Pacific Discovery Gap Year Programs Abroad

Pacific Discovery


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.

By giving students responsibilities and freedom within the framework and safety of a well designed and carefully managed program, they 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)and a member of The Forum on Education Abroad (USA).



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No, I don't recommend this program

I've put off writing this review for about six weeks now. I really don't like speaking badly about things, and I hate to put a damper on someone's dreamy fantasies of rainbows over sunsets and coconuts and palm trees. After all, that was me only five months ago. But I do feel an obligation to share the experience I had with Pacific Discovery this fall, and unfortunately that means I have to be critical; to do anything less would be a disservice to prospective students looking for an honest take on the program.
I am lucky to be a very well-traveled teen. My parents worked for an extremely renowned, global travel & exploration company for 20+ years, and as a result, I have a lot of experience with group settings, unfamiliar places, and adapting to the ebbs and flows of travel. Which is why I was startled to realize, even from the beginning of my semester, that PD lives up to none of the standards I've come to expect from this kind of program.
Students: It's not fair for me to speak ill of anyone on my program, so I'll just say this: almost all of my fellow students were in Hawaii for entirely the wrong reasons, and that quickly became a source of tension and negativity within the group.
Organization: Or should I say lack thereof...I can think of many an occasion on which hours of a day were wasted due to poor planning, failure to rally the group, or negligence to think ahead.
Structure: Days on end of intensely concentrated activity were followed by vast stretches of absolute nothingness. Not to mention that we crossed back and forth across the island many, many times (I know this was so that the groups didn't overlap, but it was nonetheless aggravating to waste away hours in the van). It made for a really frustrating and exhausting trip.
Itinerary: I know that right now, in the era of the coronavirus, travel plans are especially shifty. So I understand when things change, I do. Except that doesn't change the disappointment of having the key aspects of this trip canceled or vastly altered. Not a critique of the company, but to any maybe-students out there, do expect to not do the itinerary as written, and be prepared to not know where exactly you'll be camping until the day or two before.
Leadership: My instructors were lovely people, that is an objective and 110% true statement. For the most part, I did feel supported and cared for by them, but there were definitely a few times when I didn't, too. Maybe that's par for the course, but I do think my experience would have been better with stronger leadership that could deal more readily with difficult personalities. They let many things slip through the cracks, including rampant bullying and exclusion that affected me on a deep personal level. I got apologies and sympathies, but I never witnessed any true attempts to shut down malicious behavior. They also weren't the most experienced when it came to the great outdoors, which I think is quite important for leading any sort of outdoor-based program.
Overall, it wasn't a great experience, but it was a growth experience; I learned how to conduct myself on my own, since the group did very little for me. But I do think there are better ways to achieve that growth than to go through a largely negative experience like I did. If I had to name one redeeming quality of PD, it'd be the people. I got to interact with two staff members from HQ, both of whom were some of the kindest, most insightful, understanding people I have ever met. It makes me a little regretful to speak so negatively of a company with such great people at the helm, but alas.
Long story short, there are better programs out there for you.

What would you improve about this program?
More experienced leaders
A logical itinerary structure
Response from Pacific Discovery

Hi Gillian,

Thank you for the feedback, we truly appreciate your honesty. While no program we are constantly striving to improve the program experience for all of our students. Despite certain challenges, we’re glad that you were able to experience personal growth throughout the program.

In a world where Covid-19 has drastically changed the way we can travel, we did our utmost to maintain the original itinerary. Ultimately in the face of ever-changing state regulations, our student and instructor safety was paramount.

We’re sorry to hear that you had a negative experience with your fellow students, that’s is of course never our intentionality when forming program groups, and try to mitigate these issues through our stringent screening process.

Wishing you all the best for your future travels,

Zach Johnston,

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Yes, I recommend this program

I did have an incredible experience. The variety of places we went allowed me to experience and fully enjoy a vast amount of different environments from desert to snow and everything in between. The program has boosted my confidence by physically challenging me in ways I could not imagine before this trip such as rock climbing and mountain biking but I had such fun trying these activities that I now have more confidence to try new things in my everyday life. Additionally working with the group has helped me develop my teamwork and problem solving skills

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Mountain biking. I was slightly nervous in my ability to mountain bike as I never had before but I still had a lot of fun doing it.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

This was an amazing experience because I was able to develop as a person so much more than I ever expected. I learned much more about myself and my we learned more about the Hawaiian culture my perspective changed heavily from being in my own little bubble to opening my eyes to a whole new style of living and community.

Default avatar
No, I don't recommend this program

Pacific Discovery bit off more than they could chew. They were ill-prepared for launching a new program during a world-wide pandemic. The concept of Discovery Campus was born only 2 months prior to start date, and it showed. Important infrastructure, like WiFi for online learning, was insufficient for the first 3 weeks of the program. Staff time and energy was spent attending to this problem, instead of focusing on program orientation and student transition to college life. One of the two group leaders was unavailable to the students upon their arrival as he was still in quarantine.

I was disappointed with the two group leaders for my daughter's Discovery Campus program. They lacked the maturity and responsibility required to run such a program. Communication was poor and inadequate. Questions were either answered insufficiently or not at all. They were ill-equipped to handle the various obstacles that they confronted. It's a big deal to send your child to live away from home for the first time, and I did not feel comfortable with the supervision and leadership provided.

What would you improve about this program?
Better/more in-depth staff training.
Better preparation from Pacific Discovery.
Response from Pacific Discovery

Dear Eliza,

Thank you for submitting your feedback. We are truly sorry to hear that you felt the program was inadequately resourced and program queries not managed to your satisfaction.

The health and safety of all our students and instructors was paramount going into this past semester, therefore strict guidelines and protocols were put in place and followed for the protection of all. The overwhelming success of Discovery Campus can be attributed to our team's ability to constantly adapt in the face of increasing and changing state restrictions particularly evident in the early quarter of the program.

If your daughter was able to stay for the duration of the program we believe she would have had a different experience, however, we were more than happy to facilitate her and your specific needs during that time.

While no program is perfect, we will be taking the learnings of this semester into the next, as we’re constantly striving to improve and enhance our program experience.

Wishing you all the best, Zach Johnston, Director.

Default avatar
No, I don't recommend this program

Pacific Discovery Western US was a below average experience. The planning and coordination was incredibly poor; the second half of the trip was spent camping in below freezing weather in the rain and snow. It was incredibly dangerous, and we felt very uncomfortable, with very little concern from the instructions. In fact, while camping in the freezing cold, one of the instructors felt so uncomfortable that she slept on the bus instead of in her tent, leaving us to freeze all night by ourselves outside. Regarding the instructors, they were very immature and irresponsible, and when students felt unsafe or unhappy, they offered little to no input when issues were brought to their attention. Additionally, throughout the 70 days there were weeks in a row where we were doing non-stop activity, followed by weeks in a row where we had nothing planned but “relaxation days” and it became incredibly boring and unstimulating.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Mac n cheese!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Sophie Torres

Sophie is a recent graduate of Binghamton University, receiving her Bachelor of Science in Human Development, with a Minor in Sociology. She is currently looking to work for an organization that is a proponent of experiential learning, serving as a leader and mentor for students from diverse backgrounds. In her free time she loves practicing yoga, and being surrounded with family and friends.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose the Nepal and Tibet program because I wanted to immerse myself in cultures that I have never been exposed to before. When reading over the itinerary, everything sounded like a dream and I knew that if I embarked on this journey, my life would change for the better.

What I also liked about this program was that it included a fourteen-day trek across the Annapurna circuit and I thought it would be so cool to be embark on a trek that would challenge me both physically and mentally. I wanted to be able to look back and say, "wow this is something I was able to do", and when I finally got to experience the trek it was way more rewarding than I thought it would be. I feel very lucky to have gone on this program.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Pacific Discovery is very buttoned up with everything they do, which made me feel that I was in very good hands. Everything that I needed to pack was included in a well thought out gear list, which also offered suggestions as to where I could get some of the necessary items.

PD was also very good with responding to any questions about the trip. They helped every step of the way and I am very thankful for that.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

The most important piece of advice I would give to someone going on this program would be to trust in the process! When it comes to making plans I often like to take control, because change can be difficult for me at times but on a program like this I had so much more fun when I adopted a "go-with-the-flow" attitude.

Some of the other students on my program found themselves frustrated because they wanted to know what was going to happen every step of the way, but sometimes it's nice to let things surprise you, because you never know what amazing experiences you might have as a result!

The trip goes by so fast, so why waste any second of it worrying about what you're doing next.

What did you learn about yourself from taking part in this program?

I learned that I am capable of far much more than I give myself credit for. On this trip I trekked up to about 17,000 feet, I got up on stage during a cultural dance performance, and I lived with a Nepali family for ten days without speaking English.

What is so special about going on a program like this is that it forces you to reveal your true self.

Makeup and other materialistic things fade to the background and the focus becomes what lies in your heart and soul. What I discovered is that I am brave, compassionate and ready to experience more of the what the world has to offer.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

It's difficult to say what an average day/week would look like on this program because we were constantly doing different things! I would say, however, that when we were on the trek for two weeks, we got up at very similar times and would begin trekking to the next destination, stopping to get lunch in between.

It never felt monotonous though because the Annapurna circuit has such an eclectic mix of landscapes, the scenery we experienced each day had its own unique beauty.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear before embarking on this journey was the plane ride. I have been to many places (including Greece), but Nepal and Tibet are the farthest I have ever been from home. I am not afraid of being on planes, however I was nervous that I would get anxious or not know what to do with myself.

As soon as I sat down on the plane I realized that it wasn't going to be as bad as I had originally thought. In fact I had plenty of movies to watch, and I was actually starting to get excited about what I was about to experience. I think that I will definitely keep this positive perspective with me for future plane rides.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Sophia Allen

Job Title
Program Instructor
Sophia grew up in the lush Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Attending an adventure camp throughout her childhood instilled within her a strong desire to provide others with the same special experiences in the outdoors. After completing a bachelors in Outdoor Education, Sophia went on to coordinate and implement expeditions and educational activities across the North America, South America, Southeast Asia, and Oceania for a wide range of demographics and backgrounds.

What is your favorite travel memory?

When I roadtripped across Texas with my sister in a big white van. I was directing a course near Big Bend National Park, and my teams needed a van and a trailer full of gear transported to them from the east coast. My older sister decided to join me for the journey and it has become one of our most memorable experiences. We explored hidden waterfalls in the desert and at night were amazed by the countless stars in the sky. We had hours of quality time to talk and speak of our dreams for the future as we traveled across the bizarre landscape of Texas. From Big Bend to the Guadeloupe Mountains, and El Paso where we said our goodbyes. Camping and Roadtripping are always a special way to share an adventure. I think that’s why I like the style of Pacific Discovery programs so much. It is the slower way of seeing all the beauty along the way and the adventures that spring up on the road.

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

I had worked in a lot of different settings before Pacific Discovery, but I had never worked a seventy day shift before with one team. It was an extraordinary learning experience to empower and support students over an extended length of time. The rewards are immense in the sense that you are sharing an incredible journey with them and you get to see all ways that everyone including yourself grows from the experience. I personally learned a lot about adjusting my leadership style according to the skill set of a team. Throughout the course, the students were becoming more and more independent which required me to use discernment in the ways that I stepped back in order to give them opportunities to lead themselves autonomously.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

One of my students wrote a lovely blog about volunteering alongside an elderly woman who was once a world class surfer.

Please enjoy below:
“We have arrived in New Zealand! Wahoo! Our first stop was the Tawharanui park and campground. Riddled with sheep, cows and plenty of birds, including the endangered Takahe, we awoke each morning to a symphony of moos, baas and indescribable birds tweets.
Throughout the week, directed by park rangers Morris and Amy, we “tickled” trails to create easier walking paths, planted trees with retired volunteers and took advantage of our surroundings by exploring the park, jumping in the ocean, and watching the sunrise over the rolling hills.
My personal favorite moment of the week was talking to Gale, one of the retired volunteers, while we bagged some young trees. Gale was the New Zealand woman’s surfing champion in 1969 and represented her country at the world championships in Australia the next year. As an aspiring surfer bum myself, I was eager to learn anything I could from her. Though I expected her to discuss the nitty gritty mechanics of surfing and how to dominate waves, she spoke of it as if it was still just a fun hobby. She wasn’t concerned with being the best surfer in the water. She just loved the ocean and riding the waves, both surfing and bodysurfing. As someone who gets in their own head about perfecting every single detail of riding waves, it was refreshing and calming to hear how to dominate surfing: chill out.”

-Sam L

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Toughest question yet! All of the locations are exciting and beautiful. I am a bit biassed for the Australia and New Zealand Course though. You can’t beat the activities such as canyoneering through the Blue Mountains, surfing the beautiful waves of Australia, and rafting the highest navigable waterfall in the world! The volunteer opportunities are also interesting and enriching. We work with the local park service to fight invasive species, learn how to maintain trails in New Zealand, and live on a beautiful permaculture farm South of Sydney for a week. It is a marvelous course and I highly recommend it, but all programs at Pacific Discovery have something special and different to offer for everyone.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

Pacific Discovery is different in the sense that the program is designed to empower you to become an independent ethical traveler. The adventures are outstanding and there are a lot of other companies that could simply take you sightseeing, but Pacific Discovery provides an educational viewpoint on each region and has an excellent curriculum to help you reflect on your gap year. One of the moments I was most proud of my team is when they designed their own itinerary for their student led section of their program. It was amazing to see everyone collaborating and creating a wonderful experience traveling across New Zealand. They did an excellent job and it was great to see how comfortable they had become with trip logistics and designing an adventure. I hope they utilize those skills in the future so that they can continue to explore the world outside of the course.

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

How companies treat their employees always speaks volumes to me. Companies that place value in everyone on the team have a much better atmosphere that people want to be around and a part of. It is an incredibly feeling to work for a company that is such a team player. Even though we are spread out all over the world on course, everyone knows that they are a part of something wonderful and meaningful and it connects us. From the local vendors and guides that conduct our adventure activities to the folks in the office that make sure our logistics are running smoothly we are all focused on giving students the best experience possible.

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