PISA was established in 1984 as the Committee on International Relations Studies with the People's Republic of China (CIRSPRC). Its initial purpose was to reduce China's isolation from international scholarship in the field of international relations by offering a program of research and study abroad for faculty and policy analyst in Chinese universities, social science academies, and research institutions. Since its founding, CIRSPRC provided fellowships to 120 Chinese scholars and analysts for advanced training or research in the U.S. and other countries. In subsequent years, CIRSPRC launched several in-country training programs in China, helped develop specialized libraries on international affairs in major Chinese institutions, and organized programs on curricular and organizational development in international studies.

In 1993, CIRSPRC was asked to offer an in-country training program for scholars and officials in Vietnam, under the auspices of the Institute for International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It therefore changed its name to the Program for International Studies in Asia (PISA), to reflect its broader activities in Asia. Since then, PISA has offered seventeen training programs in Vietnam, organized study tours and workshops in the United States for Vietnamese scholars and officials, and arranged workshops to assist Vietnamese institutions develop research and training programs in international affairs.

In 1995, PISA expanded its activities to Mongolia with a series of seminars on topics in international relations at the School of Foreign Service at the Mongolia National University. PISA moved its executive offices to the Elliott School of International Affairs in June 1996. In 1997, PISA organized a Workshop for the Advancement of Asian Women in International Affairs in Hong Kong. The meeting led to the launch of the Women's Initiative in International Affairs in Asia (WIIAA). The year 1997 also saw the establishment of a relationship with the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IICMAS) at the National University of Malaysia in Bangi. PISA and IKMAS joined the Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs to sponsor a workshop on "International Studies in the Era of Globalization: States, Markets, Values."

In 2003, PISA began a series of workshops for government officials in Laos in cooperation with the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs thanks to generous funding from the United States Embassy in Laos. PISA offered three training courses at IFA and subsequently, thanks to the support of the Henry R. Luce Foundation, partnered with the National University of Laos to offer a course for teaching staff and government officials on International Law and Covenants.