The stronger connection with Taiwan is forged by the shared sense of experience, both with local residents and tour participants. For many, the program is a chance to complete the cultural puzzle of their identity. In the Valley--where Chinese Americans live in scattered areas--teenagers may struggle to find others with similar backgrounds.
Anita Chu, 22, grew up in La Crescenta and attended a high school with a predominantly Caucasian student body. Before Chu left last week, she said she looked forward to the trip.
"I'd like to meet more Chinese people, more friends in general. I'd fit in, be among people like me, other ABC," Chu mused, referring to the acronym for "American-born Chinese."
Her father, Ben Chu, said the trip balances tradition with assimilation. "We are Americans, in the mainstream," said Chu, a retired engineer from the Department of Water and Power. "But children should keep some of their own [Chinese] culture as well."
Bonding with new friends is a large part of the program's popularity. In turn, many of the friendships evolve into romantic relationships--earning the program the notorious nickname "Love Boat."
Relationships blossom over shots of diluted snake venom at Snake Alley, an open-air market with live reptiles; on long bus rides touring cultural sites; or at dance clubs named Kiss and Fever.
Many participants have two or three relationships during the program, chuckled actor Garrett Wong, who plays Ensign Harry Kim on the television series "Star Trek Voyager."
"You're among a large cross-section of your peers: geeky engineers, dorky girls, prom queens," said Wong. "Obviously, someone will match your level of coolness."
But beyond the socializing and sightseeing is an important lesson on family. Living in the culture of their parents teaches tour participants what no lecture could.
Roger Hsu, 21, of Northridge said he used to argue with his mother, who called him a jerk when he joked in a sarcastic manner.
"Now I understand that sarcasm hardly exists in that country," said Hsu, a student at Cal State Long Beach. "I used to get frustrated, but now I can have a good laugh about it."