Contemporary India

The Contemporary India semester program introduces U.S. undergraduates to some of the most dynamic, exciting areas of Indian society, politics, economics, and culture today. Environmental issues, development, social justice, economics and public health, in particular, are key areas in which India both faces unprecedented challenges and is on the global cutting edge of finding solutions.

Program Terms Fall Semester, Spring Semester
Credit Hours 15
Subjects Offered Communications, Economics, Hindi, Public Health, Social Justice, Sociology
Language Pre-Requisites None
Field Components Directed Research, Documentary Film, Internships
Housing Homestay
Excursions Two Weekend Excursions
Application Deadlines April 15 (Fall), November 1 (Spring)

All students are encouraged to consider studying abroad for an academic year in India, whether continuing in their current program to deepen their knowledge of Pune, or at a different Alliance program center to broaden their understanding of India’s regional diversity. 

The Contemporary India program takes an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the pressing issues facing Indian society, politics, economics, and culture today. This 15-credit semester is comprised of a required core course and field component plus three electives. Students choose from three field component options—internship, directed research, or documentary film—which take learning outside of the classroom and into local communities in Pune. 

Required Courses

SOCI 360 Contemporary India (3 credits)

A political, historical, and social survey of post-Independence India as a complex yet unified multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, religiously pluralistic democracy and rising major global power, this core course gives students the ability to understand current events they see around them, contextualized within a historical framework. Topics include: colonialism, nationalism, and independence; Gandhi, social activism and the 1960s; gender and caste; 20th century literary, religious and philosophical movements; and recent history from 1990 to the present.

INTS 380 Internship or DIRR 380 Directed Research or FILM 380 Documentary Film (3 credits)

Students are matched with internship and research placements based upon academic interests articulated during the application and pre-departure process. Internships require students to thoughtfully and critically integrate the academic, experiential, and professional within an organizational context, whereas directed research involves a formal research project carried out within an organization, a library, or the field. Documentary film allows students to conduct and present research through a visual rather than a written medium, working closely with faculty and students at the Film and Television Institute of India. Conducted under close academic supervision, all field components involve a minimum of 155 contact hours and entail a final paper or project with accompanying presentation. 

For more detailed information and examples of previous student placements, visit the Internships, Directed Research, and Documentary Film pages.

Elective Courses

At least one elective must be directly related to the student's internship, directed research, or documentary filmNot all electives may be offered in a given semester depending on enrollment and faculty availability. 

COMM 375 Gender and Indian Media (3 credits)

From Hindu mythology to the pages of Bollywood gossip magazines, Indian womanhood has been a constantly-evolving site for the mapping of cultural norms, desires and anxieties. The simultaneous exaltation and oppression of femininity is both reinforced and contested in the mass mediaa key tool of communication in a diverse and complex democracy. Through critical exploration of gender in Indian film, theatre, television, and advertising, this course addresses timely and relevant questions relating to women’s issues in contemporary India. 

ECON 390 Development Economics (3 credits)

The Indian economy serves as a com­plex, fascinating example of high technology, expanding trade, vibrant entrepreneurship, and a highly-skilled workforce, co-existing in sometimes tenuous balance with widespread poverty, social inequality, and critical gaps in health care, education, and infrastructure. This course explores how India is seeking to address and reconcile these disparities, focusing on technological change, political economy, trade, social entrepreneurship and microfi­nance, and international aid as they are man­aged and applied within contemporary India.

ECON 391 Social Entrepreneurship and Interventions (3 credits)

Rapidly changing social landscapes have given way to a greater convergence of government and nonprofit organizations’ efforts in ensuring a better quality of life for their citizens. The increasing importance of professional approaches towards socially relevant enterprises in key areas such as health, nutrition, education, and income generation makes an understanding of social entrepreneurship today vital. Students develop an understanding of the conceptual frameworks necessary for social entrepreneurship and the common challenges social entrepreneurs face.

HIND 100 Beginning Hindi or HIND 200 Intermediate Hindi (3 credits)

Fundamentals of conversation and written Hindi for beginning or intermediate students.

PUBH 300 Public Health (3 credits)

India faces unique and daunting challenges in the area of public health, battling malnutrition, infectious disease, and high infant mortality. This course takes a multidisciplinary approach to public health in India, incorporating policy development, gender issues, social justice, health economics, epidemiology, behavioral sciences, and health services management. Students interrogate how social, political, and economic factors facilitate or mitigate the production and transmission of disease, and evaluate ethical and practical consequences of policy and scientific initiatives. 

SOCJ 365 Social Justice (3 credits)

Social justice movements in India may be most widely known through the iconic figures of Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, but there is a rich and diverse tradition of Indian social justice theory and action dating from the British Raj era to modern Dalit, tribal, and women’s movements. This course offers students an overview of social justice thought and activism in India, evolving through nationalism and the freedom struggle, 20th-century political and social movements, and contemporary economic, caste, and gender disparities.

In Pune, students have the opportunity to participate in a full-time, four-week internship to fulfill their field component requirement. Interns are placed in Indian, joint-venture, or foreign-owned non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and companies working in the fields of microfinance, business, women’s rights, education, environmental protection, public health and civic engagement.

The Alliance makes every effort to place student interns at companies or organizations that match the organization’s needs with what each student brings to the table. Students should not contact organizations themselves. The placement process begins with the submission of the Field Component Form during the application process, and Alliance on-site staff work to match students with an organization involved in their stated area of academic and professional interest. Please consider your internship interests carefully while filling out this form, as it is not possible for changes in placement to be made in Pune. Placements are typically finalized after students arrive in India.

Browse a menu of sample internship placements. For more information, consult the Internship Handbook

Featured Internship

Isabelle King (University of Pittsburgh)

"I am working with the organization Parvati Swayamrojgar (PSW)—an NGO that aims to alleviate poverty in Pune’s urban slums by using micro-finance loans, vocational training, and health services. I am focusing on the Early Childhood Program whose goal is to educate the parents of children ages 0-3 on proper parenting techniques, a child’s overall development, and creating an enriching environment.

My tasks as an intern are to create a feedback survey as well as to compare women who have undergone the program and those who have not. I am analyzing the efficacy of programs that aim to raise awareness on key techniques for proper parenting. PSW’s work links with my primary interest, social work, because its mission is to work with poverty stricken communities to improve their way of life.

Interacting with Indian parents, specifically mothers, has given me an entirely new picture of motherhood as well as the female’s role. These women live in a culture where education is not valued for women, and the access is thus extremely limited or nonexistent. Even though they lack knowledge that may come from books or formal schooling, they have another kind of insight and experience that I will never be able to truly comprehend. They know how to multi-task and take care of a household made up of sometimes upwards of 10 people.

These women also may not have the means necessary to provide their children with all the conveniences and toys they wish they could, but they make it a priority to buy or even make what they are able to and essentially, hope for the best for their children. Working with PSW has been an opportunity for me to experience interactions that I otherwise would never have had and therefore has impacted both my personal and professional attitudes greatly."

Students who choose to pursue directed research as their field component are paired with a faculty member appropriate to their academic area of interest, such as performing arts, journalism, tribal, environmental or women’s issues, public health, or text-based historical research, and are expected to produce a formal research paper. Research students have regular meetings with faculty guides in their subject area to discuss the formation and execution of their research plans. All directed research projects are subject to the interest and availability of faculty and may require prior relevant coursework. 

Browse a menu of sample directed research projects. For more information, consult the Directed Research syllabus (Semester and Summer). 

Featured Directed Research Project

Kelly Fox (University of Wisconsin–Madison)

"My research was incredibly rewarding, and not only offered new insights about my topic, Hinduism and the youth, academic theories versus religious practice, but also provided me with the opportunity to explore other interests, both personal and academic. I spent an extended period of time at Jnana Prahbodhini with female priests, made lasting friendships with my informants and even spent an entire day with a renowned Hindu priest! Through my research I came to a better understanding of my topic, as well as the religious roles, visibilities and agencies of women and feminist struggles in India more generally. The program provided me with intellectual freedom, guidance and help in pursuing my passion!"

The documentary film option for the field component allows students to conduct and present research through a visual rather than written medium. Working closely with a faculty member who is also a film director, as well as students from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Alliance students are trained in the art and technique of documentary filmmaking, and are expected to produce a short film on their selected subject area. For all majors; no film background is required. Students must provide their own digital video cameras. 

For more information, consult the Documentary Film syllabus.

OUR Documentary Film Playlist

Alliance faculty are drawn from across Pune's many prominent academic institutions, think tanks, research institutes, and NGOs. This allows us to select faculty who are among the best in their field, who have experience working with foreign or U.S. students, and who are committed to the high standards of academic excellence for which our programs are known.

Prof. Ashish Kulkarni
SOCI 360 Contemporary India; ECON 390 Development Economics

Prof. Indranil Bhattacharya
FILM 380 Documentary Film

Dr. Hemant Apte
PUBH 300 Public Health

Prof. Archana Vidwans
INTS 380 Internship; DIRR 380 Directed Research

Dr. Medha Kotwal Lele
SOCJ 365 Social Justice

Dr. Triveni Mathur
COMM 375 Gender and Indian Media

Dr. Aparna Jha
HIND 200 Intermediate Hindi

Prof. Sunila Gondhalekar
HIND 100 Beginning Hindi

A study abroad experience is first and foremost an academic experience. All Alliance for Global Education courses have undergone a faculty review and approval process, and are transcripted by Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. While in most cases students who have received approval from their home institution to study on an Alliance program can be assured of credits transferring, it is each student’s responsibility to work with the home school study abroad advisor and faculty or academic departments to ensure credit transfer for specific courses.  

Credits and Accreditation

Credits granted for Alliance courses are identified in course listings on the Curriculum page for each program, and appear on the official transcript issued at the completion of a student's term. Credit is issued in U.S. semester hours, ensuring that students continue to make progress toward their degrees and verifying the full-time course load they completed while abroad.

All Alliance courses have been reviewed and approved by Butler University’s Undergraduate Academic Programs Committee. Butler University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Programs approved by the Butler University College of Business—which include the Alliance’s International Business in China Program—are accredited by AACSB International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.


Students receive a letter grade on a scale from A to F for every course taken while enrolled on an Alliance program. Withdrawals may be granted due to exceptional circumstances. Although policies at students' home institutions may differ, the Alliance does not permit students to take courses on a credit/no credit or pass/fail basis. Student grades are determined by criteria set forth in course syllabi. The grading scale used in determining letter grades is as follows:

Excellent      A+ 97-100% Acceptable C+ 77-79%
A 93-96% C 73-76%
A- 90-92% C- 70-72%
Good    B+ 87-89% Unsatisfactory D+ 67-69%
B 83-86% D 63-66%
B- 80-82% D- 60-62%
Failing F < 60%


At the conclusion of a program, an official transcript is sent to the participant's home school, with an unofficial copy forwarded to the participant. 

Because timelines for final evaluation may vary due to respective program calendars or administrative structures of partner universities abroad, transcripts may take longer to issue than they do at U.S. institutions. While the timeline varies by program, a general timeline for issuing transcripts is:

  • Fall programs - transcript issued in late February
  • Spring and Summer programs - transcript issued in late September

Transcripts are not released for students with an outstanding balance of program fees or other charge incurred while on the program. Students enrolling in consecutive terms with the Alliance do not receive their first term transcript until their second term fees are paid in full.

Students in Alliance programs from Summer 2014 and beyond can request additional transcripts of their transcripts online at any time from Butler University's online transcript ordering service provided by the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization serving the higher education community. 

For all Alliance programs through Spring 2014, transcripts were issued by Arcadia University. Students enrolled during that time can request additional copies of transcripts online or in writing from the Arcadia University Registrar's Office.

If you have a question about the transcripting process or timeline, you may contact your Student Services Manager.

Academic Calendar

  • Spring semester begins in mid-January and concludes in mid-May
  • Fall semester begins in mid-August and concludes in mid-December

Semester Structure

The 16–17 week semester begins with an on-site orientation at a retreat location outside Pune. Two long weekends are built into the calendar for excursions, and there are several field visits to various points of interest in and around Pune. One week is set aside for independent travel during the semester. The semester concludes with a two-day seminar where research is presented and discussed, and students are prepared for their return home.

Given the program’s busy academic schedule, weekly extracurriculars, regular field visits and excursions, the Alliance strongly discourages students from hosting visitors until after the end of the semester. Please encourage family and/or friends to visit after the program has ended. Students should make their travel plans accordingly.

2015 Fall Term Calendar

23 August 2015                       Flight departure from U.S.
24 August 2015                       Arrival in India***
25 August 2015                       Orientation begins
31 August 2015                       Classes begin
23-25 September 2015          Excursion to Mahabaleshwar and Kaas Plateau
26-28 October 2015               Excursion to Konkan Coast
7-15 November 2015             Independent travel week
17 December 2015                 Closing ceremony
18 December 2015                 Return flight to U.S. (after 5:00 pm)

2016 Spring Term Calendar

24 January 2016                     Flight departure from U.S.
25 January 2016                     Arrival in India***
26 January 2016                     Orientation begins
10 May 2016                            Closing ceremony
11 May 2016                            Return flight to U.S. (after 5:00 pm)

*** Students should consult the Pre-Departure Information section for the designated Arrival Window. Students arriving within the window will be met by Alliance staff at the airport.  

Alliance programs emphasize cultural immersion, experiential learning opportunities, and extensive interaction with local residents. In Pune, all students live with a host family, which provides a daily opportunity to interact with a local family. As a university town, Pune has many families who are accustomed to renting out rooms to students, and who, in some cases, have semi-independent apartments or rooms attached to their houses.

All homestay families undergo an extensive vetting process with special attention to health, safety, and opportunities for cultural exchange. While every student has a different relationship with their host family, students are frequently brought along to religious, cultural, and community activities, and introduced widely among their friends and family.

Here are a few things you can expect in your homestay:

  • You’ll be paired with another Alliance student and will likely share a room. Room size and layout will differ from family to family. You can expect a Western toilet, a bed with linens (note that the bed and pillow will be very firm), and a cabinet in which you can store your belongings.
  • You’ll be staying with an Indian family – which may be an extensive joint family, an older couple with children living abroad, or a nuclear family. They will likely speak Marathi, English, and some Hindi.
  • Your host family will be interested in you – your life in the USA, your experiences in India, your studies, your comings and goings, your safety, and even your appearance! (Host moms especially are unafraid to tell you if you look tired or if you’ve draped your sari incorrectly). Take their curiosity and comments with a sense of humor and an ear to any cultural guidance they can offer, and don’t expect the same level of privacy that you’re accustomed to at home.
  • You’ll take your evening meals with your host family and will need to let them know when you’ll be out. Every family eats at different times, but 8-9 PM is the general dinner hour in Indian homes.
  • Your host mother or the family’s cook will prepare the meals, which will typically be vegetarian. Do not expect to eat meat at home or bring it into the house without express permission from your host family. If you like to snack between meals, ask your host about where you can store your snacks.
  • You should expect to spend evenings with your host family, and if you do go out on the weekends, to return at a reasonable hour (around 10 PM). Late comings and goings can cause concern for your host parents and comment among the neighbors.
  • All students will live within a reasonable distance of the program center; however, students should expect to pay a couple of dollars a day to go back and forth to campus by rickshaw. Walking or cycling is also an option you can explore with program staff.

Adopting the habits of your host family and neighborhood requires some adjustment on your part, but builds trust between you and your host, maintains the years of goodwill built by former students, and opens the door to future students yet to come. 

Arrangements for meals vary among housing placements. Indian cuisine is generally vegetarian, though some meat dishes are available in Pune. Breakfasts on weekdays are provided at the Alliance program center, and lunches are eaten out, and dinner is served at home.

Students will find many student-friendly eateries around the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics. Expect to spend about $5-10 per day on meals, or more if you eat in nicer restaurants or eat western-style food. Meal prices can range from cheap ($1 for a quick lunch in a student-frequented eatery) to very expensive ($50 and higher in a fancy hotel).

Fresh fruit and vegetables are is available at local markets, and western-style groceries are becoming more and more widely available in certain stores around Pune. Vegetarians will find that good food is easily and widely available in India. Dairy products are widely served in coffee, tea, and desserts, which are also highly sugared. Dietary restrictions can generally be accommodated. Come prepared to be adventurous and flexible in your eating habits, and you will be richly rewarded!


In addition to sessions on health and safety, academics, and cultural adjustment conducted at the orientation at the start of the program, students are introduced to life in India, including family life, Hinduism, and the urban environment. Indian student buddies take Alliance students on a tour of the city during the first weekend in Pune.

In and Around Pune

Local activities and excursions are built into the curriculum throughout the semester. Numerous other optional activities are made available to the students and may include:

  • Visiting the Shaniwarwada palace (seat of the Maratha Empire) or the Aga Khan Palace (where Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders were kept prisoner)
  • Exploring local markets and heritage neighborhoods
  • Celebrating India's Republic Day, playing colors on Holi, or seeing the procession of Ganpati Visurjan


Students encounter India’s diverse geography during two excursions during the semester, to the hills and coasts of Maharashtra. Students will spend three days exploring a verdant hill station and unique ecosystem several hours outside of Pune. In these locations, the flora and fauna of India’s landscape provide an opportunity for students to learn about heritage preservation and eco-tourism. On the second excursion to the Konkan beaches, students will experience first-hand the cultural and economic differences between life on the coast and inland, through homestays and visits to farms and temples.

Expressive Culture Classes

In addition to its rich academic life, Pune boasts a thriving performing arts community, and students are given the option of taking classes in expressive culture. Choices may vary depending on the availability of instructors, but bharatnatyam (dance), tabla (drum) or other musical instrument, and vocals are commonly offered.

A demonstration of the various expressive culture possibilities is arranged at orientation, and students are asked to commit to at least 10 classes if they choose to pursue this option. The Alliance provides up to 15 classes; any additional classes are the student's responsibility.

Program Fees

Spring 2016 Program $ 17,600
Fall 2015 Program $ 17,600

What’s Included

The program price includes tuition and fees, housing, most meals, pre-departure materials and advising, student visa authorization documents, orientation, organized activities, field study trips, course materials and basic stationary supplies, phone and internet set-up assistance, the services of a full-time resident staff, and medical/evacuation insurance.

WHAT's Not included

The program price does not include airfare to India, the cost of your student visa, some meals, transportation, phone and internet, travel week, and other items not mentioned as included.

Out of Pocket expenses

When making your budget, think about your spending habits – are you a “Just the Essentials” Traveler, happy to eat all meals with your host family or at the canteen, doing “time-pass” with your Indian buddies? Or are you more of the “Everything Extra” Traveler, who wants to experience everything – nights out in Koreagoan Park, shopping at boutiques, and traveling every weekend?

Estimated Out of Pocket Expenses for One Semester

Roundtrip airfare to India $ 950-1400
Visa processing and shipping $ 230
Meals $ 560-950
Local transportation (varies by distance) $ 650
Phone usage $ 30
Internet usage $ 100
Indian clothing $ 100-150
Incidentals and personal care items $ 50
Independent travel week $ 100-500
Entertainment $ 100-500
Weekend travel $ 50-500
Estimated Total $ 2,920 -$5060

*Estimated in-country expenses based on 1.00 US Dollar = 62 Indian Rupees


Remember to check in with your home university and visit our Finances pages to learn more about financial aid and study abroad scholarships.

Our program center is centrally-located in the Deccan Gymkhana neighborhood, based at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics. Meet our on-site staff!


Deccan Gymkhana is one of the most exciting areas of Pune. Home to many cafes, restaurants, shops, and universities, you’ll be surrounded by other students and have direct access to everything the city has to offer.

Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics

Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics is one of the oldest and most prestigious research and training institutes in economics in India. Founded in 1930 by the Servants of India Society, and renowned Nationalist Leader, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, the Gokhale Institute occupies a beautiful green campus. Alliance students enjoy the best of campus life while utilizing a welcoming program office and modern classrooms dedicated to Alliance courses and activities. The Alliance’s partnership with the Gokhale Institute provides an engaging, collaborative foundation for the high academic standards and strong student services for which we are known, while fostering a meaningful, immersive campus experience for our students.

Check out this interactive map of the Alliance's resources across Pune:

View Alliance On Location: Pune in a larger map.

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