SE Asia Semester | Cultural Immersion, Service Learning, Adventure

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About

Who do you want to be in our world? Join us for a life-changing, overland journey through the cultural heart of Southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

10-week program for ages 18-24. Fall and Spring departures. Scholarships and academic credit available.

Develop a global perspective, independence, leadership and communication skills through outdoor expeditions, service learning projects, and authentic cultural immersion. Pacific Discovery 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 to request a detailed information booklet for this program.

Highlights
  • Volunteer in 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
  • Work together to plan the student-led section - developing your international travel skills
  • Explore Southeast Asia's highlights - temples, cities, world heritage sites, islands, beaches, national parks
  • Experience 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

Questions & Answers

Reviews

9.65 Rating
based on 31 reviews
  • Housing 7.1
  • Support 9.6
  • Fun 9.5
  • Value 9.5
  • Safety 9.5
Showing 1 - 8 of 31
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Hanna
1/10
No, I don't recommend this program

please read this before signing up

Bear with me, I know this review is long but it is worth the read.

In theory, this trip really does seem lovely. You get to make new friends, see new places, have the safety net of a program with instructors to guide you. In reality, it is the absolute opposite. I went in the fall of 2019 on the Southeast Asia trip. I was BEYOND excited when I was preparing for the trip all the way through the 24 hours of flying. So beyond the price tag(12k+ could last you a whole year easily in Asia, most people don't understand how severely overpriced this trip was, even I didn't till I was there), what could be so wrong with this seemingly amazing trip?

The amount of freedom you get is virtually zero, you always have to have someone with you. It is not about not being allowed to drink or have sex, it is that you are constantly being watched, where you are, and what you are doing. As young adults, you will be treated like toddlers. The instructors that led my trip were incredibly unprepared, Pacific Discovery put two leaders together who had never led a trip. There was so much drama between everyone it was sickening, we had all graduated high school and some were in college yet some acted like petty middle schoolers, no action was taken against them. The time I enjoyed the most was when we were not doing anything in particular, and that was RARE. We barely got any free time whatsoever, you were not allowed to tap out of activities that went against what I was told when I signed up.

The elephants, that is what I was really looking forward to when I signed up, as a lot of people are. It is not what they advertised it to be, it is all volunteer work meaning scooping feces, cleaning their water bowls, etc etc. You do not get to bathe them or really hang out with them at all, the food is very good though I’ll give them that. This is just one example of the misleading information they put on their site.

Food, you would not think it to be such a huge issue on the trip but it was. For how much money you put into the trip, you got so little money for food I was always hungry. You were not allowed to use your own money in addition to the budget as it became “too complicated for them”. I was never able to even afford a drink with my meal, let alone enough to feed myself properly.
Now the big issue that sent me over the edge, being removed from the program only a month or so in. I was also not the only one, there were several others on my trip for various reasons. They mentioned constantly that they will support you if you struggle mentally, that it’s hard on everyone. That simply is not the case, they will just kick you off if they do not want to deal with you. In my case, I did struggle mentally during the program. It really is a lot to take in and to deal with. After getting in trouble for breaking a rule, which I signed a slip saying I would not do it again, I cried a lot. We had a few days in Vietnam free so I spent those days mostly in my room because yeah, I was really sad. Pacific told other parents and their kids that I had decided to leave which was so far from the truth it was almost comical. I reached out several times to either resolve this issue emotionally or financially after the trip and they did not respond for months, when they finally did respond they just said no, they wanted nothing to do with me as I was now just a liability as I apparently was before.

Overall, just do not go on this trip. You would have much better luck just going by yourself or finding another tour group.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Choose another program. Choose another program. Choose another program.
Response from Pacific Discovery

Dear Hanna,

Thank you for submitting a review. We really appreciate your feedback and are sorry to hear that you felt misled or that the group-structured elements of the program were not what you were looking for in your semester abroad experience.

We find that well structured programs allow for our students to fully immerse themselves in the country, culture and activities during their travel while also ensuring the cohesiveness of the group. As part of our detailed itineraries, the service learning component is a highlight of the trip and are planned around the expressed needs of the community or non-governmental organizations we partner with.

The health and safely of all our students is paramount and decisions are made on an individual basis. In order to deliver the best possible experience for the group, we employ behavioral contracts and uphold these when required. We are sorry that you feel your situation was not managed to your satisfaction.

Wishing you all the best, Zach Johnston, Director.

Default avatar
Lian
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

do it!

My time with Pacific Discovery surprised me. I was challenged emotionally, physically, and mentally and I learned an incredible amount about myself and the cultures we visited that has broadened my perspective in the best way possible. The program is so well organized and the experiences are authentic and meaningful. You see beautiful places, meet beautiful people, grow as a human on the earth, and make memories that will last a lifetime. If anything it just gives you time to enjoy the fruits of life, grow, mature, question and be curious, get inspired, and experience settings that truly are once in a lifetime.

Default avatar
Claire
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Thinking about traveling with Pacific Discovery? DO IT!!

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.

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Sadie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Nine Weeks of Love, Passion, and Adventure

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.

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Ellie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I am Alive

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.

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Erika
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Go do it!

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!

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Gabe
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

In a word..... OUTSTANDING!

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!

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Shannon
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A Trip to Always Remember

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.