In 1970, several faculty members of the University of Puget Sound formed a committee to explore new curriculum in the area of Global Studies. They concluded that a college located along the Pacific Rim should not exclude Asia, an increasingly important part of the world right next door. Professor Suzanne Barnett was hired to serve as a professor of history and as director of the newly created Asian Studies program. Robert and Aileen Albertson were asked to initiate a nine-month study program to highlight the geographical and historical importance of the region. The first group left in early September for a semester in Fiji, New Zealand and Australia with field trips planned in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. During the Winter Term (which was later discontinued at Puget Sound) the group spent time in Nepal on a trek into the Himalayas. The spring semester was spent in India, with the last weeks of school spent in Iran, Yugoslavia, Austria and London to gain an East-West perspective. The final exam was created by the students themselves in the form of a carefully researched scavenger hunt at the British Museum where students traced art objects from their initial location. The Puget Sound students enjoyed pointing out discrepancies to experts in London.
The first program had fifteen students enrolled for the full year, along with another fifteen students enrolled for either the fall or spring semesters. The students concluded that the program should be a nine-month, full school year experience. The comparison between the Orient and the Occident was later abandoned to provide more time for an Asian focus. Thus the "Pacific Rim Asian Study/Travel Program" was born. The second nine month program occurred in 1977-78 and a third in 1981-82. Each of these programs spent time in nine countries (South Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and an individual focus country for personal study in the Philosophy of Culture. Subjects taught in each country included the Developing Politics of Korea, Early Japanese Art, Chinese Literature, Thai Geography and Sociology, Indian Economics, Theravadan Buddhism, and Ornithology in Nepal.
Currently, the PacRim program takes place once every three years. Students are chosen two years before the trip begins and groups normally have approximately twenty-five students. The year before the trip is spent meeting regularly to learn more about the countries and to get to know others in the group. For each trip, two Faculty Directors are appointed from the Asian Studies Program, and therefore each trip is a unique program in terms of which countries are visited and what classes will be offered. In 2016, the program was renamed the "Pacific Rim Study Abroad Program" and a new set of learning objectives and strategies were adopted, to promote experiential engagement in Asian cultural contexts, and higher impact pedagogy while abroad.
A special thanks to Dr. Robert Albertson for his information on the history of PacRim.