Randy Oakley shares some of the history that makes Pacia Life Gap Experiences so important today.
The focus of international cultural immersion, expeditions, and service from 2008 through 2012 (see part 1) was all in Central America. And, at the same time, other events were happening.
The irony of founding Pure Life in Costa Rica is that the team didn't actually believe Costa Rica was the best country to get the best results with young adults. However, Costa Rica is a country that parents and professional referral sources would accept as an option.
In 2011 we decided to make Costa Rica the home base for expeditions in Central America. Justin Robinson had made friends with a local resident through a religious connection that offered private land to build a base camp. Medical facilities were nearby and a lot of opportunities to run adventure programming similar to Aspiro in Utah. The location also was close enough to an airport to allow the continued service expeditions to Peru, Guatemala, and beyond.
At the same time, there were other things happening. I had assisted my former foster daughter to spend a summer between semesters in South Africa. My son spent time in Japan. I had also returned to France.
During a trip to France, I contacted Nicole Fons and Katie Jochum from the Southern France Youth Institute. I was in the area, so I thought I would have lunch with them and tour the school for a couple of hours.
My couple of hours turned into three days. I was very intrigued by how they were mixing traditional boarding school, cultural immersion in a small village in Southern France, the local laws compared to American laws, etc.
One night, I was sitting in the boy's dorm, and the students started talking about a trip to Northern Africa to give service. They laughed about how there were no cell phone towers or the internet, how they had to carry water from the river to the village. It was clear to me that the combined experiences of education, living a cultural immersion lifestyle in France, and this service mission to Africa had come together and created a powerful change agent for these young adults. Spending those three days with the staff and students of the Southern France Youth Institute was thought-provoking and never went away.
"It was clear to me that the combined experiences of education, living a cultural immersion lifestyle in France, and this service mission to Africa had come together and created a powerful change agent for these young adults."
During this time frame from 2008 to 2012, another key person influenced our thinking. Dr. Mark Widmer, Staci Taniguchi, myself, and others were doing a three-year business consulting contract with a pharmaceutical company.
Mark, Staci, and Mat Duerden were also running a summer camp in Idaho doing research around self-efficacy and how using adventure experiences in the outdoors could actually improve academic grades for struggling students. Spending time at the summer camp, along with watching Mark's research, only solidified the work that we were doing in Aspiro and the exploration of doing more of these types of expeditions abroad. https://www.nrpa.org/globalassets/journals/jlr/2014/volume-46/jlr-volume-46-number-2-pp-165-183.pdf
Another topic that Mark introduced to our team was the research around authentic happiness. Authentic happiness, positive psychology, learned optimism, self-efficacy, self-determination, change theory, etc. all started to interweave into what eventually we called the Tatori Life Coaching model. However, I know I was very intrigued with cultures that seemed to fit into the authentic happiness model.
Part of the research studied cultures throughout the world that had people live longer and generally happier than other cultures. The study of why these small pockets of people throughout the world led us to ask another set of questions.
Ironically, one of the cultures identified through some of the research was the Q'ero people of the Andes in Peru. The same place that our teams had already been.
There were pockets of people in Andorra, Italy, islands of Japan, people in the Himalayan mountains in Nepal, etc.
While we built the Pure Life Adventures website in the late part of 2011 and launched it in February of 2012, along with announcing to some educational consultants that we were running 42-day expeditions under the clinical leadership of Justin Robinson, I started to be pulled back to other questions. (See Part 1 - Andrew Taylor and his team took Pure Life into a rolling admissions program in the later part of 2013).
Returning to my foster daughter, the Southern France Youth Institute, my son Matthew, and my own experiences abroad, I felt like Pure Life Adventure was in Costa Rica was good for some, but others needed different experiences. And, in most cases, we figured out how to do it at a lower price than families were paying for Aspiro as well.
Could something like the Southern France Youth Institute be created for young adults 18 and over? While I had the connections in France to duplicate a model, most of Europe has the same challenge as the United States, Costa Rica, etc. It's almost too civilized to get all of the components together.
"And, in most cases, we figured out how to do it at a lower price than families were paying for Aspiro as well."
One of the observations through the outcome questioners that had come out of the trips to Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, etc. came back to these things:
The power of novelty of environment, outdoor adventure, and expeditions combined with meaningful service is a must. But one more thing was still observed.
The second observation was this. If we take some of our students to a homeless shelter in a city, they sometimes take on the energy of the homeless shelter. I remember a couple of our students doing service at a homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City. In my mind, the experience should have motivated them never to want to be homeless. Instead, they came home reporting that being homeless is a great life. One student shared that he learned that, "People give you money and you can ride trains across the country for free to see the world."
On the flip side, students completing outcome questionnaires two months, six, and twelve months after returning from Peru rarely mentioned the tourist events. They only talked about people and children in the villages. They spoke of finding other ways to communicate than just verbal language. They spoke of personal growth and experiences full of meaning.
My students in Aspiro had powerful experiences. Our students that participated in these trips had powerful and life-changing experiences at levels that couldn't be duplicated in Aspiro.
Creating meaningful service with the right type of people became one of the challenges in creating these experiences.
In the Spring of 2012, these questions and have learned a lot from the trips to Central America, led us to create relationships from afar with a volunteer organization in Nepal called Volunteers in Nepal or VIN.
Just like we did in Central America, we did a lot of homework from home first. Then, I sent the first scout to seek out the opportunities, to assess risk, medical treatment, etc.
"My students in Aspiro had powerful experiences. Our students that participated in these trips had powerful and life-changing experiences at levels that couldn't be duplicated in Aspiro."
I had planned to send another person or to just go myself. However, one day, Keith Pearson asked if he could be the first to go. So, in July of 2012, Keith flew to Nepal to meet Bhupi Ghimire, the director of VIN. Keith participated just like any other volunteer or potential
student would do. Keith also started networking with mountain guides (Sherpa's), schools, orphanages, medical services, etc.
A few weeks later, Keith called and said he felt we were ready for two more wilderness guides to come and outlined a plan. We wanted both a male and a female as we wanted to explore multiple experiences. Working with Bhupi, Star Sherpa (his nickname), and others, a plan was laid out for the second layer of exploration.
On August 29th, 2012, Dave Nessia and Katie Ovrom left to join Keith and Bhupi in Nepal. After a week's orientation and planning, the 3 of them all went separate directions with specific assignments.
There are many details and wonderful experiences that followed.
The best part is that this team opened up a powerful game-changing experience for others to follow.
Since then, others have been blessed by the adventures that started years ago!