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Ancient civilization fuses with high-tech modernity in today’s China and the time to experience this incredible transformation is right now! Earn up to 20 hours of community service while helping at a Giant Panda rehabilitation center and working in a rural Chinese village. Assist with the conservation efforts being made to save 50 endearing giant and red pandas. Collaborate directly with the villagers in a rural Chinese village to learn about their sustainable farming efforts.
Our educational service projects in China will enhance global awareness and help us identify more with Chinese culture. In addition to our service work, we’ll explore China’s important cities and its idyllic countryside. From the Great Wall of China, where you’ll walk the same paths as citizens thousands of years ago, to the metropolis that is Shanghai. Immerse yourself in Chinese culture with a cooking lesson in China’s most notable Sichuan cuisine, meet with local artisans and try your hand at watercolor tapestry painting, and so much more. Gaze in awe at the Bell and Drum Towers, two Ming Dynasty architectural treasures, and climb to the top of the walls of Xi’an City. Travel to China on this teen travel program with TFT for the ultimate discovery of a historically rich and fascinating country!
During this program, you will…
- Earn up to 20 hours of community service at a Giant Panda rehabilitation center and helping at a rural Chinese village
- Savor a delicious hot pot dinner and traditional handmade dumplings
- Stare into the eyes of 10,000 Terracotta Warriors as you explore the spectacular 3rd century BC tomb
- See the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, in the Forbidden City
- Hike a portion of the ancient Great Wall of China
- Wander the streets of 14th century Xi’an and climb to the top of the city’s original walls for the best view of the surrounding countryside
- Steep leaves in a tea tasting and learn about this important cultural ritual
- Experience Chinese public transportation, from the more traditional to a high-speed bullet train
- Explore the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
DAY 1: DEPART FROM LOS ANGELES (LAX)
DAYS 2-4: SHANGHAI
Your adventure begins in Shanghai, a cutting-edge vibrant city that retains its old-world character. Enjoy a dinner cruise along the Huangpu River. We will explore the Bund with its spectacular array of art-deco style buildings and the magnificent skyscrapers just across the river. Visit the fascinating Shanghai Propaganda Poster Center to witness a different telling of history. Venture into the shops and eateries along the Nanjing Road and in the Yu Gardens to get a true feel for Chinese culture and cuisine. See the scope of this incredible city from the top of the World Financial Center in the Pudong Financial District. At night, catch a performance of the world-renowned Shanghai Acrobats. Then, hop a train for your next destination!
DAYS 5-6: LUOYANG > SHAOLIN
From Luoyang, we will journey to the legendary Shaolin Temple, home of Kung Fu. Watch a spectacular show put on by some of the students and their masters at the Shaolin Temple Wushu Training Centre and even have the chance to take part in a Kung Fu lesson. Along with its beautifully painted halls, adorned with deities and smoky with incense, see the Shaolin Temple’s Pagoda Forest, one of the largest in China. Upon returning to Luoyang, we will visit the Longmen Grottoes UNESCO World Heritage Site to view more than 100,000 Buddha images that were carved into the side of a mountain some 1,500 years ago.
DAYS 7-9: XI’AN
Catching a high-speed bullet train brings us to Xi’an, the imperial center of China for 2,000 years and the start of the famous trading route of the Silk Road. Bike atop the city walls, bargain in the markets and climb to the top of the Bell and Drum towers. Visit Xi’an’s most famous site – the Terracotta Warriors – to stare in awe at the 10,000 clay statues of soldiers, horses and chariots all arranged in a battle formation and commissioned by the emperor of the Qin Dynasty. Take a jade jewelry tour and learn how to pick out the real from the fake, and how it is shaped into one of a kind creations. Then have a tea tasting, and learn everything about the types and the ceremony. Finish up your time in this city with an art lesson taught by local artisans.
DAYS 10-12: CHENGDU > THE SICHUAN COUNTRYSIDE
After the bustling city life of Xi’an, we will begin our transition into the pristine Sichuan countryside. We will spend two days earning up to 20 hours of community service credit at a Giant Panda rehabilitation center and a rural Chinese village. At the Giant Panda rehabilitation center, we will witness and assist with the conservation efforts being made to save this endearing endangered species. There are about 50 Giant and Red Pandas at the base, and we may even be lucky enough to see newborns taking their first steps in the nursery! In the afternoon, we will have a hands-on Sichuan cooking lesson and explore Chengdu’s beautiful Le Shan Big Buddha – the tallest stone buddha statue in the world. On our last day in the Sichuan province, we will travel to the countryside of Chengdu and get to experience the slower pace of life in an authentic sustainable village. A not-to-be-missed performance is a highlight on this trip – in the 200 year old opera house, be entertained by musicians, acrobats and changing face performers.
DAYS 13-16: BEIJING
Our final destination will be the massive capital of Beijing. With over 20 million people, it’s still not the biggest city in the country but it sure does feel like it. Beijing is quickly shedding its historical face in favor of modernity, but there are still plenty of places to go that will give you a great insight into the nation’s ancient past as well as sights which showcase China’s contemporary culture. Explore Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world, as well as the Forbidden City, the former home to China’s imperial rulers. Take a guided tour of the palaces, buildings and seemingly never-ending grand courtyards. In Beijing, we will also visit the extraordinarily fascinating Lama Temple, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace. And don’t forget about the bustling colorful Pearl and Silk markets where you’ll be able to practice your bargaining skills. No trip to Beijing is complete without a rickshaw ride. Our last day in the capital will bring us outside the city to trek along a breathtaking section of the Great Wall. The experience of walking this ancient fortification is a real highlight for all. To wrap up an incredible journey, we will enjoy a sumptuous feast of Peking duck and other specialties before we bid this beautiful country farewell.
Day 17: RETURN FLIGHT TO THE USA
Authenticity is engrained in everything we do. Eat, stay, and travel like a local.
Check out what past travelers have to say about TFT and discover why we are consistently awarded “Top Youth Travel Organization” year after year.
"Over the summer I went on the China Discovery & Immersion Program. This was my first time going on a TFT trip and I can say that it was such an amazing experience. This trip challenged me to go out of my comfort zones. I met so many people and made so many unforgettable memories. The counselors were so much fun and understanding. They did their best to make sure everyone found something to enjoy from all of the different attractions. Each day was filled with activities that allowed us to learn about the Chinese culture and lifestyle. On this trip I was able to do things I never thought I would be able to do. One of the best parts of this trip was volunteering at the Panda Center. We cleaned out the panda cages, broke large sticks of bamboo, and even got to feed the pandas. Every day our local tour guide took us to local restaurants that serve the city’s specialty dishes. The food was so delicious. Though this trip was 17 days, it felt like the fastest 17 days of my life. I made friends from all over the US and we all became very close. Choosing to go on this TFT trips was one of the best decisions I have ever made."
"I never thought I'd have the opportunity to go to China until I saw the trip posted on TFT. I was so excited because I had gone to Southeast Asia last year with the company and had a blast. I love learning and understanding the history behind the places so China was the perfect place for me. I was able to see the terracotta warriors, the Great Wall of China, and even work with amazing, and cuddly, giant pandas. I had never seen a panda before and they are truly incredible animals and something I will never forget! One of my favorite parts was going to help a local farmer. After a long days work, they provided us with our own dumpling making class and a delicious meal. I'm so glad I had the chance to explore China and I cannot wait to go back!"
"Thank you for an absolutely memorable trip for Morgan. He has made it home from Italy after a week of swim and sun, but the highlight of his summer has undoubtedly been the China experience. Let’s see what country he picks next summer :)"
What kind of teen typically participates in this program? What are the requirements to join?
Teens from all over the world join this program! Typically, our participants are culturally curious individuals who are excited to make new friends, experience something unique, and interested in stepping out of their comfort zones and expanding their horizons.
This program is exclusively for students who are currently in grades 9th through 12th and approximately 14 to 18 years old. Students living outside of the USA are welcome to join!
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are chosen specifically in safe areas and are well suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. We do not use large, impersonal chain hotels on the outskirts of cities; we prefer to select smaller, family-run hotels where we establish personal relationships with the owners.
In Shanghai, we stay just a short walk away from the Bund which borders the river across from the city’s Pudong Financial District. In Shaolin, we stay at an elegant hotel near the base on Songshan Mountain. In Xi’an, our accommodation is situated within the ancient city walls. In Chengdu, we stay near the city’s main square. Finally, in Beijing, our hotel is along the main transportation route, centrally located among the city’s highlights.
For safety reasons, we do not publish the names of the accommodations we use. We do not feel it is safe to publish the name of a hotel where a group of teenagers is staying abroad. After registering, participants and parents are given access to our secure parent website where you will be able to see the names of all of the accommodations for the program.
Do most travelers go on their own?
Yes! In fact, over 75% of students who travel with us choose to come independently. This encourages teens to step further outside their comfort zone and make new friends. We believe that one of the most rewarding and exciting elements of travel is the new friendships that form along the way. When we travel by ourselves, we are bound to make new friends from all over the country and even the world. The best part is, you can travel again with your new friends on another TFT program the next summer!
If you are thinking about joining a TFT program by yourself but you are feeling unsure, please let us know! We have plenty of references from solo travelers who had great experiences and would be happy to chat with you about it.
Can I bring a friend?
Absolutely! We ask that if you do come with a friend, you and your friend(s) maintain openness to meeting new people and sharing this special experience with the entire group.
What do students like most about the China Discovery & Service trip?
Students love that they are able to explore five different Chinese cities, both their main attractions and the surrounding countryside. The China Discovery & Service program allows them to discover the similarities and differences between ancient and modern China, the culture, the food, as well as the people and animals.
What is unique about the China Discovery & Service trip?
From earning service credit at a Giant Panda rehabilitation center to hands-on lessons in Kung Fu and Sichuan cooking, and of course hiking along the Great Wall, the China Discovery & Service program provides unique insider access to all facets of China’s culture. The community service part of this program attracts teens who are interested in gaining a deeper level of cultural exploration by giving back to the local communities we engage with.
What is included?
Ground transportation, accommodations, all breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, chaperones and guides, trip related activities, trip related activity admissions, taxes and tips.
Not included in cost (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; visas and visa application fees; personal and medical expenses; activities and admissions that are not program-related or referenced in the itinerary; beverages other than filtered water at meals; participant expenses that are outside of the program description, such as excess baggage fees and damage to hotels; expenses related to unforeseen circumstances, such as transportation strikes and natural disasters.
How do the optional group flights work?
Upon registration, you will be contacted by our International Logistics Team to discuss the program’s flight details. There is no requirement to take the group flight, but there are several advantages to doing so. The group flight is usually chaperoned by a TFT staff member, and it also offers an opportunity for the students to get to know one another prior to the start of the program. Parents are responsible for coordinating transport to the departure airport – however, the logistics team will send out instructions detailing the exact meeting spot and airport point person. For additional information about flights, visit our dedicated flight page.
Who leads the program?
Our staff is a cut above the rest! We seek out two main characteristics in our counselors – extensive knowledge of and experience in our destinations, and a passion for working with teens. Our staff’s backgrounds include living abroad and working in summer camps or other educational settings. Team members are proven leaders and role models, who connect easily with others and form genuine friendships with each student – all while bringing each destination to life.
We celebrate diversity! Our staff represents 49 different nationalities, speak a combined total of 21 languages, and visited 142 countries. Additionally, 80% of our staff lived or worked abroad in their lives. With so many unique experiences to share, you are sure to gain a global perspective.
Our average minimum ratios are one staff member to every seven participants. Each program has one Trip Director with several support staff, depending on the group size. Directors must be at least 25 years old and have prior experience working with TFT.
What are the safety qualifications for our staff?
Our staff members undergo a rigorous hiring process. They receive the same background check as school educators, an extensive training process to go over all safety precautions and protocols, and are required to be certified in CPR and First Aid. We exclusively hire responsible, multi-talented individuals who are safety-minded and are as passionate about teen travel as we are.
What is the average group size?
We pride ourselves on small group sizes to create a more authentic and personalized experience. Our group sizes fall between 13 and 24 students – the perfect size to facilitate new friendships without feeling lost in a crowd! We believe smaller groups eliminate the likelihood of cliques, and allows for a well-rounded, healthy group dynamic.
How does this program connect to other programs?
Our program dates are designed specifically so that participants can opt to combine trips throughout the summer. When connecting to another program, your counselor will escort you to the airport on the last day of the program and assist you in meeting your next group at your new destination.
Families who sign up for more than one program will also receive a 15% discount on the lesser-priced program.
What is the food like on this program?
In a word – delicious! At TFT, we believe food is an integral aspect of the travel experience, and we make an effort to eat at authentic establishments whenever possible. There is no better way to immerse ourselves in the culture of a place then through sampling the local delicacies. We stray away from westernized restaurants and chains that cater to tourists, because every true traveler knows the best food is found where the locals are eating!
In China, we’ll enjoy traditional Chinese dishes in a family-style setting, always with plenty of rice and variety. Some of the dishes include the world-famous steamed buns, soup dumplings, Peking duck, hot pot, and Kung Pao chicken.
Of course, we are always willing and able to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten allergies, and other dietary restrictions.
Do we ever get time to go off on our own?
Our staff and teens are nearly always together, but we do provide the opportunity to break up into smaller groups to allow for flexibility and customization within the itinerary.
We offer free time in defined safe areas – for example, shopping in a market or exploring a museum. During these times, students remain in groups of at least two and are given no more than an hour. Of course, the counselors remain nearby and available. Additionally, a lifeguard-certified counselor supervises the campers any time they are involved in water activities.
Do I need to bring anything special for the community service portion of this program?
Due to the nature of our service at the panda rehabilitation center and in the countryside, participants are asked to pack clothes they do not mind getting dirty and closed-toed shoes. A more detailed packing list will be provided upon registration.
Do I need any vaccinations for this program?
We recommend checking with your family doctor regarding vaccinations and medical advice for the destination you are visiting. For more information, please check the World Health Organization’s website. Upon registration, we provide a list of recommended vaccinations that can be discussed further with your doctor. For Specific questions pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine, click here.
What kind of visa do you need for this trip?
Any foreigner that enters China is required to obtain a Chinese visa. Please be sure to check the specific visa requirements on our site.
When joining a TFT trip from outside of the US, please be sure to check your country’s specific visa requirements.
Do I need to speak the language?
No, our skilled staff members will help you get around and even teach you a few fun phrases!