. I've always wanted to see another part of the world that I knew absolutely nothing about, and the Pacific Discovery Southeast Asia semester was the best way I could have done that. There is no classroom substitution for what we experienced and everything we saw.

PD did an exceptional job with all sorts of logistics on the trip- the accommodations were excellent, our tour guides were funny and knowledgeable, and most of all: our activities were amazing!!! A few of my favorites: caving / rock climbing overnight trip in Chiang Mai, sea kayaking in Halong Bay, biking through the Mekong River delta, and exploring ancient temples the explorers we were in Siem Reap. We also did a few different homestays, all of which were amazing. The families were so happy to have us and seeing these villages was a great experience.

The people I met along the way were so amazing- whether they were the other members in our group who I felt like I had known my whole life, or they were travelers on the road with us, I learned a lot from the other people I met. If you're looking to travel definitely consider PD- it's crazy to think that you can feel so at home when you're constantly on the road. 10/10!!!

How can this program be improved?
There were times when I wished we could stay in a given city for a little longer- but we had to move on to our next place!
Trevor
Male
23 years old
United States
Berklee College of Music

Just like family.

Overall 10

We went rock climbing in a cave near Chiang Mai. It was my fifth climb of the day, on the steepest rock face available (I'd worked my way up), and I was tired. Like, arm-numbingly, hands-shakingly, sweat-dumping-out-my-pores tired. Halfway up the wall, I was ready to call it a day - believe me, I'm not above giving up when the going gets tough - and after the fourth or fifth slip I shouted down to my belayer bring me down. "Take a rest," he told me. "As long as you need." I was ready to complain, to kick and scream until I got my way, but then I looked down (what were you thinking, Trevor?!). The entire group, about 20 people overall, peered up at me. They shouted and cheered, letting me know as loud as they could that they believed in me to take that final step. Crap, I thought, now I'm going to totally embarrass myself when I give up. Josh, a leader on the trip, shouted suggestions of which path I should take to the top in that ridiculous accent of his. He told me to take my time, to focus on nothing but where I was going to put my feet next. Five minutes later, having gained about two feet of ground on the wall, the group continued to let me know they were rooting for me. The believed in me, like, actually believed in me. They wanted me to reach the top.

And I did. Granted, it took me another ten minutes or so (complete with breaks every 30 seconds - my forearms were KILLING me), but I freaking did it. I've never felt so relieved in my life, but down below my travel buddies were cheering. I felt accomplished, like I'd made my family, my mom and dad and brothers and sisters, I felt like I'd made them proud. When I finished repelling and my feet touched solid ground, they high-fived me and patted me on the back. Then they told me I smelled terrible. Just like family.

This was only six days into the trip.

Would I climb that wall again? Yes, yes I would. But I'd bring deodorant.

How can this program be improved?
The pace of the itinerary has been honed and perfected over years and years. There is a great mix of physical activity, cultural immersion, and rest time. Just as you are starting to get tired of a place or an activity or a cuisine, you're on to something new or you get some time to rest. If I was to add anything (realistically, I mean - lots of backpacking and camping in Southeast Asia is perhaps not as feasible as it is in other parts of the world), it would be a heavier focus on historical study of the region. For such an ancient, historically rich area, the level at which we delved into that was fairly minimal. To be fair, this criticism is coming from someone who studied history in college...
Julia
Female
23 years old
New York
Binghamton University

A perfect excursion

Overall 10

The program was great. Just the right balance of hard work and immense fun. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience appropriate for anyone. A great opportunity that no one would ever regret. One big laugh.

How can this program be improved?
Longer duration, less frilly accommodations, less technology
Savannah
Female
23 years old
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado College

An Awesome Intro to Independent Travel Experience

Overall 9

PD's Southeast Asia semester combines scheduled group activities with independent days, offering awesome opportunities to put your independent travel skills to use. This program is great for people who may not yet be comfortable traveling completely solo and offers some really unique and unforgettable adventures such as a homestay at the Hope for Happiness School in Takeo, Cambodia and four days at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It prioritizes ethical traveling and cultivating a sense of global stewardship which, to me, are two of the most important components of travel. You won't regret your participation in these amazing two months!

How can this program be improved?
I wish there were two different groups -- one for gap year students and one for college/graduate students. I found the mixture of ages in my group to be frustrating, at times, because many of us were in completely different stages of life. I think that, if there were less of a breadth in age, groups could be more cohesive and engage in more thought-provoking dialogue.
Vivian
Female
23 years old
Ashland, OR
Southern Oregon University

Pacific Discovery Southeast Asia Semester Program

Overall 9

The Southeast Asia semester program was an integral part of my gap year experience, fostering self exploration, discovery and empowerment through time spent within four uniquely beautiful countries. The perfect balance of service work, adventure and cultural immersion, the Southeast Asia semester program encouraged me to practice ethical and responsible travel and provided me with the opportunity to take part in activities that would have proved difficult to pursue traveling alone. The Pacific Discovery programs are affordable, lead by knowledgeable, experienced and enthusiastic individuals, and filled with a variety of enjoyable and unique experiences. I definitely recommend any of the Pacific Discovery programs.

Maddie
Female
23 years old
Middlebury, Vermont
Middlebury College

The Best Decision You Could Make

Overall 10

During my senior year of high school I was put into a situation I never imagined would happen to me. I was accepted at my dream school as a February admit. For the first time in my life I had an extended period of free time where I could do anything in the world; and that frightened me. I knew I wanted to travel to a new place, but not on my own. I discovered Pacific Discovery and knew immediately that this program was the answer I was searching for. From day one it was obvious that this was going to be a life changing experience. We had two amazing, organized, and fun leaders who were ready to push us to get the best cultural experience while also creating friendships. Each day at Pacific Discovery entails a great new adventure. You visit temples, go rock climbing, bathe elephants, bike around ruins, etc. The amount of adventures you have are almost inexplicable, but for me the best part of this program was having these crazy adventures with all of my friends. This program allowed for me to make many lifetime friends that I am still very much in touch with to this day! I can not recommend this program enough.

Jessie
Female
23 years old
Ellensburg, Washington
Central Washington University

The Best Nine Weeks of My Life

Overall 10

The Southeast Asia Semester Program with Pacific Discovery was the best decision I have ever made. The trip was a perfect balance of cultural experiences, volunteer service, outdoor activities, and free time. There is no replacement for actually traveling to a place and immersing yourself in the culture.I learned so much about the history of Southeast Asia as well as the people. Our leaders, Josh and Rebecca, were absolutely amazing! Along with being so knowledgeable, Josh and Rebecca were simply great people with great values. Pacific Discovery has such a terrific thing going and I am so happy that I had the privilege to be apart of it. I made lifelong friends and unforgettable memories. I grew so much as a person. It was the best nine weeks of my life!

How can this program be improved?
The program was more than I ever hoped it could be! As far as the need for improvement, there were no obvious downfalls; however, the itinerary could have had more physically challenging activities and more hands on volunteer work.
Eli
Male
18 years old
Northbrook, Illinois
Middlebury College

Your search is over

Overall 10

Pacific discovery is more than a tour company. It's a close family embodied with the true spirit of travel. This adventure is unique in that it doesn't fall u see any category. One day your relaxing on a cruise hip in Ha Long Bay (Google pictures) the next your trekking through the location jungle an sleeping in a native hill tribe village. The variety of activities offered is incredible. Each day of the itinerary was through fully planned. You can tell that Rachel and Scott really care about the experience they are providing for their participants. The program offers a great balance between group and independent travel. There is the perfect ratio of structured to free time where we can make this trip our own. For example while not offered as an official activity with Pac Disco, I found the time to go waterskiing on a river in Cambodia. PD accommodates all skill levels activity wise. Many participants feel comfortable enough after the trip to extend their stay. Weve learned the skills of independent travel. Some travel with friends they made on the trip and others travel on their own. I spent a week living in Bangkok learning Thai massage and went on a ten day silent meditation retreat in southern thailand. PD was more than helpful with preparations such as my visa extension paperwork. I remember while packing to go on the program was shopping in REI and asked Rachel a question about something I was deciding to get and she responded to my email while I was still in the store. This is only one example of their passion and dedication. I'm bringing home a deep understanding of southeastern asian culture, great memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. You will grow in ways you'd never imagine. You will learn what you never could inside a classroom. Come for the adventure, you will get so much more.

How can this program be improved?
We have undergone many life changing experiences during our time here. It was nice to have each other to reflect on them and bounce ideas off each other. However, we could have benefitted from more group debriefings of specific activities like the killing fields from the Khmer rouge or the war remnants museum in Vietnam. We had several debriefings thoughout the program that we four a lot out , but they were more general. This is very small, and we had many informal conversations about these activities which I enjoyed.
Anna
Female
23 years old
San Diego, California
University of California- Berkeley

Life Changing

Overall 10

The best decision I ever made was to come on the fall Southeast Asia semester with Pacific Discovery before starting college. My leaders, Josh and Rebecca, were so fun and caring and knowledgable. I made lifelong friendships and had incredible experiences. The program was so organized and went beyond my expectations. It balanced activities and relaxation perfectly. We were able to trek through the wilderness, stay in remote villages, bond through group activities like rock climbing, work on service projects with local people and also take a break and explore beautiful places. the amenities ranged from clean, comfortable hotels and hostels to more rugged home stays and villages. I always felt safe and never worried about any sort of health problems. At the same time, I was pushed beyond my comfort zone and challenged everyday with new adventures, which resulted in tremendous personal growth. I look back on my journal and pictures from my time in Southeast Asia and wish I could go back. Truly a life changing experience.

How can this program be improved?
Make it longer! While the program was 9 weeks and I was initially nervous about going away for so long, I could have easily stayed another month and traveled with the group more.
Madeline
Female
23 years old
Albany, New York
Hudson Valley Community College

Two Months That Changed My Life

Overall 10

Taking a semester to travel with Pacific Discovery was- to date- the best decision I have ever made. Confused about what to do after high school, I was thrilled at the thought of taking a gap semester, something that was not introduced or recommended to me as I was completing high school. I signed onto Pacific Discovery's Southeast Asia semester program without knowing one bit of information about S.E.A. The extremely organized program helped me to prepare in every way necessary. Each day traveling with Pacific Discovery was different, but we always had some amount of time to do a more structured group activity- whether it was shopping, visiting a market, visiting a temple, building a house, or just going swimming. After the planned portion of the day was complete we always had some amount of time to do some activities on our own. Our group got very close very fast and usually spent most of this free time together anyways. I made friends traveling with Pacific Discovery that I know I will keep forever. The difficulties we encountered only made us closer, and it was nice to have a large group of friends that made me feel so comfortable while I was so far away from home. I developed a new found love to travel, I now have plans to see the whole world and experience all these new cultures and cities that I want to see and hear and smell. Pacific discovery taught me how to see and love the world as an educated traveler, skills I will hold with me forever.

How can this program be improved?
I would've preferred to room with whomever I wanted after a few weeks into the program. Also, more time to explore cities on our own.
Sarah
Female
23 years old
Chicago, IL
University of Massachusetts- Amherst

GO ON A PACIFIC DISCOVERY TRIP!

Overall 10

As someone with limited international travel experience I was a little bit uncertain as to whether or not the Southeast Asia PD trip was right for me. Not only was I unfamiliar with the region and culture, but I really just wasn't sure of what to expect. Luckily, Pacific Discovery has an incredible reputation in the Chicago area and I talked with numerous past participants and parents who strongly encouraged me to put my worries aside and go. They raved about the expertise and skill of the leaders as well as the incredible variety of activities during the trip. The day I decided to accept a position in the Southeast Asia program was terrifying, but undoubtably one of the best decision I've made thus far in my life.

One of the many wonderful things about PD is that the programs appeal to a wide variety of people. Those who feel that they need structure in their trip will appreciate the detailed schedule book that every participant receives at the start of the trip with guidelines for each day. And those who crave independence will love the free time participants are given to wander and explore new areas after the scheduled events for the day are complete. In my opinion, this approach gives participants the best of both worlds: the opportunity to see the tourist highlights (such as Angkor Wat and the Cu Chi tunnels) and then the ability to plan their own mini trips where some of the best memories are made. Rogue tuk-tuk rides, impromptu karaoke, wandering the Chiang Mai night market, finding grocery stores...these are the memories I look back on and laugh about! This level of independence has made me much more confident in my ability to travel solo and push myself outside of my comfort zone in foreign places.

Before I get too carried away, I need to address the two incredible Pacific Discovery leaders on my trip: Susan and Ellie. Their level of knowledge and expertise in Asia was invaluable to the success of our group. Nearly every time we changed location, Susan and Ellie called the group together for a meeting to discuss historical significance, as well as cultural norms and expectations. In our scheduled books they had restaurant recommendations and activities we might find interesting during out free time. Witnessing the many relationships Susan and Ellie had formed with locals in Asia only increased my growing respect for Pacific Discovery. Hotel workers, our bus drivers, tour guides and host families remembered having PD programs in the past and were excited to see our leaders. I always felt safe and comfortable with Susan and Ellie, and their personal connection with area and relationship with locals allowed them to problem solve instantly. You're going to hit roadblocks in every trip, but Susan and Ellie handled each scenario with authority and confidence.

All in all, I cannot recommend Pacific Discovery high enough. I had the time of my life on this trip and I want to encourage as many people as possible to take the leap and sign up. You will be challenged mentally and physically, but you will also have a fantastic group of 14 participants there to support you. I am so impressed with the level of detail and attention that every aspect of the trip is given, from transportation to credible tour guides. Rachel and Scott are incredible resources who answered my every question and calmed my anxious parents. Thank you! The people I met in PD are lifelong friends and the types of people I feel lucky to have been able to meet; they all have that innate passion for travel and adventure that I love to be surrounded by. This is a fast paced trip and you cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. I looked at every gap semester program available before committing to PD and I never found one with comparable levels of organization, dedication to students and experience. PD offers the perfect balance of adventure and culture that is hard to find in semester-long programs. You'll do everything from cooking classes in Thailand, sampling street food in Chiang Mai, kayaking through Halong Bay, motorbiking in Hue and an amazing service project in Camodia. You will have the best experience of your life with Pacific Discovery and begin to create those memories that you know will last a lifetime. Go on a Pacific Discovery trip! You won't regret it!

How can this program be improved?
It's true that I found this program close to perfect, but there are some things I wish I had known before going on the trip. First of all, it would've been nice to know that we would have access to laundry, toiletries and wifi in most cities. I stocked up on things like multipurpose soap and shampoo which are easily attainable while in Asia. Although, I will say it was sometimes hard for me to find contact solution so if you're a contact lens wearer, pick up an extra bottle in Chiang Mai or Vietnam and you'll be fine!

DON'T OVERPACK! Yes, I'm guilty of overpacking but that doesn't mean you should too! I'm not kidding when I say you will want to buy a lot. I could've bought enough in the night market in Chiang Mai alone that would've filled my entire backpack. Save space for all the things you'll pick up along the way. If you wear the same shirt for a week no one will care, and you'll be thankful for the extra space to stuff in some Thai pants. However, in the same vein you should definitely try to start budgeting right away. Most things are relatively cheap in Asia but they do add up by the end of the trip. I kept a journal with a list of my daily expenses which helped me budget money for each place we went. I don't think it's necessary to be extremely strict with your budget given the comparably economical prices in Asia, but it's a good idea to have a running list of expenses so you're not surprised at the end of the trip!

And last, it would have been nice to know what happens if you get sick while on the trip. Almost my entire group got knocked off their feet by a virus that sidelined us for a few days. You will by no means be left alone or uncared for, but you are treated as a adult on this trip and expected to be able to know when to ask for help. When I was sick I was with my roommate in our hotel in Chiang Mai but Susan and Ellie checked in almost every hour. This is not the most rustic trip so odds are you will already be at a hotel if you get sick. And, the times when you are in rural areas (such as when we built the toilet in Cambodia), the group returns to a city within a few days to regroup before heading out. So, point is, if you're worried about getting sick like I was, you will be taken care of but you won't be babied. Definitely bring some electrolytes and probiotics to ward off any possible illnesses!
Danielle
Female
23 years old
Winnetka IL (school IN Boston)
Tufts University

Tuk-tuks, sticky rice and elephants-oh my!

Overall 10

I had the most amazing time on my Pacific Discovery trip in Southeast Asia. Having traveled before with my family I was looking for a program during my gap year that would provide me independence and support while traveling in a new and foreign place. Pacific Discovery did just that-there is a range of people that come on their trips and they offer a lot of flexibility in their travel schedule to accommodate that. This meant that our schedule was well-balanced with group activities with everything from volunteering to rock-climbing to kayaking and free time to explore the night markets or go out to bars to meet other travelers. This isn't a program where they are going to caudal you and keep you in a "western bubble" but they don't just throw you in without any advice and guidance of how to navigate the new cultures and cities either. I was lucky to have two leaders on my trip and both of them were well traveled in the area and one of them had already led the trip before. I felt like they were very knowable about the history, culture and sites that we visited throughout the entire trip.

One of the things I think is very unique to Pacific Discovery and that I valued so much is the effort they put in to maintain ethical travel practices. It has become so common for people to travel that I think people sometimes forget about the impact they have as travelers in another country. Pacific Discovery makes it a point to encourage their participants to learn about the history and culture of the countries before arriving as well as while traveling (there is information about each location along with language tips and more in the thorough travel itineraries they provide you!). We had group discussions and readings as well as lessons in basic Thai and how to bow properly. Our leaders also taught us some of the more nuanced elements of the the cultures-things that I would have probably missed had I traveled alone. Knowing these things while traveling makes the experience that much richer.

Pacific Discovery is also very intentional about their decision to participate in service activities while traveling. After traveling with another group where I felt like I would just show up in a community and teach english (completely unqualified) for a few days, it was refreshing to feel like the service projects we participated in were with organizations PD had relationships with and knew our help would be useful and welcomed. I also really appreciated their commitment to leaving as small of an environmental impact as possible. The small size and strong ethical practices of this company makes these things very unique.

Also-our accommodations were extremely comfortable and I always felt safe, this is not really roughing it (if you don't count the occasional holes in the ground for toilets!). But after all these small details i don't want to forget to just say how AMAZING every single day of this trip was. The mix of adventure, volunteer and just exploring was perfect. I would repeat this trip in a heartbeat-it sounds so cheesy but honestly every single day I learned so much about myself and about the countries and cultures we were visiting. We had a great group dynamic and the perfect balance of group activities and independent travel. OH and the food in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam is AMAZING (and so cheap!). I could go on and on about how much I loved this program and I would say if you are thinking about PD-just do it! Every program member comes from somewhere different and PD somehow has a way of meeting everyone where they're at and providing an amazing experience.

How can this program be improved?
I think that it would have been helpful before I left to understand what happens when you get sick while traveling with PD. I had traveled with a group previously that was very hands on and stayed with any sick group members at all times-Pacific Discovery isn't going to do that necessarily. That does not mean that the leader will not be caring and very helpful in getting you the care you need-at no point did I feel like I was alone to figure out how to get any sort of care I needed. That being said, they definitely treat you like adults and expect you to be an advocate for yourself as well. When the group went for a 3 day trek in Laos and I was throwing up the day before I hadn't realized that I would stay behind and meet up with the group when I got back. Again, I never felt unsafe or at all left alone but I wish I had known before just so I could expect that. Do not be worried that PD will not get you to good medical care though-I was particularly nervous about getting sick while traveling and I never doubted their abilities to help me if I needed it!

Also not an improvement but something to understand before going, this trip isn't always a super rustic, volunteering in rural areas sort of trip. Many of my group members expected that sort of experience but for reasons explained above all volunteer work is very intentional and therefore is not the majority of the trip.
Ellen
Female
23 years old
Middlebury, Vermont
University of St Andrews

9 Weeks, 4 Countries & 10,000 Memories

Overall 10

We hopped on tuktuks, jumped on motorbikes, and climbed on trains with one objective: to explore. Wandering through bustling city streets, sampling the sweetest pineapple, learning Muay Thai, cooking green curry, practicing meditation, trekking through northern Vietnam, visiting local schools, roaming through temple ruins, kayaking in Halong Bay, and repelling into natural caves we're just a few of the adventures that made up our nine week journey through Southeast Asia. We explored much of what Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia have to offer all while learning to be independent travelers who are culturally and environmentally conscious.

Pacific Discovery taught me many things, but the greatest lesson I learned can best be summed up by a quote from Alexandra Stoddard, who wrote, "Slow down, calm down, don't worry, don't hurry, trust the process". The experiences I had while exploring Southeast Asia challenged me to take a step back, take a breath, and really experience everything and everyone around. We learned to be mindful and open to new ideas, and we learned what it means to truly live in the moment.

How can this program be improved?
In all honesty there are no major things I would suggest improving (I think that Rachel and Scott do an incredible job planning the programs) but I would say that the packing list could be slightly updated.
GraceLillian
Female
18 years old
Lewsiton, Maine
Bates College

Redefine Yourself Abroad

Overall 10

I've always considered myself adventurous, but running through the streets of Hanoi in the rain or trying fried chicken feet at a street market in Sukhothai would not have been possible for me without Pacific Discovery. At the risk of being trite, I realized in my time away that the world is as big or as small as you choose to make it, and PD certainly helped me to expand mine. The program and the leaders, in my case Rebecca and Susan, encouraged us all to open ourselves up to experiences like meditation, kickboxing, and art classes that many of us would not have been able to find or have an open mind about on our own.

SE Asia defies description; never have I visited anywhere that has instilled in me such a vibrant and immediate sense of place, somewhere that was at once vividly away and yet so welcoming that it challenged my notions of the word "home". This program gave me the confidence to try everything, do everything, and process it all in a safe, supportive environment. Simply put: go.

How can this program be improved?
Not so much an improvement the program could offer, but I really wish I had checked out the reading materials more thoroughly beforehand. Even though I study history in school, it would have been nice to have a tighter grasp on some of the far-flung places I found myself prior to my departure. The packing advice comes with a list of reading/viewing materials that the program coordinators believe will enrich students' experience abroad, and I would certainly recommend at least watching a few travel shows, assuming you don't have time to read a staggering history of the Vietnam War and all its implications, before you head out.
Devin
Female
23 years old
New York, NY
Other

Definitely recommend!

Overall 10

The trip was a great mix of must-see tourist spots, off the beaten track volunteer opportunities, and educational trips. My leaders were both amazing and did a good job of teaching us about the places we visited while also being a lot of fun. Something that really stood out to me about Pacific Discovery was the how thoughtful they were about our impact on the places we visited. The leaders and the readings for credit taught me about a thoughtful way of traveling that I think will change the way I travel in the future.
It's definitely hard to pick highlights, but I have to say the homestay and volunteering in Cambodia was my favorite. I sitll think about the people I met there and the stories and ideas they shared with us.

Eli
Male
23 years old
Chicago, IL

A truly life-changing experience; don't hesitate to check out Pacific Discovery!

Overall 10

What can I say? I had a fantastic time. The group leaders were very supportive and knowledgeable, and the group of people I traveled with was amazing. As someone who had never traveled outside of North America before, I had some reservations about going to a whole new place and being in touch with new cultures that are much different from my own.

However, as a Vietnamese American, I wanted to visit my birth-country, and that played a role in my choosing of Pacific Discovery's Southeast Asia program. I spoke to several previous participants about their experiences, and with glowing reviews from each I decided to sign up and start packing.

Now there are more highlights than I could mention in a single review, but if I had to choose a few right now, I would say that working at the Elephant Nature Park was phenomenal, the scuba diving eye-opening, and the boat trip through Ha Long Bay? Breath-taking.

Highlights aside, I also felt that I was challenged (in a good way) by the trip. I had to learn to really budget my allowance, be completely packed and prepared before a day of travel, and get used to interacting with people who didn't speak english well or at all. I am not a fan of heights which made the rock climbing/caving activities felt difficult, but I left with a strong sense of accomplishment.

In short, check out Pacific Discovery. Not only will you gain a larger perspective of the world outside of home, but you will see yourself grow and succeed. Sign up, get your plane tickets, and get ready for the trip of your life!

How can this program be improved?
I would add a few things to the packing list, such as advice about quick-dry clothes (cotton took painfully long to dry), and physical fitness preparation as my group thought some of the trekking through Laos was a bit demanding at times.
Rachel
Female
23 years old
Boston, Massachusetts
Lehigh University

The most amazing and life changing experience

Overall 10

Before my Southeast Asia trip with Pacific Discovery, I had never really traveled outside of the United States. I was so nervous when I committed to the trip because I felt as though I had no idea what I was doing, but that changed almost immediately when I met my amazing leaders, Susan and Rebecca, and my 13 other group members, who are now all some of my all time closest friends. That was one of the biggest takeaways from the trip for me: the bonds I made with my group members. I've never been so close with a group of people before! Other than making lifelong friends, I learned so much about traveling abroad that now I would be extremely comfortable traveling elsewhere. I was able to experience cultures different from my own and that gave me a wider perspective on everything. What I especially liked about this aspect was that we interacted so personally with each culture and it's people. Homestays were one of my favorite parts because of how real the experience felt to me. It's really indescribable. Some parts of the trip exceeded my comfort levels, but I learned from them and it was awesome when I conquered fears or did/ate something something I'd never tried before. I could talk for ages about how much I loved the trip, but overall it was such an incredible experience and I hope that everyone can experience something like this in their lifetime.

How can this program be improved?
There honestly isn't much I would change, but one thing might be the packing list. I had barely traveled before this trip, so I very strictly stuck to the packing list. But I found that I had some stuff I ended up not needing, and not having some stuff that would have been really great to have. It didn't end up being a huge problem for me at all, but it might have been able to be totally avoided.
Madeleine
Female
23 years old
United States
University of Georgia

One of the best study abroad opportunities

Overall 10

The Southeast Asia trip through Pacific Discovery immediately sparked my interest because of the appeal of being able to see 4 countries in a reasonable amount of time. It also had a very well thought out academic plan that worked perfectly with my university. After going on the trip I can honestly say I have a good understanding of the countries various cultures, and perspective. Pacific Discovery had a unique way of showing its participants a very local and out of the box view of the countries. Due to much research and personal travels through the countries, the brains behind Pacific Discovery have created an unbeatable experience. Every academic assignment I worked on was completely relevant to our day-to-day activities. Being able to read about particular aspects of each country, and then seeing these details first hand was one of the more effective ways of learning.
Another aspect of participating with Pacific Discovery that I had never even put thought into before embarking on the journey, were the amazing relationships you build with fellow participants as well as group leaders. Being able to share such personal and life changing experiences with others really builds this powerful connection. The group leaders are also absolutely astounding, and were able to add a component to the trip that was unbeatable.
Overall my trip through Pacific Discovery was genuinely life changing. I can honestly say I am a better, well-rounded individual, who was able to discover themselves in a much deeper sense thanks to Pacific Discovery.

How can this program be improved?
To be completely honest, this program is so well planned out, and so much detail and effort is put into the experience I have no complaints.
Shelby
Female
23 years old
San Diego, California
University of San Diego

A life changing experience

Overall 10

Pacific Discovery was exactly what I had been looking for after travelling for 4 months on my own. It was a program so well thought out and organized that it gave the participants the perfect medium between free time and sight seeing. Pacific Discovery is something I would recommend to absolutely anyone!!

How can this program be improved?
Honestly, I wouldn't change a thing.. this program was exactly what I was looking for.

About The Provider

Pacific Discovery gap year, semester and summer programs are experiential education programs, suitable for high school graduates, university students and recent graduates, developed with a focus on six core components: educational travel, service learning, cultural and language immersion, sustainable adventure travel, outdoors and wilderness exploration, personal and leadership development.

All of the components provide great opportunity for participants to learn about themselves - and the world around them, to push their boundaries, question their assumptions, to stimulate problem solving and inquiry skills.

By giving participants responsibilities and freedom within the framework and safety of a well designed and carefully managed program, participants are supported and empowered, helping them become more capable and self-reliant. These programs are pivotal experiences in our participants lives.

Pacific Discovery is an educational travel organization accredited with American Gap Association (USA), Year Out Group (UK), and OutdoorsMark (NZ), and a member of The Forum on Education Abroad (USA).