ISA Discovery Model and Bridging Cultures Orientation

The Discovery Model

A primary objective of all ISA programs is to facilitate the learning and development of each student, regardless of background or prior preparation. At most study sites we rely on host universities to provide quality instruction in the classroom; but ISA is the main facilitator of learning outside of the classroom.

Since 2015, our efforts to promote this important type of learning have been shaped by an educational framework we call The Discovery Model. According to this model, student learning and development is organized into six areas of discovery: Intercultural, Historical, Sociopolitical, Professional, Environmental and Sustainability. Our resident staff uses the six Discovery Area icons to label co-curricular learning opportunities described on Schoology, our app-enhanced LMS. Throughout each program, we give participants numerous opportunities to pursue guided learning in these areas of discovery through participation in ISA excursions, cultural activities, optional Micro-credentials by WorldStrides, and community involvement.


ISA encourages our students to have an appreciation of their host country's history, architecture, and unique cultural production as these inform the collective memory of the host population. Historical discovery involves education in the rich history of art, architecture, language, music, theater and dance. This area of discovery is foregrounded during architectural walking tours, live performances, museum visits and guided tours of monuments such as the Alhambra, the Parthenon, the Uffizi Gallery, Volubilis, Stonehenge, etc.

Examples of efforts we undertake to help students pursue HISTORICAL discovery:

  • All students are automatically enrolled in the Wayfinder Micro-credential by WorldStrides which emphasizes historical learning specific to the study site.
  • 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, traditional Irish music in Galway, Flamenco in Spain, opera in Milan or Hanja theater in South Korea.


ISA aims to ensure that students are well-informed about sociopolitical realities of their program location, knowing the prevailing forms of government, the names of major public institutions and the underpinnings of contemporary social movements and conflicts. Program participants intelligently discuss important contemporary events with staff, tour guides and guest lecturers. By a program’s end, students should be able to articulate how current events impact host country nationals' views of domestic and U.S. government policies, as well as being able to engage with non-US media.

Examples of efforts we undertake to help students pursue SOCIOPOLITICAL discovery:

  • Describe local and national media channels and newspapers to help students understand the political/ideological leanings of various channels from a local perspective.
  • Direct students to useful news sources such as or to facilitate consumption of non-English-language news.
  • Use our LMS, Schoology, to send students links to selected news stories and provide opportunities for live and asynchronous group discussions.
  • Explore the origins and historical circumstances surrounding political movements: Catalan independence, the European refugee crisis, France’s gilets jaunes, Brexit, or vexed status of Taiwan or Hong Kong in Chinese state policy.
  • As part of our Wayfinder Micro-credential by WorldStrides, we 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 aims to increase student intercultural competence in cross-cultural settings.

Examples of ways our Resident Directors facilitate INTERCULTURAL discovery:

  • During the Bridging Cultures Orientation, encourage students wanting a deeper dive into the “What is Culture?” question to pursue WorldStrides’ Interculturalist Micro-credential by completing various themed learning modules in Schoology.
  • 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 cross-cultural exchange and allow our students to observe and participate in local culture while “living like a local.”
  • Tapas nights in Spain, interactive farmer’s market tours, cooking classes, opportunities to don traditional local dress in Morocco, South Korea, etc.


ISA empowers students to use their time abroad to explore their professional and career goals. Students have access to the Professional Development Toolbox as a resource prior to departure, and they can opt into the Global Professional Micro-credential during and after their program.

Other examples of ways we've helped students pursue PROFESSIONAL areas of discovery include:

  • LMS modules focusing on 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.
  • Invited guest talks by established professionals, both expats and foreign nationals, who have pursued international careers and who reside or work in the host communities.
  • Encourage students to set up LinkedIn accounts and to think about how to leverage international experience on the job market and in the 'skills economy'. Students are asked 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 ways ISA provides environmental learning outside the classroom include:

  • Wildlife tours in Addo Park or whale watching near Cape Town, South Africa; visits the Monteverde cloud forests of Costa Rica or Iguazu Falls in Misiones.
  • Hiking day trips and overnight excursions in Granada’s Alpujarras, Peru’s Machu Picchu.
  • Bicycle tours of the Netherland’s rural windmills.


ISA now boasts a sixth area of discovery: Sustainability. The sustainability area of discovery focuses on behavioral educational outcomes such as making informed consumer and lifestyle choices while embracing an ethos of social responsibility and “one planet” ethics around the use of shared resources. This area of discovery allows ISA to leverage some of the abiding strengths of our WorldStrides partner The Education Abroad Network (TEAN) and its longstanding Choose Earth certificate program.

Examples of SUSTAINABILITY themed co-curricular programming that is already underway:

  • “Clean the beach” day or Community Service Day activities in conjunction with our Choose Earth Micro-credential by WorldStrides.
  • Tours of a Costa Rican village where locals showcase their commitment to composting and demonstrate practices associated with the ‘Reject Reduce Reuse Repair Recycle’ government initiative.
  • Offering students a gamified 30-day eco-challenge to encourage locally sourced consumption and carbon footprint reduction.
  • In conjunction with a tour of a fish market in Busan, South Korea, the arranging of a guest talk by a sustainable fishing expert touching upon the impacts of ocean pollution, aquaculture, overfishing and seafood farming.


Bridging Cultures Orientation

Upon arrival in the host country, all ISA students undergo a Bridging Cultures Orientation to familiarize them with their host city and country and prepare them to make the most of their time abroad. It is delivered to all students during the first week on site, and comprises a mix of practical tips, culture-general content, and country-specific information. For a number of reasons, the first days after arrival at the program site offer us some of the best opportunities to effectively transmit information to participants. We make the most of this time by giving our students tools they can use to approach learning abroad more intentionally. These include an app-enhanced Learning Management System (LMS) called Schoology, currently in use at all ISA sites as an e-handbook of resources that we create and curate to help students adapt to the host culture and stay on top of upcoming calendar events.

In addition to robust information about money, transportation, housing, health & safety protocols and risk mitigation during a global pandemic, the Bridging Cultures Orientation also encompasses goal setting, tips for academic success abroad, and cohort-building ice breakers.

With input from the US-based Academic Affairs team, our teams abroad introduce students to some definitions of culture and frameworks for thinking about intercultural competence. These are tailored to reflect local program realities and draw upon resident staff areas of expertise.

Global Professional

A few ISA sites offer cultural activities that students, some programs and sites offer enhanced content around professional development and career readiness.

Day One of the orientation foregrounds survival tips and strategies for staying safe and acclimating to local housing, while also demonstrating how to navigate the host site's Schoology course. We encourage students to explore Schoology asynchronously throughout their program abroad.

During the Bridging Cultures Orientation, a Schoology calendar of on-site ISA activities is shared with students, highlighting upcoming co-curricular opportunities as well as important academic dates, along with ISA-led walking and bus tours programmed for the first week abroad.

The purpose of these tours is to make students familiar with major landmarks, monuments and public squares, and to demonstrate safe and efficient movement to and from host universities and popular neighborhoods, both on foot and via public transportation. We emphasize living, walking and shopping as locals do, avoiding concentrated tourist areas. Tours also include an introduction to the culture and history of the city designed to help students review and connect back with information that was initially shared with them in their pre-departure online orientation.

Additional cultural activities offered later in the program, along with tours of lesser-known areas of the city, deepen and expand on topics covered during orientation by incorporating learning objectives associated with The Discovery Model.

Because we are committed to providing an equitable learning environment for all students regardless of background, the WorldStrides DEI Council works closely with all ISA on-site staff to create country-specific resources to support students with diverse identities who may need to navigate special challenges abroad. Like those mentioned above, these resources are clearly foregrounded during the Bridging Cultures Orientation and are available on Schoology throughout the program.


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