An Inward Journey Around the World


International educator and occasional guest writer for Everyday Ambassador, Stacey Williams, recently joined Pacific Discovery as their Director of Education. With an MA in Higher Education Leadership and extensive experience in service-learning, social justice education, and international immersion, she is an activist, wanderlust, and life-longer learner.

In this piece, Stacey reflects on how Pacific Discovery was formed, how it strives to achieve its goals, and how it seeks to move forward in the world. Stacey is passionate about growing the field of international education. She thinks a lot about how to: create holistic and reflective learning spaces; appropriately support students with mental health issues; look at issues of power and oppression in our home communities; and support re-entry and ongoing change-making.

When she isn’t working towards these lofty goals, she has a dedicated yoga practice and is a budding (but enthusiastic) rock climber.

Our planet is facing critical threats – unsustainable resource use, overpopulation, climate change, and a global economic model rooted in inequities. Against this backdrop, how do we create educational experiences that develops conscious and responsible global citizens?

Rachel Sanson and Scott Burnett – two New Zealanders with hearts for planetary wellness, peace, and justice – founded Pacific Discovery with the desire to help answer this question. They dreamed of a program where students would gain new insight and ways of thinking about the world through meaningful relationships, cultural immersion, wilderness expeditions, and community-centered service.

No longer just a dream, Pacific Discovery is in its eighteenth year of providing intentional and reflective overland journeys. The programs are deeply experiential – the villages, community members, guides, and ecosystems whom students encounter are the teachers. Students are pushed out of their comfort zones with adventure expeditions and immersive travel.

Playing with host siblings in a Quechua community in Peru
Playing with host siblings in a Quechua community in Peru

An alumnae of the New Zealand and Australia Semester, reflects “PD strikes me as almost anti-tourism. As a participant, you delve immediately into the culture of your destination rather than simply observing from afar. I came away with more than a few fun stories, although I definitely had those aplenty; mostly, I was provided with a new framework for looking at the world, one that encompassed a perspective totally separate from my native US one. The volunteering is meaningful and acquaints you with people living in every place that you visit, and the expeditions are anything but touristy. Clearly, the trip was designed by locals.”

The student learning is multi-faceted; groups explore culture, religion, history, and issues of the region alongside conversations of how these relate to larger themes of globalization, human rights, sustainability, and ethics. It doesn’t stop there, but also dives into personal inquiry so that, while on an outer journey of discovery, students also go through an inner journey of reflection and change.

With learning outcomes that mirror Everyday Ambassador’s own mission, the program’s curriculum asks questions such as:

  • How can I better align my values and action?
  • What makes an ethical approach to service and travel?
  • How do my social identities and culture heritage impact my experience of privilege and oppression?
  • How do I develop cross-cultural competency?
  • What can sustainable living look like in our present context of modernization, conspicuous consumption, etc.?
  • How do we create collaboration and shared understanding across difference?
  • What leadership role can I play in creating social, environmental, and/or community change?

This two-pronged approach of inner and outer learning hinges on the belief that to change the world, we have to start within. Through mentoring and shared group reflection, the program culminates in a question of what all of this means for our lives at home, asking: how do our relationships and experiences abroad inform the way we take up global citizenship?

Sasha Howes, who traveled to Southeast Asia in 2014 says “This [Pacific Discovery] is a new type of education, one of mind, body, and soul, where you and other students your age challenge each other to become the greatest person you can be. Even though I considered myself well-travelled, Pacific Discovery expanded my horizons more than I anticipated. The program challenged my emotional states, gave me opportunities I never dreamed of, and let me achieve the cultural awareness I was hoping for.

As Sasha alludes to and EA knows well, this is a relational pursuit. The program occurs in the context of a shared group within which to practice the ways of being – empathy, awareness, ethical travel, conscious consumption, mindful presence with limited technology – that are the foundation of Pacific Discovery’s vision.

Learning about rice harvesting in the paddies of Vietnam
Learning about rice harvesting in the paddies of Vietnam

This post opened much like Pacific Discovery was founded: with a critical and honest look at the problems we face today. What follows is a belief that these issues can be addressed through connection, education, intentional international exchange, and practices of global citizenship that both Pacific Discovery and Everyday Ambassador find hope in, practice, and promote.

As a new partner to Everyday Ambassador, we are delighted to join this community of hopeful practitioners. We welcome you to join us on one of their semester programs exploring South America, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Australasia, or Central America.

Together, let’s make a better world.

One group represents the PD family while enjoying a few days on the beach
One group represents the PD family while enjoying a few days on the beach

Wednesday Wisdom is a series curated by Everyday Ambassador Partnerships Manager Anjana Sreedhar, which features updates from our partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

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