We believe that meaning and value come from cultural immersion and contextual understanding not found in travel alone. That’s why our trained staff provide so much more than the health and safety support or logistical guidance for which we’re known. Our global network and the reflection embedded within our engagement approach create opportunities for students to navigate, understand, and articulate difference in meaningful ways. The skills they acquire will continue to evolve long after their study abroad experience concludes, enhancing empathy and relationships with others along the way.

Student learning to dance
Student on Asia Program

Every time a student comes to me to discuss the challenges of adjusting to cultural norms, it becomes an exercise in Intercultural Agility for both the student and for me. Many of these arise when students judge the local culture based on their own perceptions of gender and caste. In conversations with students, I remind them that perceptions are subjective, not absolute, and ask them to rethink the behavior they observe through the point of view of people engaged in the action.

In advising sessions with one student, she described watching her host grandmother seated on the ground apply a kind of paste to her older son’s feet and then wash his feet. The student was outraged by what she had seen. Why couldn’t the son wash his own feet? Why make his elderly mother do it? Together, we considered the event through different cultural lenses, and we met with her host grandmother to talk about it. I suspected the grandmother was participating in a religious ritual, one where the elder woman of the household washes her son’s feet the night before the festival of Holi in an act representing spiritual purification of the family. But I refrained from telling the student because she would gain so much more by interacting with her host family. In this way, she learned about the meaning behind the ritual, how her host grandmother views this act as a sign of her authority in the family and that despite tradition, she would happily wash her daughter’s feet as well.

This incident became a valuable learning experience for the student. It helped her identify her own cultural lens and gave her strategies for examining cultural differences in the future.

Lara Azzola | IFSA Resident Director | Varanasi, India


Drag performance manipulates mimicry and dress, basing itself on constructs of cultural—often gendered—prototypes. But what can it teach us about culture, identity, and acknowledging the unique bodies we bring to new physical spaces? Dr. Martha Johnson reframes Drag as cultural performance, creating opportunity to interrogate how we engage embedded notions of other cultures and our behavior related to them. If we consider cultural exhibition in this new light, how might students build lifelong skills in navigating (and performing) their body and identities within myriad cultural contexts?

Cultural Drag Ed Talk Video
ABOUT THE PRESENTER: Martha Johnson is the Assistant Dean for Learning Abroad at the University of Minnesota. She has worked in international education since 1991 in the U.S., Ireland, Australia, and the U.K., including on-site program management, program development and marketing, management of a large university education abroad office, and teaching of short-term programs. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies with an emphasis in drama and the performance of gender, race, and cultural identity from the University of East Anglia (U.K.). She has presented at numerous international conferences and has authored articles and chapters for publications including Frontiers and Text and Performance. She has served in leadership positions for NAFSA, the Global Leadership League, and the Forum on Education Abroad.

Unpacked: Student Stories

In their own words, students explore how IFSA’s commitment to Intercultural Agility impacted their study abroad experience.
Why First-Generation Students Thrive Abroad

Miranda Wheeler | Mount Holyoke College
University of Cambridge
England | Summer 2018

“If you can learn how to acclimate to college at home, you often already have the sensibility and willingness to do the same with people of other cultures. Understanding that some people have a very different lifestyle, socioeconomic status, dialect and accent or even language than you, is important in both contexts”

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Exploring Racial and Ethnic Identity as an International Student

Yasmin Kudsi | Skidmore College
University of Sydney
Australia | Spring 2017

“Race and ethnicity can greatly shape our perceptions and attitudes when exploring a new environment, and studying abroad is a time when this reality can come into play and you experience the world in new ways.”

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For more student stories, check out Unpacked: Student Stories.

Explore IFSA’s Other Commitments

Inclusive Excellence
Inclusive Excellence at IFSA

We consider where your students are coming from, not just where they are going to study abroad.

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Individualized Learning
Individualized Learning at IFSA

No two student journeys are alike, so we tailor our support to meet each student’s unique needs.

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Enduring Impact
Enduring Impact at IFSA

With our intentional engagement, students create meaningful experiences that last a lifetime.

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Reach Out To Us
Contact the local emergency number provided to you during orientation or local authorities. For non-emergencies, reach out to resident staff during office hours.
Our health and safety staff are located globally to assist you in the event of an emergency. For assistance, you can reach a crisis manager at the following number, 24/7:

1 (866) 726-9540