ISA Discovery Model and Bridging Cultures Orientation

The Bridging Cultures Orientation

The on-site Bridging Cultures Orientation is delivered to all students in the first days of their ISA program, with key improvements in areas related to goal setting, intercultural awareness, diversity and professional development. For a number of reasons, the first days that follow a students arrival on site offer us some of the best opportunities to effectively transmit information to program participants. While the pre-departure orientations that students receive from ISA and their home universities are also important, students are typically more ready to focus on their study abroad experience when they arrive at their host country. The Bridging Cultures Orientation is designed to help ISA make the most of this important opportunity to educate students, and to give students the tools that will facilitate discovery and learning during their program. This orientation is an important introduction to a new culture, a new home and a new experience. It is designed to prepare students for a successful, positive and rewarding experience that will influence the rest of their lives.


A primary objective of all ISA programs is to facilitate the learning and development of students. We rely on host universities to provide quality instruction in the classroom, but ISA is the main facilitator of learning outside of the classroom. Our efforts to promote student learning are shaped by an educational framework we call the ISA Discovery Model. According to this model, student learning and development is organized into five areas of discovery: Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional and Environmental. Throughout the duration of all ISA programs, we provide participants opportunities to pursue guided learning in these five areas of discovery through participation in ISA excursions, cultural activities and community involvement.

To find out how our students are using the Discovery Model to explore their surroundings and contextualize their learning, please visit the "Discover with Us" section of the ISA Student Blog.


ISA aims to increase student intercultural competence in cross-cultural settings. Examples of ways our Resident Directors facilitate INTERCULTURAL discovery:

  • Introduce theories of intercultural development and communication to our students prior to departure and on site during the Bridging Cultures Orientation.
  • Provide students with specific advice to help them function more effectively in their host culture. Facilitate language tutoring to our students and arrange cultural/linguistic exchanges between our students and locals.
  • Arrange cultural activities that promote a cross-cultural exchange and allow our students to observe and participate in local culture.


ISA encourages our students to have an appreciation of their host country's history, architecture, and "Culture." Historical discovery involves education in the rich history of art, architecture, language, music, theatre and dance, and the development within, and influence on, the local and global community. We facilitate this area of discovery by visiting museums, touring monuments, and attending performances. Examples of efforts we undertake to help students pursue HISTORICAL discovery:

  • Offer excursions to museums, archaeological sites, monuments, architectural marvels, famous homes, cultural icons and UNESCO Heritage sites, all with clearly defined learning objectives.
  • Take students to performances and provide context and history to help them better appreciate what they are seeing and hearing; Tango in Buenos Aires, or Flamenco in Spain.


ISA programs intend for students to be well-informed about the sociopolitical reality of their program location. We strive to educate students so they can intelligently discuss important contemporary events. ISA wants students to articulate how current events impact host country nationals' views of domestic and U.S. government policies, along with identifying the main domestic media channels and how they align politically and ideologically. Examples of efforts we undertake to help students pursue SOCIOPOLITCAL discovery:

  • Describe local and national media channels and newspapers to help students understand the political/ideological leanings of various channels from a local perspective.
  • Send students links to selected news stories and provide opportunities for discussion of the contents. All ISA students have access to a New York Times subscription as a part of their ISA program. We also post these stories on social media sites.
  • Offer excursions that are directly related to sociopolitical issues, such as our excursion to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in South Korea; its very existence has enormous geopolitical implications on trade, international security and regional relations.


ISA empowers students to use their time abroad as a means to explore their professional and career goals. Students receive the Professional Development Toolbox as a resource prior to departure, during their time abroad and after returning from their program. Our mission is to enable students to intelligently leverage their study, internship or service-learning abroad experience when pursuing post-graduate careers or continuing education. Examples of ways we've helped students pursue PROFESSIONAL areas of discovery:

  • Provide access to the Professional Development Toolbox for all ISA participants before, during and after their program. The toolbox, located in the student portal, is a cache of multimedia resources designed to help with practical aspects of the job hunt, including résumé and cover letter writing tips, interview coaching and advice for how to effectively market their international experience. The utilization of the resources in the toolbox enables students to better articulate how their international experience has enhanced their skillset and how those transferable skills translate into benefits for their potential employer or post-graduate educational institution.
  • Encourage students to think about how their international experience will give them a competitive advantage in the job market. Students are to set "SMART" goals and to look for ways they can strategically use their time abroad to influence future professional development and career ambitions.


ISA provides opportunities for students to visit some of their host country's incredible environmental wonders, as this gives students an appreciation of, and connection with, the natural ecology of the regions in which they are living. We have found that by developing an understanding of their local environment, students feel more comfortable, safe and healthy during their program. Examples of efforts we undertake to help students pursue ENVIRONMENTAL discovery:

  • Offer at least one excursion or activity in each location that facilitates the interaction between our students and the natural environment.
  • Educate students about local resource management procedures. Nearly every ISA office abroad has a recycling program in place, enabling us to promote conservation.
  • Promote a deeper understanding of the importance of communal spaces, involvement and civic engagement by incorporating a volunteer day as a cultural activity at all ISA sites. During volunteer day, program participants typically work alongside local residents to beautify a local park or public space.

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