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My Role

5 months, 2019

Interaction Designer (concept, research, design)


The first few months of an exchange is the hardest hump to get over for a student, and many quit early.


Exchange students


Salvador Orara


Help exchange students with the initial culture shock that comes from exchanging.


Experiencing the user

When I began my thesis, I was currently on my second semester of an exchange. I went through my own culture shift, but I also lived with 200 other exchange students and got to know a lot of their experiences as well.

Researching the user

In addition to talking to exchange students, I looked into research done on students on an exchange. I found various studies of the troubles students face and polls on their feelings during an exchange.

User experience
Mapping the experience

I created a general experience map of an exchange student to prove where there was need for help, finding it at the beginning of an exchange (right) and later expanding it out (below).

Exchange Student Experience and Organizations 1

After determining where the need for help was, I created three personas and wrote of their feelings during events every exchange student faces. My personas helped me to visualize my research, with categorizing and determining three different types of people exchanging, and the various feelings and issues of each.

Exchange Student Experience and Organizations 2
Existing outside and school services

Next, I wrote of existing services that could help what the exchange students were facing. I looked into both outside services, and services the schools generally provide to help exchange students. This allowed me to see exactly where the gaps of help were occurring.

Exchange Student Experience and Organizations 3
Persona goals and pains

While I had already mapped the feelings my personas were having during exchange events, I decided to also map what their goals and pain points were for each event. This allowed me to see what they were hoping to achieve with an event, and what they were struggling with. Again, I was looking for the places where there were gaps in the services they were receiving, gaps where no service was aiding their goals or solving their pains.

Exchange Student Experience and Organizations 4
Expanding the experience

By this point, I had already found some gaps in the experience of culture shock, and, to better understand what was occurring during culture shock, I expanded the experience of culture shock into different stages of shock. These stages I determined from numerous resources online.

Exchange Student Experience and Organizations Full
Initial ideas

With the exchange events, personas, and services mapped, I formed initial ideas I had to help fill in gaps. My ideas focussed on helping each individual personas needs, goals, and pains in a different way than what was already offered by outside services and the school.

Exchange Student Experience and Organizations 5

Concept Development

An event-based app

I ran with an idea of a platform based app that would provide events to exchange students. These events would be with other exchange students that would encourage them to meet and experience new cultures, instead of shying away from them.

Mission statement

“A smartphone app encouraging exchange and international students to step out of their comfort zones” 

My idea was to give the student new experiences, instead of allowing them to seclude themselves with not understanding the new culture.

Why an app?

A smart phone is an item that almost every student has; it is something they would bring with them on an exchange, along with connecting them to new friends and family back at home.


I created a sitemap of the app to understand the structure of what I was creating, uninhibited by the design.


I created initial wireframes of the design based off the sitemap I created. I was organizing the design without focusing too much on the looks.

Usability testing

I did two forms of testing, the first with a drawn paper version of the design before creating the wireframes, and then the second with the wireframes. Both allowed me to understand how the experience was working and where improvements were needed.

Re-focusing Concept

Half-point break through

Halfway through my timeline I was realizing I had strayed away from my original goals and the needs of my user. My focus had been on the development of the design, instead of the experience. For this reason I went back to the drawing board to better determine the ways my app can help the user through culture shock.

AI digital assistant app

I shifted my apps focus from events to an AI that would help the user through their culture shock. There were five main topics my assistant would help with: understanding the culture, giving directions, suggesting things to do, connecting people, and providing a safe space.

Mocking up conversations

To better understand how my assistant would help the user, I created conversations between the persona and the app, focusing on four principles of the digital assistant: helpful, proactive, conversational, and inquisitive.

Figma prototype
Persona story

Mocking up conversations led me to creating a story of how the app would work in my main persona's life as an exchange student, from before their arrival to after their coming home.

Finalizing the Concept

The brand

I created the name for my resource, Cultured, based off the idea that the users were adapting to a new culture. Although not my main focus, I came up with some brand elements including a logo, a typeface, primary colors, and secondary colors. I also finalized some of my wireframes to demonstrate the experience I was creating.

Cultured ecosystem

My assistant app would live within a greater ecosystem of resources for exchange students, including a website, budget plan tool, and blog.

Market differentiation

I aimed for my assistant app to be understood by any exchange student coming to the US. I determined areas where there would need to be differences in the app for each unique student, including different languages and an assistant’s name that changes so as is familiar to the student.

Mock conversation
Cultured brand

To best demonstrate how my assistant app helps and functions, I created a booklet of the persona’s story. The booklet demonstrates the user’s ups and downs, and how the assistant app helped.

Cultured booklet

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