South Korea is the undiscovered gem of the far east, with food, k-culture, and mountainous scenery that you will never forget! Our discovery trip begins in Seoul, where we explore regal palaces, bustling downtown neighborhoods, and have fun at the theatre. We then tour Korea’s modern port city of Busan, visit the ancient capital city of Gyeongju, and explore the rural beauty of Korea’s South Jeolla Province. Our final destination is Jeju Island, recently listed as one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World. After a couple of days exploring this island paradise, we will go back to Seoul to k-party it up with some k-pop hologram shows and a meal at the N-Seoul Tower.
You’ll also have the opportunity to gain community service hours in a rewarding experience working with local students at a summer camp, an enriching experience for both you and the people you’ll meet there. This program is perfect for any teen looking to gain a global perspective while discovering one of the world’s most fascinating cultures.
During this program, you will…
- Earn up to 20 hours of community service at local school in Suncheon
- Dress up in traditional Korean clothes (hanbok) and take photos at the palace
- Learn the history of the DMZ and see the tunnels that North Korea tried to dig under it
- See martial arts performances by Buddhist monks and the sword art of Kumdo
- Stay overnight at a temple and learn temple etiquette so that you can eat with the monks
- Explore the natural wonders of the once volcanic island of Jeju and the imposing extinct volcano of Hallasan
- Eat your kimchi and try a range of Korean foods from beef BBQ (Bulgogi) to mixed rice and vegetables (bibimbap)
- Learn to make your own Korean cuisine at our private cooking class
- Drink in (literally!) the view of the green tea fields at Boseong with a fresh made cup of tea
- Watch the highly rated Nanta performance in Seoul
- Scuba dive to discover Jeju’s amazing underwater scenery and see what the Haenyeo, Jeju’s famous female divers, see every day*
- Explore temples, royal tombs, and summer gardens in the historic city of Gyeongju
- Experience a k-pop hologram show by some of Korea’s famous musicians
- Dance Gangnam Style at our awesome K-Pop dance class!
- Enjoy the natural beauty of South Korea’s bays, bamboo forests, and waterfalls
*This is an optional excursion
DAY 1: DEPART FROM LOS ANGELES (LAX)
DAYS 2-5: BUSAN
Our adventure begins in Busan, a vibrant port and home to the famous Busan International Film Festival. This is a coastal city blessed with some excellent beaches; it also has mountains, temples, and some of the tallest residential buildings in the world! You’ll discover the Gamcheon Cultural Village, which is where many South Koreans fled to during the Korean War. Then it’s back to downtown Busan to see the famous Jagalchi Fish Market…are you brave enough to try some of the seafood there? Oh, and did we mention the beach? Haeundae is the most famous beach in South Korea and possibly one of the busiest beaches in the world, attracting up to a million people on its busiest days, and you’ll get to be one of them! Those who want to can shop ‘til they drop at the Shinsegae Shopping Mall, or you can try out one of Korea’s largest spas at Spa Land.
DAYS 6-7: GYEONGJU
The Silla Dynasty capital of South Korea, Gyeongju is the cultural heart of the country. There are many temples, summer gardens, and royal burial tombs to explore in this laidback town. We will arrive in the morning so that we can make the most of our time by taking a walk through Tumuli Park, which has many burial mounds of kings, followed by seeing royalty’s summer playground, the Anapji Ponds. In the afternoon, we’ll leave the town and head to our mountain retreat, Golgulsa Temple, for a truly one of a kind experience. At Golgulsa, you’ll learn about the Buddhist martial art of Sunmudo, which is a form of Taekwondo. Golgulsa is also where you’ll stay the night, waking up at dawn to pray with the monks and you will even have the chance to take part in a fascination breakfast ceremony before enjoying a tea ceremony with the head monk of the temple!
DAYS 8-9: SUNCHEON
Suncheon, which is in Korea’s South Jeolla Province, is a typical rural South Korean town. This is the location of our service work, where we will help at a local Korean school. The work you’ll do here will be very rewarding, and the kids will never forget their time spent with you. In the evening you’ll see one of Korea’s most iconic landscapes, the sweeping s-curve of Suncheon Bay as it meanders out to sea. Many South Koreans will also tell you that the best food in South Korea can be found in South Jeolla, so we’ll be putting that to the test by sampling BBQ duck, BBQ beef, and Kimchi dumplings. On our final day in Suncheon, day you’ll go on a roadtrip to take in more of the stunning landscapes as we travel through the sweeping tea fields at Boseon before heading to the bamboo forest at Damyang.
DAYS 10-12: JEJU ISLAND
Jeju is Korea’s “honeymoon island,” and often described as Korea’s Hawaii, though Jeju’s volcano is no longer active. The geology of the island is formed from its volcanic past, which has resulted in some breathtaking vistas throughout the island. Here you’ll see folk villages with acrobatic farm dancing shows, majestic waterfalls that fall into the ocean, and hexagonal shaped cliffsides formed from old volcanic eruptions. One of the most famous things about Jeju are the haenyeo, female divers who scour the ocean for their living. You can also see Jeju’s underwater paradise by trying either scuba diving or taking a submarine trip to the sea floor. If you love the outdoors, then Jeju is for you! Enjoy this wonderful outdoor lifestyle by going hiking or trying one of the beaches dotted around the island.
DAYS 13-16: SEOUL
Now it’s time for one last party, and Seoul won’t disappoint! You can take your pick from world-famous amusement parks, shopping, fine dining at Seoul Tower, and of course, a k-pop music show! We’ll also learn how to make kimchi and bibimbap at our very own cooking class. The land of the morning calm, you say? More like the land that never sleeps! Sleep is for the plane ride home, as you’ll want to squeeze every last drop of fun out of your stay in South Korea before you say farewell!
Our trip will wrap up in this world-class capital city, which offers you a trip to the past through its many palaces and also into its space-age future with culture from its k-pop stars to its spaceship-like Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Most people know about Korea as a result of its noisy north, and you can even step into North Korea during the trip to the DMZ, albeit by only a few feet. In the evening we’ll have fun watching a performance by Nanta that will surely make you hungry for the many delicious Korean foods such as Bibimbap, Mangdu, and Bulgolgi. Furthermore, take part in a cooking class and learn to cook bibimbap and deonjeong chigae, two Korea classics.Have the chance to dance Gangnam Style in a K-Pop dance class. We’ll even visit the beautiful Gyeongbokgung Palace, with its pavilion roofs, pagoda gardens, and opportunities to dress up in Hanbok to take memorable photos in front of the picturesque scenery.
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.
"This trip was truly amazing in so many ways. Not only is Korea amazing in itself, but the staff are very fun, helpful, and knowledgeable. When I went, the group only had 11 travelers, so we all got to know each other really well. It felt like one big family, adventuring across the beaches, snacking on new flavors (be it spicy, fruity, stinky, or sweet--my favorites), shopping along the streets, and drinking in the Korean culture. Warning: it's hot and humid in the summer, but it's really worth it. It was a completely unique and diverse experience that has everything from historic temples to modern cities to rocky sea views to relaxing spas. I had so much fun and really felt immersed!"
"Thank you, thank you and thank you!!! We love receiving the daily updates and photos. We are so impressed with TFT and the counselors. This has been a dream for Jaelyn to return to Korea, to see her birth country and learn about the culture. We could not have picked a better organization to travel with. She is very happy to be there and we are glad to see her taking advantage of every opportunity... by the photos. Thank you so very much. We feel like we are traveling with her with all the wonderful photos!!"
Frequently Asked Questions
What is unique about South Korea Discovery & Service?
South Korea Discovery & Service gives participants the chance to experience the real life of a Buddhist monk at one of the temples in South Korea and train alongside them. The chance to make a difference in the lives of South Korean children. Watching farm dance performances and learning to cook Korean food are just some of the highlights of this trip to South Korea.
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!
What do students like most about South Korea Discovery & Service?
South Korea Discovery & Service students love to see Asian culture and cuisine, as well as how life contrasts to their life back home. They love seeing the traditional buildings and watching the martial arts performed in this country. Students are also attracted to this program for the community service with young children.
Where do we stay?
Our hotels are specifically chosen to be in safe areas and well-suited to facilitating group supervision. We stay in centrally located accommodations, usually within walking distance of the main attractions. This means 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 Seoul we’ll stay in the vibrant Insadong District, with easy access to the center of Seoul and lots of good eating options nearby. In Busan we’ll stay in the Haeundae Beach District of town, close to some of the places we visit, and with easy access to public transport to those areas farther away. In Gyeongju we’ll make a nearby temple our home for the night. In Suncheon we’ll stay near the center of town, with everything within easy walking distance from the hostel. On Jeju we’ll stay at a guesthouse in Seogwipo.
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 a trip.
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 is included?
Tuition cost includes ground transportation; accommodation; chaperones and guides; program-related activities and admissions; taxes and tips; all breakfasts and dinners.
Not included in cost (this is not intended to be an exhaustive list): airfare; lunches; 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 14 and 21 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 should be an integral part of the travel experience and always make an effort to eat at authentic establishments when we can. What better way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place than by sampling the local delicacies, and we encourage students to do so whenever possible! Just as we stay away from Americanized hotel chains, we try to avoid restaurants with menus that cater only to tourists because every good traveler knows the best food is found wherever the locals are eating!
In South Korea there are lots of food options for meat and seafood eaters to try, as well as for vegetarians. Korean food is famous for its pork and beef BBQs. There are many kinds of soup: the rice-based Bibimbap, different varieties of Mangdu (dumplings), Korean pancakes (Jun), Kimchi, and many more. You’ll go to the towns that are famous for particular dishes. There are also districts in the bigger cities that cater for a more international taste, so there is also the opportunity to mix it up. Last but not least, we will try some traditional Korean desserts for those of who you have a sweet tooth.
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 the program?
Due to the nature of our service work outdoors, please be sure to bring a water bottle, a hat, as well as clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
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 US citizen that enters South Korea is automatically granted a free 90-day tourist visa.
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!