Southeast Asia Semester - Cultural Immersion, Service Learning, Adventure

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Pacific Discovery takes a Gap Year!

Pacific Discovery will not be offering any programs in Summer 2018, Fall 2018, or Spring 2019. After 18 years of running programs, we will be taking a gap year ourselves to focus on time with family and our own adventures. We will continue to offer our custom faculty-led high school and university trips.

Thank you for supporting Pacific Discovery and we wish you all the best for the year ahead.

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

99%
based on 30 reviews
  • Housing 7.1
  • Support 9.8
  • Fun 9.7
  • Value 9.7
  • Safety 9.7
Showing 16 - 30 of 30
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Vivian
9/10

Pacific Discovery Southeast Asia Semester Program

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.

Yes, I recommend this program
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Maddie
10/10

The Best Decision You Could Make

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.

Yes, I recommend this program
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Jessie
10/10

The Best Nine Weeks of My Life

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Eli
10/10

Your search is over

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Anna
10/10

Life Changing

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Madeline
10/10

Two Months That Changed My Life

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Sarah
10/10

GO ON A PACIFIC DISCOVERY TRIP!

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!
Yes, I recommend this program
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Danielle
10/10

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

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Ellen
10/10

9 Weeks, 4 Countries & 10,000 Memories

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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GraceLillian
10/10

Redefine Yourself Abroad

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Devin
10/10

Definitely recommend!

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.

Yes, I recommend this program
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Eli
10/10

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

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Rachel
10/10

The most amazing and life changing experience

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Madeleine
10/10

One of the best study abroad opportunities

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.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Shelby
10/10

A life changing experience

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.
Yes, I recommend this program

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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...