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.