Staff Spotlight: Laurel Starr

Program Instructor
Laurel Starr grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she cultivated an early love for the outdoors through canoe trips in her home state and backpacking trips across the country. Graduating with a degree from Tufts University in Peace & Justice studies, Laurel has worked for non-profits in the United States and abroad. She speaks fluent Spanish, has lived in Ghana and Chile, and also works as an outdoor instructor, running multi-day backpacking trips in Colorado.

girl hiking

What position do you hold at Pacific Discovery? What has been your career path so far?

I lead Pacific Discovery’s programs in South America. After college I began leading backpacking trips in Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I loved the opportunity to travel with a small group of people; as a leader, I could help create deep and meaningful relationships and facilitate the growth and development of youth by providing meaningful challenges. I worked at a non-profit for a couple of years out of Austin, Texas, serving predominantly Latin American immigrant families. I loved the work, the community, and the opportunity to speak Spanish all day, but itched to get away from the computer screen and work back outside. When I found an opportunity to move abroad in my work with young people I jumped at it and here I am with Pacific Discovery!

Why is language learning and cultural immersion important to you?

My ability to speak Spanish has changed my life. Knowing a second language is more than just being able to navigate a new place. I think before one knows a second language, language is perceived as merely a tool for communication. As you truly immerse yourself in a second language, however, one realizes that language is an active agent in developing and influencing culture, relationships and perspectives. Through Spanish I’ve developed some of the most important relationships I’ve ever had, greatly enhanced my understanding of the cultures of Latin America, expanded my ability to think critically, and ultimately enriched my perspectives on the world.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

My most treasured aspect of my work with Pacific Discovery is the relationships I’ve been able to create, both with my students and with the local people I interact with. I’ve found that each individual has a story, and learning those stories in an atmosphere of genuine kindness, honesty and openness allows you to understand others and yourself on a greater level. Leading these trips has also made me far more accountable to the other people on this planet, a lesson I hope to instill in each of my students. I've learned how deeply we are all connected and how strong of an impact we have on the people around us. Through constant discipline and continuing education, I hope to continue developing the ability to make my impact a positive one.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

To me, a successful company means achieving their mission in a way that is healthy and sustainable for their staff, participants, and the world at large. Therefore, it needs to be a humble and people-oriented business. Rachel and Scott’s passion and hard work have led Pacific Discovery to be one of the best companies I’ve ever worked for. Pacific Discovery truly holds making the world a better place as their bottom line, without sacrificing the quality of their programs or the ability to sustain themselves. They have a continuous commitment to growth and improvement; Our Program Directors use their genuine humility, knowledge and wisdom to impact number individuals and communities that has transformed a larger Pacific Discovery family across the globe.

Did YOU take a gap year abroad?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?

I didn’t take a gap year, but I did spend six months abroad as a high school exchange student in Ghana. Going abroad as a young person was the best investment I’ve ever made in myself and my future. It expanded my ability to relate to others, rely on myself and actively work for what I believe in. It gave me a far broader perspective on humanity. The opportunities for growth were so dense that I look at it as the most transformative period of my life. When you choose to live abroad, you not only gain understanding of another culture, you also come to understand yourself in a far more balanced and grounded way. Above all, I think that by creating deep relationships with people from a different culture tremendously enhanced my capacity for compassion, and there are few gifts in my life I more grateful for than this.