Program Guide:

East Asian Exploration, Summer 2024

July 5 - August 2, 2024
Itinerary Packing & budgeting guides Country guides


Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to availability and local conditions at the time of departure.

Days 1-7: Seoul, South Korea

Day 1: Friday, July 5
Depart the US for Seoul

Say your goodbyes and board your flight for the first step in your journey — Seoul, South Korea! Because of the time zone change and crossing the international date line, you will arrive one or two days later than your departing flight.
Meals included: Some meals may be included on flights; check with your airline for more information.

Day 2: Saturday, July 6
Arrive in Seoul
Most students will arrive in Seoul on this day. An EF team member will meet you at the airport to take you to the hotel. Your Tour Director will help you settle into Seoul and give you a brief walking tour introduction to the city. Meet your fellow travelers, and enjoy dinner together. 
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 3: Sunday, July 7
In-person Orientation & Intro to Seoul
Kick-off your journey with time set aside for an in-person orientation. Orientation is a great opportunity to get to know your fellow travelers along with your supportive staff. Meaningful and engaging activities will help your group bond and discover ways to approach your EF Gap with intentionality.

In the afternoon, take a walking tour of Seoul and start to see some of the sights. Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace and watch the royal changing of the guards. Feast your eyes on statues and soak up history at Gwanghwamun Square. Walk the narrow, trendy streets of Ikseon-dong. And in the evening, enjoy a Welcome Dinner with your group at an authentic local spot.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 4: Monday, July 8
Korean Cooking Class & Urban Exploration – Gangnam Style!
Join your Tour Director for a tour of the upscale Gangnam district, one of Seoul’s cultural hubs that has gained worldwide recognition. Hop on a river cruise for scenic city views. Get a hands-on lesson in how to cook some of South Korea’s most iconic and delicious dishes.
Meals included: Breakfast & Lunch (made in your cooking class!)

Day 5: Tuesday, July 9
Visit to the DMZ: The Border Between North & South Korea
Get an authentic look at the relationship between South Korea and North Korea on a visit to the DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone. Travel out of Seoul and begin your tour in Imjingak Park, where you’ll view the Freedom Bridge. While in the DMZ, visit Dorasan Station, the last train station before reaching North Korean territory. Take in panoramic views of North Korea’s landscape from the Dorasan Observatory before returning to Seoul. Please note that soldiers will be screening  participants at the entrance gate.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 6: Wednesday, July 10
K-Pop Dance Class
South Korea has gained worldwide recognition throughout the last few years with the popularity of its K-Pop performers. Feel the music and dance your heart out to some K-Pop beats.
Meals included: Breakfast

Day 7: Thursday, July 11
Free Day in Seoul
There isn’t anything on the schedule today – this is your first of a few free days on your program to make your experience your own. It’s up to you to make the most of your time in Seoul based on your own passions and interests! You’ll have a public transportation pass that works throughout your stay so its easy to get around. Your Tour Director may also suggest optional excursions that they can book for interested students.
Meals included: Breakfast

Days 8-11: Busan, South Korea

Day 8: Friday, July 12
To Busan by Bullet Train

Travel by South Korea’s super speedy bullet train system to Busan, South Korea’s second largest city. Your Tour Director will show you around to visit BIFF Square, Busan Tower, and Jagalchi Fish Market. Enjoy an evening dinner with your group.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 9: Saturday, July 13
Dive into Korean Culture & History
Spend your day visiting two culturally important sites in the Busan area. The first is Gamcheon Culture Village, a picturesque neighborhood of Busan tucked into a mountainside, famous for its twisted labyrinthine alleys & streets, brightly colored houses, and lots of little spots to grab a bite to eat. The second is Haedong Yoggungsa Temple, a stunning temple complex built in 1376 right on the coast, with ocean waves crashing below it.
Meals included: All

Day 10: Sunday, July 14
Day Trip to Gyeongju
From 57 BCE to 935 CE, Gyeongju was South Korea’s capital city. Today it is known as a “museum without walls”, and it is filled with history and culture. Spend the day exploring this city and learning about South Korea’s long and fascinating history. In the evening, return to Busan.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 11: Monday, July 15
Free Day in Busan
Enjoy a free day to explore Busan at your own pace. Busan is a city with a lot to do — from spending time on one of the local beaches to eating your way through all the food stalls, there is something for everyone!
Meals included: Breakfast

Days 12-14: Jeju Island, South Korea

Day 12: Tuesday, July 16
Island Hop to Jeju
Board a quick flight from Busan to Jeju Island, a gorgeous volcanic island off the coast of mainland South Korea. It is known for its pristine waters and sandy beaches — and for being home to South Korea’s tallest mountain! Get introduced to the island as you visit important cultural sights like Samseonghyeol and the scenic Yongduam Rock. Take a walking tour of Dongmun Traditional Market.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 13: Wednesday, July 17
Jeju’s Coast, Mountains, and Waterfalls
Spend a day exploring the beauty of Jeju Island. Visit the lava tubes of Manjanggul Cave, take in scenic views at Yongmeori Coast and Jusangjeolli Cliff, and hike to Cheonjeyon Waterfalls.
Meals included: Breakfast

Day 14: Thursday, July 18
Farewell to South Korea
Spend your last full day in Korea exploring all that Jeju has to offer — from a hike in the mountains to free time at the beach. In the evening enjoy a final Korean dinner with your group.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Days 15-21: Tokyo, Japan

Day 15: Friday, July 19
Fly to Tokyo

Fly from Jeju to your first stop in Japan — Tokyo! Note that you will likely need to transfer en route to Tokyo, so be prepared for a longer day of travel.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 16: Saturday, July 20
Take in Tokyo

Spend a day on a guided tour of Tokyo, the largest city in the world! Take in sights like the Meiji Shrine, the Sky Tree, and the Harajuku Neighborhood. Get a taste of Japanese cuisine as you have a welcome dinner with your group.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 17: Sunday, July 21
Sushi, Anime, and Gaming in Tokyo
Experience one of Japan’s most globally famous cultural exports, sushi, through a hands-on sushi-making class. Pay a visit the Akhibara neighborhood — known as a hub for the anime, manga, and gaming industries. Visit one of Tokyo’s famous game centers and explore at your own pace.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 18: Monday, July 22
Youth Fashion & Culture in Shibuya & Karaoke Night
Take a walking tour of Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood, famous across the globe for being a hub for youth fashion and culture. Cross the world’s busiest road crossing. In the evening, enjoy an evening of karaoke with your group.
Meals: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 19: Tuesday, July 23
Day trip to Hakone
Head out of Tokyo to Hakone, at the base of Mt. Fuji. Take in the views of the iconic Mt. Fuji as you take a boat cruise on Lake Ashi and a cable car up to Mt. Komagatake. Visit the Open Air Museum.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 20: Wednesday, July 24
Robotics in Tokyo
Tokyo is home to some of the world’s most advanced science and technology. Explore the robotics industry in Tokyo with a visit to a local robotics company.
Meals included: Breakfast

Day 21: Thursday, July 25
Free Day in Tokyo

Enjoy a free day in Tokyo to explore on your own. Your Tour Director may have suggestions or optional activities for you to join.
Meals included: Breakfast

Days 22-24: Osaka, Japan

Day 22: Friday, July 26
Bullet Train to Osaka
Travel from Tokyo to Osaka on one of Japan’s bullet trains, which go up to almost 200 miles per hour. Get your bearings in Osaka with your Tour Director, and enjoy dinner together as a group.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 23: Saturday, July 27
Explore Osaka
See the sights of Osaka. Visit the massive Osaka Castle, which houses a museum dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the legendary leader who built it. Stroll through Kuromon Ichiba Market, famous for its selection of fresh fish, vegetables, fruit, and other Japanese specialties. Walk to Dōtonbori, one of the most colorful areas in the city and a haven for food culture.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 24: Sunday, July 28
Free Day in Osaka
Enjoy a free day to take in Osaka on your own. You might choose to do something adventurous, like visit Japan’s Universal Studios amusement park!
Meals included: Breakfast 

Days 25-29: Kyoto, Japan

Day 25: Monday, July 29
Journey to Kyoto
Travel by bullet train from Osaka to nearby Kyoto. Kyoto is where you’ll see a lot of traditional Japanese culture — think kimonos, tea ceremonies, and Zen temples. Learn all about Kyoto’s past and present with a local guide. Check out castles, shrines, temples along the way.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 26: Tuesday, July 30
Zen Meditation & Gardens

Visit a local Buddhist temple and immerse yourself in the spiritual traditions of Japan. Tour the temple and tap in to your unconscious mind during a guided Zen meditation session. Visit the Zen gardens. Have a free afternoon to explore the city on your own.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 27: Wednesday, July 31
Free Day in Kyoto

Enjoy a day to explore Kyoto at your own pace!
Meals included: Breakfast

Day 28: Thursday, August 1
Spend some time with your group reflecting on all that you’ve been through during your semester through workshops and sessions. In the evening, have a final Farewell Dinner with your group before heading home.
Meals included: Breakfast & Dinner

Day 29: Friday, August 2
Fly Home
Bid farewell to your group! Fly out of the Osaka airport — the nearest large airport to Kyoto — back to your home city.
Meals included: Breakfast

Tips for the Road


You will be responsible for carrying your luggage on-program; you will be on the move constantly and may not find elevators at every accommodation, so make it easy on yourself and don’t pack more than you need. You will experience an assortment of activities, climates, and excursions, and it’s important to pack according to your itinerary. The most important thing to bring is comfortable walking shoes. Additionally “athleisure” is not super common in places like Thailand and Japan, so we suggest assembling a capsule wardrobe. We also ask you prepare to be visiting places–such as temples–that require modest clothing (knees and shoulders covered).

Whatever your personal spending habits are, it’s important to anticipate your expenses and budget accordingly so that you can travel care-free with more time to enjoy participating in your program. While many meals and activities are included during your EF Gap program, we want to help you build a realistic budget for additional expenses so that you can fully enjoy trying the local cuisine, participating in activities in your free time, and, of course, shopping for souvenirs to bring back home.

Packing list

– T-shirts (5)
– Tank tops (2-3)
– Nice shirts/outfits (2-3)
– Nicer shirts/blouses (1-2)
– Raincoat/windbreaker
– Comfortable walking shoes/sneakers
– Flip-flops/sandals
– Socks and underwear (2 weeks)
– Warmer layers in case of chilly nights (2)
– Lightweight pajamas
– A bathing suit


– Reusable water bottle
– Sunglasses
– Hat for sun coverage (you may want an additional hat for warmth if your program is in the fall or spring)
– Headphones
– Portable charger
– Travel lock for luggage and belongings
– Laundry bag
– Packing cubes (optional)
– Micro fiber towel / beach towel (optional)
Camera / memory card / charging cables (optional)


– Toothbrush / toothpaste
– Deodorant
– Body wash/soap
– Shampoo / conditioner
– Hairbrush
– Sunscreen
– Stomach soothing medication
– Wet wipes
– Stain Remover stick / detergent packs
– Contact lenses / solution / eye glasses (if needed)
– Menstrual products (if needed)


– Passport
Pro tip: bring a photo copy as well

– Copy of your flight itinerary
Found in your EF Gap Year portal

– Copy of your itinerary and accommodations
Found in your EF Gap Year portal

– Health Documents:
CDC vaccination card (if applicable)

– Copy of any prescriptions

– Primary Health Insurance card from the U.S.


– Backpack
This is your carry-on! It can also double as your daily bag while abroad.

– Wallet
Bring your debit or ATM card so you can withdraw cash, as well as your credit card, ID, and student ID if you have one (discounts!)

For prescriptions, make sure it is in original container and bring enough of a supply to last your program.

– COVID-19 CDC vaccination card
Or, a negative COVID test result if applicable.

– Entertainment!
Books, downloaded Netflix streams and Spotify playlists, magazines, travel journal, deck of cards, etc.

– Passport
– Airline ticket
– Reusable water bottle
– Neck pillow / eye mask / ear plugs
– Toothbrush / toothpaste
– Contact lenses / solution / eyeglasses

Budgeting guide

We don’t recommend traveling with large sums of cash. You may want to convert a small amount money to the currency of your first destination. From there, you’ll be able to access local currency by using your debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM.

Be sure to check with your bank ahead of time and, if necessary, provide a travel notice so they don’t block the card for suspected fraud. Also ask them about any foreign transaction fees that might apply, as these can add up quickly. Apple Pay is another great option that past students have used during their time on-program.

  • South Korea’s currency is the South Korean won (₩)
  • Japan’s currency is the Japanese yen (¥)

Plan to budget around $30-50 per day for living expenses during your time in Japan and Korea.

Japan and Korea are places where you can find a range of prices for food and activities.

While you’re traveling, all your breakfasts will be covered as well as some dinners.


We recommend budgeting up to $50 a week for extra costs. This could mean putting money aside for things like:

  • Additional items of clothing
  • Emergencies
  • Extra toiletries
  • Souvenirs
  • Laundry (This can vary in cost based on where you are. To save money, we suggest bringing a small bottle of condensed soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s, that you can use to wash your clothes in the sink.)

Optional activities or excursions:
Throughout your trip, your Tour Director may find opportunities for additional excursions and activities; typically, these experiences can cost anywhere from $10-$50+, and there may be one or two opportunities like this each week.


You have a card for public transportation included for you for all major cities that you stay in during your program. Your Tour Director will hand this card out to you when you arrive in a new city. Public transportation — including buses, metros, trams, ferries, and more — is often the most cost-effective and the most efficient way to get around Japanese and Korean cities. Your Tour Director will help you understand the basics of the public transportation in each city you visit.

Access to and costs for cabs and other ride services can vary. Cabs or ride shares can cost anywhere between $10 to $40 (or even higher for a long distance or during a peak time), depending on your distance, location, and time of request. On average in most cities you will be in, a cab or ride share will cost around $20–$25.

Packing tips

Making the most of your program

To make the most of your time during your program, this section gives some helpful context and resources for the locations you’ll visit during your program.

South Korea

The Basics
South Korea is a land of stark contrasts, a place where tradition and technology are equally embraced, and the quick pace of life is offset by the serenity of nature.  

Korea has a rich and complicated cultural and political history, but since 1948, the country has utilized a presidential system of government like that of the United States.  

Korea uses the Won as its currency. Its economy is highly developed and the main industries include textile, car, and electronic manufacturing. However, although Korea is a manufacturing and technological powerhouse, the most valuable Korean export is arguably its cultural exports of K-pop and teledramas. Bands like BTS and BLACKPINK have a global following and their success, along with dozens of other K-pop stars, have turned Korea into one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations for young people today.  

Seoul is a beautiful, clean, and fun city with an endless number of things to do. Check out the bustling attractions of Myeongdong and Hongdae, do some shopping in Gangnam, and visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace, one of Korea’s national treasures. 

Key Cultural Norms & Guidelines

Common phrases

  • An-nyeong ha-se-yo (안녕하세요): Hello
  • An-nyeong-hi ga-se-yo (안녕히 가세요): Goodbye. [This is the goodbye to use if someone else is leaving.]
  • An-nyeong-hi gye-se-yo (안녕히 계세요): Goodbye. [This is the goodbye to use when YOU are leaving. 
  • Ne (): Yes 
  • A-ni-yo (아니요): No 
  • Mi-an-hab-ni-da (미안합니다): Sorry. 
  • Gam-sa-hab-ni-da(감사합니다): Thank you. 

The country’s unique customs and etiquette can seem difficult to navigate but arrive with a respectful attitude and you will be welcomed by some of the friendliest people in the world. It is important to note many people, especially older people, tend to keep to themselves. Be sure to read social cues to help determine when to approach someone and when you might not want to. 

  • Don’t tip! Gratuity is included in the bill, and it can feel offensive or confusing if you try to tip on top of that.  
  • Be respectful of all statues, religious monuments, and temples. 

The transit system in Seoul is efficient but can be confusing to navigate. Be sure to download KakaoMapNaver maps or Subway Korea before you arrive.  

Korean beauty standards have become a well-known aspect of Korean culture and prioritize a slim figure, v-shaped jaw, pale skin, straight eyebrows, and large eyes. It is common to see ads featuring fair-skinned models marketing plastic surgery procedures and products that include whitening agents. 

Similar to other parts of Asia, foreigners traveling around Korea may be stared at, pointed to, or called a “wayguk,” which means “foreigner”. Many Black and brown travelers experience a version of this ostracization that is influenced by prejudiced notions about them popularized by western media. However, these travelers often recall these moments as opportunities for cultural exchange where all parties learn about others’ perspectives and experiences.  


The Basics

Japan is a friendly and welcoming country, steeped in history and tradition. 

Japan is an archipelago on the eastern edge of Asia with four main islands and nearly 4,000 smaller islands. The country has become a symbol of modernity and economic development, boasting the world’s second largest economy for more than 40 years; Japan also maintains many rich cultural traditions that date back thousands of years.  

Japan is known globally for anime, a style of animation popularized by Japanese artists Osamu Tezuka and others. The impact that anime culture has had on Japan is so great that it’s birthed the otaku subcultures, which include roleplaying, computer gaming, and cosplaying. These hobbies have huge followings both in Japan and internationally. 

Public transportation in Japan is extremely efficient and can take you almost anywhere in the country with comfort and ease. Travelers can use metro trains, buses, and taxis to move between tourist areas while the bullet train (shinkansen) or planes are the best option for long-distance trips.  While the trains are extremely efficient, due to the size of major cities such as Tokyo, its common for commutes to be more than 1.5 hrs.  

The climate in Japan varies widely regionally and seasonally, with cold snowy winters and hot humid summers. Tokyo maintains a temperate climate similar to Washington D.C.  

Tokyo is the vibrant and electric capital of Japan. It’s the world’s most populous city and has a unique culture all its own. Some more traditional Japanese customs are gradually being phased out as the city becomes more international, but the heart of Tokyo still revolves around the Japanese values and cultures of respect, helping others, knowing your role, and contributing to your community. All of Tokyo’s vibrant city districts offer unique experiences: travelers can explore the commercial hub of the city in Shinjuku, walk the world’s busiest intersection in Shibuya, check out the anime and arcades in neon Akihabara, and window shop in the colorful Harajuku.  

Key Cultural Norms and Guidelines 

Common phrases  

  • Hello: Kon’nichiwa 
  • Excuse me: Sumimasen 
  • Thank you: Arigato 

Practices for customary greetings etc.: Be respectful. As with most forms of etiquette, it’s best to follow the lead of the person you’re with, or the person who is introducing you. Typically, the person of lower status bows first and more deeply than the elder; however, most Japanese people—especially the younger crowd—will not expect you to bow and will instead reach for a handshake.  

There are typically two types of fashion worn in Japan: traditional Japanese clothing (wafuku) and western clothing (youfuku). Modern Japanese fashion is similar to, yet distinct from western clothing. Many fashion trendsetters take inspiration from, and are influenced by, traditional Japanese fashion. Travelers won’t need to update their wardrobe to visit Japan, but it is recommended to be appropriately dressed to show respect when visiting temples and shrines (i.e., shoulders and knees covered).  

You should not tip at restaurants: gratuity is included in the bill and it can feel offensive or confusing if you try to tip on top of that.  

In Japan, you will not find many trash cans in public spaces. Do as the locals do and keep a plastic bag in your purse or daypack to put trash in until you see a trash can. 

Public transportation can get crowded, so be prepared to have your personal space bubble burst. It’s important to be quiet and put your phone on silent mode; additionally, you should not eat or drink anything while riding the train.  

For decades before COVID-19, face masks have been a common sight in Japan, both as a protection against colds and to avoid passing sickness on to others. Masks are still required in almost every indoor setting and on public transit in Japan. Be prepared to wear one whenever you leave the house. 

Notes and Advice from the EF Community 

The Japanese population is fairly homogenous, with little ethnic and racial diversity. Beauty standards tend toward light, flawless skin, a petite figure, and a quiet personality. Travelers with darker skin may encounter stares or comments from locals that indicate some ingrained prejudices, but this is in most cases driven by curiosity or misinformation and not hate. 

Most people in Japan are accepting of LGBTQ+ people and traveling in Japan as a queer-identifying person is safe; however, Japanese society places more emphasis on group identity and values than personal expression. Sexuality is considered a private matter meaning discussions and public displays of affection are uncommon. 

Japan can be expensive! Budget $50-$60 per day for pocket money as lunch meals cost approx. 1,000 Yen (~$7.50) and dinner meals can cost more than 5,000 Yen (~$35) per person.        

You Don’t Want to Miss the Food!  

Broth-based dishes and noodles of all kinds are eaten year-round at any time of day. Other common Japanese dishes include many different types of sushi, curry rice with chicken or pork katsu, and okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake commonly eaten as street food.  

Not only are Japanese 7/11s the safest place to withdraw money, but they are also chockfull of meals and snacks you’ve probably never tried plus pretty much anything else you might need, including clothing and home goods.  

You can eat ramen just about anywhere in Tokyo, but here are Eater’s top 16 ramen restaurants to try. 

For the freshest sushi, check out Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market or one of the other notable fish markets located all over Japan.  

Don’t forget to bring face masks.

Before You Go 

Read Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding 

Read After Dark by Haruki Murakami 

Listen to Japan 2.0 (Podcast, available on iTunes) 

Practice your chopstick skills!  

Social Identity Resources

Travel provides incredible opportunities to learn about yourself, the world, and yourself in the world. But travel is also a deeply emotional experience that can bring different challenges to every individual based on the identities they hold and experiences they’ve had.

This resource is intended to help you think about how your intersecting identities can, and will, shape your experience as an EF student. Take some time to review our Social Identity Resources to hear different perspectives, learn about identity-specific resources, and prepare with helpful tips before you go abroad.

Safety & Support

EF Gap Year is a key part of EF’s expansive global network. With a presence in over 120 countries, 52,000 staff, 600 schools and offices, and over 400 community partners our team has your back and is always available to help you succeed on your journey.

Your global support network

Brett Davies is thrilled to be your Advisor! His role is to support you from a distance, check-in with you throughout the program, and encourage you to achieve your goals. Brett liaises with your Tour Director, Student Life Coordinator, and local EF staff, collectively working to ensure the success of your experience. Brett is also available for parents and guardians as well. Brett, along with the entire advising team, works from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM EST Monday through Friday.

Tour Director

Your Tour Director is the logistical and safety coordinator of the group. They are a local guide who will serve as your best resource for logistical support, like ensuring you arrive on time for flights or helping you find the nearest ATM. They are also there for safety purposes and can help with medical concerns or emergencies as well. In certain countries, Tour Directors may be referred to as Field Directors.

Student Life Coordinator

Your Student Life Coordinator supports the group dynamic as well as provides individual socio-emotional support on the ground. They will be present for the duration of the program and are available to encourage you to develop new relationships and support you in overcoming challenges, like homesickness.

Safety & Incident Response Team

The Safety & Incident Response Team is available to all of our students 24/7 and is trained to support students in times of crisis.

The EF Emergency Line is: 617-619-2520  

Questions about your
upcoming program?

Your dedicated Gap Year Advisor is here to help every step of the way.

Return to itinerary