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The Varanasi program allows students to examine the intersections between religious life, urban studies, and the environment in contemporary India. A challenging destination for U.S. undergraduates, Varanasi is a city that has stimulated scholarship on South Asia for hundreds of years. It offers boundless, rich opportunities for research, academic study, intercultural experience, and personal reflection. The program provides a structured, balanced blend of classroom and field-based learning, including a required language course and an individualized ‘culture in practice’ component.
Students may enroll for the fall or spring semester. All students are encouraged to consider spending an academic year in India, whether continuing in their current program to deepen their knowledge of Varanasi, or at a different Alliance program to broaden their understanding of India’s regional diversity.
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To be eligible for this program, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and be enrolled in an undergraduate degree program at an accredited U.S. institution. No previous academic or language coursework is required.
All students are encouraged to consider a full academic year abroad with the Alliance. In two semesters abroad, you deepen your linguistic and cultural immersion, take your academic interests further, and forge ever-stronger bonds with the people and culture you’ve come to know and love.
As a year-long student, you’ll have the freedom to explore the full range of your program’s curriculum, progress to the next level of language acquisition, and continue your internship, research project, or other field component with the increased knowledge, skills and abilities that you’ve acquired in your first semester. Logistics permitting, you’re able to choose whether you’d like to stay in your current housing or try something new—there are benefits to both! Travel options may also be customized based upon designated program itineraries for the term.
You can also consider a new city (or country)! All year-long Alliance students receive a $500 continuer’s discount, for any combination of programs, countries, or terms.
In Hindu mythology, the city is known as Kashi, a center for Hindu enlightenment, yoga, and learning, as well as the ideal final resting place for the devout Hindu. While the English name of Banaras still lingers, in Hindi and Urdu today it is Varanasi, a bustling city situated on the banks of India’s sacred river, the Ganges. Arguably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Varanasi is a dense, diverse urban center in a close symbiotic relationship with a river that can be simultaneously understood as pure and polluted.
Check out this interactive map of the Alliance's resources across Varanasi:
View Alliance On Location: Varanasi in a larger map.
Among the holiest of places for Hindus, it is also home to a vibrant Muslim population and is located only a few miles away from Sarnath where the Buddha preached his first sermon. Locally-produced silk saris are sought after across India for traditional weddings, while musicians continue to teach classical Indian gharana in the city of its origin. A window into the ancient, spiritual, and cultural past of India, Varanasi is an example of the ways in which the ancient and modern coexist.
The Varanasi program is based near Banaras Hindu University (BHU), one of India’s top research institutions. Founded in 1916, BHU has nearly 20,000 students, including 2,500 research scholars and 650 foreign students from across Asia and around the world. Many of the Alliance faculty members hold appointments within BHU’s various faculties and institutes.
In addition, students choose two electives for a total of 15 semester credits. All courses involve a minimum of 44 contact hours.
Click the hyperlinked course titles to view syllabi
SOCI 360: Varanasi: City of Confluence (required - 3 credits)
An interdisciplinary core course that explores the complex intersections of the city, the river, and the sacred that both define Varanasi and place it in the greater context of national and global environmental, urban, and religious currents. Various local field visits are also incorporated into this course.
HIND 100: Beginning Hindi (required - 3 credits)
Fundamentals of conversation and written Hindi for beginning students. Intermediate and advanced levels will be taught through individual tutorials.
HIND 200: Intermediate Hindi (required - 3 credits)
Fundamentals of conversation and written Hindi for intermediate students.
URDU 100: Beginning Urdu (required - 3 credits)
Fundamentals of conversation and written Urdu for beginning students. Intermediate and advanced levels will be taught through individual tutorials.
This field-based component provides the rare opportunity for students to go into the local community and study under master teachers (or gurus). Students will choose from three options - music and dance, yoga and yoga philosophy, or artisanal apprenticeships - and spend the semester examining the history and theories behind them as well as learning the skill or trade first-hand. More information about this component is currently available on our Culture in Practice page.
Not all electives may be offered in a given semester depending on enrollment and faculty availability. Students are encouraged to identify alternative electives when they complete their Course Preference Form.
GEND 320: Studies in Gender (elective - 3 credits)
This course introduces students to salient discourses and local practices in Indian society from a gender perspective. This course aims to further students’ understanding of gender in contemporary India through the concepts and frameworks of socio-cultural understanding. The course will explore the diversity of social practices and complexities of gender relations in different social groups. The course will also highlight key cultural and structural issues, and includes in its scope, invisibility and marginalization of women in the economic, legal and cultural areas. It will also focus on counter responses in the form of activism and social movements. Case studies from diverse areas will supplement the conceptual analysis.
RELG 350: Living Religious Traditions in India (elective - 3 credits)
This course aims to expose students to the religious diversity of India and thus enhance their understanding of the diverse and composite character of Indian culture and its people. The course focuses on the study of the history, texts, beliefs, and practices pertaining to the main religious traditions of India (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism), while also exploring the socio-political implication of religious beliefs and customs. In the context and backdrop of religion, students will also examine encounters between tradition and modernity. The course gives students the opportunity to develop an academic understanding of the festivals, rituals and artistic presentations that may be observed during the semester in Varanasi.
PEAC 380: Peace and Conflict Studies (elective - 3 credits)
Peace and conflict studies have taken on an important role in South Asia studies in the last decades of 20th century. This course will offer an excellent opportunity for students and practitioners from diverse fields concerned with peace, security and community development. This course will analyze the links between conflicts, security and development in the theoretical framework keeping special focus on the Indian experience against the wider context of South Asia. Selected lectures will also focus on Varanasi, a representative site of contestation and cooperation for inter-civilizational dialogue and communal peace. This course will provide students focused lens through which understand conflict situations.
Dr. Sanat Kumar Sharma, SOCI 360: Varanasi: City of Confluence
Prof. Anita Singh, GEND 320: Studies in Gender
Dr. Manoj Mishra, PEAC 380: Peace and Conflict Studies: The Indian Experience
Prof. Binit Mishra, HIND 100: Beginning Hindi
Dr. Salman Raghib, URDU 100: Beginning Urdu
Throughout the semester guest lectures may be provided by UNESCO Chairholder, Professor, and Coordinator of Banaras Hindu Unversity's Malaviya Centre for Peace Research (MCPR), Dr. Priyankar Upadhyaya, and Director of Banaras Hindu University's Center for the Study of Nepal, Dr. Anjoo Sharan Upadhyaya.
Credits, Grades, and Transcripts
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 an accredited U.S. university. For all Alliance programs through Spring 2014, transcripts are issued by Arcadia University. For Summer 2014 programs and beyond, transcripts are issued by Butler University.
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 a student’s responsibility to work with their study abroad or academic advisor and home school 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 or Arcadia University’s Undergraduate Academic Programs Committee. Arcadia University is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. 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 Program in Shanghai—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 they take while enrolled on an Alliance program. Withdrawals (W) 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 for Alliance courses is as follows:
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.
Participants in Alliance programs beginning Summer 2014 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.
If you have a question about the transcripting process or timeline, please feel free to contact your Student Services Manager.
The Culture in Practice component provides students with the rare opportunity to study under master teachers in the local community. Students must select one option out of the three listed below:
Regardless of their component choice, students will spend a third of their time in a classroom setting with their peers. Weekly lectures will provide the academic framework in which students learn about the theory and history of their Culture in Practice choice. The remaining two-thirds of the class will be spent ‘in practice’, focusing on a specific aspect of the category chosen. Here, students will study their respective art or discipline first-hand through one-on-one or small group lessons with their teachers (gurus). Regular assessments will be jointly conducted by the professor and the teacher throughout the semester. One, out of the three Culture in Practice components offered, is required (3 credits).
Varanasi boasts a longstanding tradition of music that is still vibrant in the city today. Despite the widespread popularity of Bollywood, Indian classical music has continued to play a prominent role in the socio-cultural life of the city. The active performing arts community in Varanasi has a strong legacy in classical Indian music, and was home to legendary figures like Pandit Shanto Prasad (tabla) and Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar).
Music students will be introduced to North Indian classical music and dance through the Indian method of learning. One-on-one practice with gurus will allow students to develop their personal skill. Lectures for music and dance students are led by scholars of Indian performing arts, providing a historical and theoretical foundation for the student’s experience. Students may choose from instruments such as tabla or sitar, Khyal classical singing, or Kathak dance.
The Hindu spiritual destination, Varanasi is home to hundreds of shrines and temples and remains the center for Hindu enlightenment, yoga, and learning. An integral part of Hinduism, yoga has been practiced in India for centuries as a way of freeing the mind, body, and spirit. For these reasons Varanasi provides yoga students with a wealth of context and opportunities for profound experiential learning. Students will have classroom lectures with their Yoga professor two times per week to study both the religious and theoretical foundations of Yoga. Students will then meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings with their teacher to practice Yoga.
Varanasi, long known as a center for silk, has attracted many of the world’s finest luxury brands to its doorstep. The artisanal apprenticeship provides an opportunity to study local crafts and trades of significant importance to the local economy in Varanasi. During weekly courses students learn about the history and importance of trades, such as silk weaving and ceramics, and venture into the artisan communities throughout the city accompanied by a professor. In private classes with teachers, students enjoy hands on learning using looms and pottery wheels to better understand the level of skill and artistry in existence in Varanasi today.
Program dates roughly follow the U.S. academic calendar.
The 16–17 week semester begins with an off-site orientation. Students are acclimated to their new environment through introductory sessions on Indian culture and program policies, training on health and safety, and excursions into the surrounding area. Upon arrival in Varanasi, students are given more in-depth orientation to their new home and hosts before beginning their coursework. Excursions during the semester may include field visits to locations such as Kolkata (Calcutta), Lucknow, Agra, and various hill stations in the Himalayas. The semester concludes with a final 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 local activities and excursions, and field study trips, the Alliance STRONGLY DISCOURAGES students from hosting visitors until 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.
24 August 2014 Flight departure from U.S.
25 August 2014 Arrival in Delhi
26 August 2014 Orientation begins
29 August 2014 Group flight to Varanasi - Orientation continues
11 December 2014 Closing Ceremony
12 December 2014 Return flight to Delhi and U.S. (after 5:oo pm)
18 January 2014 Flight departure from U.S.
19 January 2014 Arrival in Delhi***
20 January 2014 Orientation begins
23 January 2014 Group flight to Varanasi - Orientation continues
09 May 2014 Closing Ceremony
10 May 2014 Return flight to Delhi and U.S. (after 5:oo pm)
*** Students should consult the Accepted Students Section for the designated Arrival Window. Students arriving within the window will be met by Alliance staff at the airport.
|Fall 2014 Program||$ 16,780|
|Spring 2015 Program||$ 16,780|
The program price includes tuition and fees, housing, most meals, pre-departure materials, student visa authorizations, orientation, organized activities, field study trips, course materials, the services of a full-time staff, and medical/evacuation insurance.
The program price does not include airfare to India, passport and consular visa fees, independent travel, and other items not mentioned as included.
The Varanasi program emphasizes cultural immersion, experiential learning opportunities, and extensive interaction with local residents in the host context. All housing arrangements are associated with an Indian host, and students should be prepared to share a room with another Alliance student. Students will take most meals in their homes and at the program center, though there may be days when students will be required to eat out on their own.
In addition to sessions on health and safety, academics, and cultural adjustment conducted at the start of the program, students will be exposed to the modernity of Delhi, India's burgeoning capital city. While in Delhi, students will visit some of the city's most famous landmarks, such as the Red Fort and Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, and Humayun's Tomb and Qutab Minar in New Delhi. Students will experience the unique collision of the ancient, the colonial, and the modern, in a city that continues to redefine itself as a significant global player and one that will present a stark contrast to the traditional setting of Varanasi, where orientation concludes.
The program calendar is filled with numerous activities in and around Varanasi. Activities vary according to the season, religious and secular holidays, and cultural and academic events in the area. A list of possible activities is included below. Please keep in mind that all activities are subject to change.
One week of the semester is set aside for an extended field visit to Kolkata and Kurseong in West Bengal that develops the program’s academic themes of the City, the River, the Sacred in a different cultural, linguistic, and geographical context.
Students follow the river Ganges from Varanasi to Kolkata, where the river meets the sea. From the Kali Ghat temple, where students witness devotion to Kali — goddess of destruction and patron of the city of Kolkata—to the missions of Rama Krishna and Mother Teresa, students explore the many aspects of religious expression in Kolkata. Also a literary, intellectual, and artistic center of India, Kolkata’s role at the forefront of India’s intellectual life and independence movement in the early 20th century is brought to life by a visit to the house of the famous poet and author, Rabindranath Tagore. Visits to the Victoria Memorial, Prinsep Ghat and the Coffee House near Presidency University recall Kolkata’s heritage as the colonial capital of the British Empire. A bustling modern-day Indian metropolis, Kolkata pulses with an energy all its own—a blend of past lustre and present optimism, politics, innovation, music, and culture.
From Kolkata, students continue their travels through West Bengal into the eastern Himalayan foothills. Against a backdrop of steep mountains, temples, and tea plantations, the threads of historical and contemporary migration intertwine in the town of Kurseong. Popular during the Raj for its temperate climate, British officers and their families used to retreat to Kurseong in the summer to escape the heat of Kolkata. The Tibetan refugees that populate this hill station today are part of the contemporary Tibetan diaspora, which students learn more about at the Tibetan Refugees’ Self-Help Centre. Blending economies of the tea plantations and the contemplative traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Kurseong offers students a lens into an India that is distinct from other dimensions they have encountered in their semester thus far.
Students return to Varanasi for their last month of study, with an expanded understanding and awareness of India’s geography, history and demographics.
"We first spent a few days in Kolkata where we explored this bumping city, toured Tagore’s house, the Queen Victoria Memorial and played in the colorful Holi festival on a roof! We went to the Kali ghat and said namasté to Ganga-Ji, seeing her miles away from Varanasi just reinforced her grandeur and sanctity not only in Varanasi but in all the places through which she flows throughout India...
We then hopped on a plane to Koersong (I really will never know how to spell that) and drove for hours up the windy foothills, through the mist and clouds to break through and see an absolutely stunning world."
- Allie Barteldt (Elon University)
How do Alliance program graduates look back on their experience studying in Asia? What advice can they offer on making the most of your time abroad? Contact these students to ask your questions!
Hi! I’m Leslie—a senior at the College of Wooster majoring in Anthropology and minoring in South Asian Studies. I studied with the Alliance both Fall 2013 in Varanasi and Spring 2014 in Pune. Spending nine months in India was...read more
Hi! I’m Leslie—a senior at the College of Wooster majoring in Anthropology and minoring in South Asian Studies. I studied with the Alliance both Fall 2013 in Varanasi and Spring 2014 in Pune. Spending nine months in India was one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career and I think everyone should have the chance to study abroad! I am so excited to share my experience with other students and encourage others to create a wonderful study abroad experience for themselves. hide
Hello! My name is Rayna and I am pursuing a junior Social Work major at the University of South Carolina. I studied abroad in Varanasi, India through Alliance's "The City, the River, the Sacred" program during the spring of 2014. Though I...read more
Hello! My name is Rayna and I am pursuing a junior Social Work major at the University of South Carolina. I studied abroad in Varanasi, India through Alliance's "The City, the River, the Sacred" program during the spring of 2014. Though I had traveled prior to departing for India, I had never gone to Asia or anywhere like it before. The city is endlessly fascinating, the people are amazing, and the chai is delicious. Stateside, I am in a service sorority on campus, work two part-time jobs, and, to my Indian host mother's horror, wear shorts regularly. hide
My name is Keiara Gallodoro. I am a senior at Arcadia University where I am majoring in International studies and minoring in Psychology and Gender Studies. In the spring semester of 2014 I studied abroad in Varanasi, India. This experience helped me...read more
My name is Keiara Gallodoro. I am a senior at Arcadia University where I am majoring in International studies and minoring in Psychology and Gender Studies. In the spring semester of 2014 I studied abroad in Varanasi, India. This experience helped me to learn a great deal about the world around me, gain understanding and face unexpected challenges with poise and ease. I am interested in sharing my experiences with others especially when I feel it will be beneficial to their own lives. hide
I was born and raised in North Carolina and had the average childhood of karate lessons and Girl Scout camping trips. I went off to college, learned some things, then escaped America as soon as I could. I wanted to thrive and see a world I felt I was...read more
I was born and raised in North Carolina and had the average childhood of karate lessons and Girl Scout camping trips. I went off to college, learned some things, then escaped America as soon as I could. I wanted to thrive and see a world I felt I was sheltered from within our cushy Netflix and smart phones existence. I lived in a mud hut in Kenya and learned primitive survival in the Appalachian mountains with Eustace Conway. I was growing, slowly but surely, into a decently cool person. Then everything changed. I spent five months in India’s holy city, Varanasi. Whoever I thought I was, whoever I was working to be for the last 18 years, was stopped in her tracks. I experienced incredible India and became someone entirely new. hide
Hello all! My name's Elise and I'm a sophomore at Emerson College in Boston. I'm a film production major hoping to specialize in the direction of documentary. I studied with the Alliance program last fall in Varanasi. Right now I'm...read more
Hello all! My name's Elise and I'm a sophomore at Emerson College in Boston. I'm a film production major hoping to specialize in the direction of documentary. I studied with the Alliance program last fall in Varanasi. Right now I'm editing four month of footage from my time abroad, annoying my roommates with loads of Bollywood music, and scheming other opportunites to get back to the subcontinent. It was a life changing experience, I'm looking forward to being a part of the process for new students in the future. hide
Read what these students have to say about study abroad with the Alliance in Asia!
Visit the Accepted Students section