China High School Expedition

Brimming with ancient monuments and skyscrapers alike, China has catapulted into the 21st century as a major economic power that is often associated with it’s growing cosmopolitan cities. Yet a timeless way of life continues in a countryside carved with rugged mountains and deep gorges, and speckled with traditional farming villages. Explore China’s contrasts on a journey from the pandas of Sichuan to the Silk Road in Dunhuang and the pulsating cities of Shanghai and Beijing.

June 24 - July 14, 2019
Airfare statement: We have arranged group flights from Los Angeles to Shanghai, Chengdu to Dunhuang, Dunhuang to Beijing, and return from Beijing.

Trip Highlights

  • Help feed and care for pandas at the renowned Dujiangyan Panda Center.
  • Photograph the sun rising over the Great Wall, then hike along a remote section of this iconic wonder.
  • Go on an overnight camping trek to the towering dunes of the Kumtag Desert, and learn about local efforts to prevent encroaching desertification.
  • Meet photo editors at National Geographic magazine’s China headquarters, and use their photography tips as you explore Beijing through your camera lens.

Itinerary | 21 days

Days 1-5

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The center of Shanghai is a patchwork of futuristic skyscrapers, stately colonial neighborhoods, and traditional Chinese architecture. From the top of the 88-story Jin Mao Tower, see the massive scale of China’s economic boom with your own eyes. Learn about the city’s controversial history and discover some of its ambitious plans for the future at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. Practice your bargaining skills and see relics of China’s past at the antique market on Dongtai Lu.

Days 6-10

Transfer to the lively city of Chengdu, where we’ll have a behind-the-scenes visit at the internationally renowned Dujiangyan Panda Center’s research facility, guided by local conservationists. Spend a day feeding and caring for the bears and observing these gentle giants up close in their enclosure. Then delve into Sichuanese culture at a traditional tea ceremony, while concocting spicy regional dishes at a cooking class, and on a backstage visit following an opera performance.

Pull Quote
China is a vast and amazing country with a civilization more than 5,000 years old! This region is steeped in history, and we'll celebrate its past as we embark on countless adventures.
Ian Teh, National Geographic Expert

Day 11-14

Fly to Dunhuang, an oasis city bordered by the Kumtag Desert. Once an important hub of China’s famed Silk Road, this ancient garrison town is still watched over by the crumbling ruins of the Han Dynasty-era Great Wall. Visit the Singing Sands dunes, and explore the Mogao Caves—also known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas. Carved by monks on pilgrimage, these caverns are home to some of the most important Buddhist art and manuscripts in the world. Peruse the Dunhuang Night Market, go on an overnight trek by the shores of nearby Crescent Lake, and learn about efforts to understand and prevent encroaching desertification.

Day 15-21

Beijing is a city of color and motion: Bicycles blur past crimson-walled temples, crowds bustle down neon-flanked shopping streets, and new buildings and businesses seem to sprout up on a daily basis. But Beijing’s ancient roots are still visible among the modern high-rises and the flashy billboards. We’ll explore the city in all its guises, from the ornate courtyards of the Forbidden City to the avant-garde studios of the 798 art district. Partake in the popular pastime of flying kites in historic Tiananmen Square; and in the gardens of the Temple of Heaven, join in on checkers and rhythmic gymnastics. Bike through a hutong, a neighborhood of Ming dynasty courtyard homes. Enjoy a chance to meet editors at National Geographic magazine’s China headquarters, and watch acrobats spin and climb through the air at an evening performance. Venture outside the city to a farming village next to a seldom-visited section of the Great Wall. We spend two nights at a simple guesthouse here and enjoy meals prepared by our hosts. See the Great Wall as few visitors do: Experiment with nighttime photographic “light painting” on the ruins of an ancient guard tower, or wake up early for a hike to watch the sun rise over the wall.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
We stay in small hotels and guesthouses in Shanghai, Chengdu, Dunhuang, and Beijing. At the Great Wall, we stay in a villager's farmhouse inn.

Ian Teh, Photojournalist

Meet Our Experts

Photographer Ian Teh's work is often driven by a concern for social, environmental, and political issues. He honed his craft while traveling throughout China in his early twenties, documenting the enormous political and economic changes the country was undergoing. He has worked throughout Asia and internationally, and his recent work on China's Yellow River was featured in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine. Ian has published three books, and his work has appeared in numerous publications including the New Yorker, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Granta. His photography is part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, and was displayed in Paris as part of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Ian will join the group in Beijing.

On Assignment Projects

Assemble a portfolio that addresses a facet of life in China. Shoot portraits of local farmers, document Beijing’s traditional neighborhoods, and zoom in on remnants of the ancient Silk Road. From children playing on Tiananmen Square to dense bamboo forests housing rare pandas, capture the many faces of China. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Delve deeper into the interconnection between land and people in the world’s most populous country. Learn how farmers have adapted to their geography, and investigate China’s rapid economic transformation from the perspectives of local merchants, entrepreneurs, or environmentalists. Chart the traditions and origins of China’s ethnic minorities.