English, Hindi, Urdu
- Fall: May1
- Spring: November 1
About The City, the River, the Sacred
Experience how the influx of religious pilgrims to the sacred Ganges River has given rise to unique urban and environmental issues over the centuries. Through studying Hindi or Urdu language, living with a host family, and learning an Indian art form or artisan trade, you will be fully immersed in Varanasi's daily life!
The City, the River, the Sacred Benefits
- The Fund for Education Abroad offers semester and summer awards for study abroad in India. Click here to find out more.
- Enjoy our Varanasi program center’s prime location to witness year-round religious rituals on the nearby banks of the sacred Ganges River
- Learn traditional Indian art forms or yoga theory straight from master teachers in the local community through the Culture in Practice field component
- Boost your resume with a Directed Research project focused on a relevant topic of interest within the social sciences and humanities
- Make lasting connections in your host community by living with Indian families and learning Indian customs that might be difficult to experience in any other way
- Improve your critical language skills locally and begin to communicate with nearly 500 million Hindi speakers globally
- Experience a completely different side of India by visiting historically and culturally significant places in West Bengal and the Himalayas
What our students say
3 Tips for Women Traveling India
Culture Shock in India: What It’s Like, and How to Deal with It
Why a STEM Major Decided to Study Abroad in India
Why I Chose to Study Abroad Despite my Mental Illness
5 Things I’ve Learned from Studying Abroad
Culture in Practice: Textiles
Varanasi – A Day in the Life
Citizen of the World: A Digital Story
Wandering Along The Ganges – A Digital Story
The IFSA Difference
Academics at The City, the River, the Sacred
The City, the River, the Sacred program challenges you to examine the urban realities and geography that define Varanasi and place it in a greater context of national and global currents. This 15-credit semester is comprised of a core course and field component, plus Hindi or Urdu language and 2 electives. Students choose from three Culture in Practice field component options: music and dance, yoga and yoga theory, or artisanal apprenticeship, which take learning outside of the classroom and into local communities.
REQUIRED COURSES (3 U.S. semester credit hours each):
- Varanasi: City of Confluence: This interdisciplinary core course 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.
- Beginning Hindi or Beginning Urdu: Fundamentals of conversation and written Hindi or Urdu for beginning students. Intermediate and advanced levels will be taught through individual tutorials, such as Intermediate Hindi.
- Culture in Practice (Music and Dance; Yoga and Yoga Theory; Artisanal Apprenticeship): This field-based component provides the rare opportunity for students to go into the local community and study under master teachers known as gurus. Students choose from three options: music and dance, yoga and yoga theory, or artisanal apprenticeship and spend the semester examining the history and theories behind them as well as learning the skill or trade first-hand.
ELECTIVE COURSES (3 U.S. semester credit hours each):
Not all electives may be offered in a given semester depending on enrollment and faculty availability.
- Studies in Gender: This course introduces students to salient discourses and local practices in Indian society from a gender perspective. Through a socio-cultural framework, students explore the diversity of social practices and complexities of gender relations in different social groups. The course highlights key structural issues and marginalization of women in the economic, legal and cultural areas. It also focuses on counter responses in the form of activism and social movements. Case studies from diverse areas supplement the conceptual analysis.
- Peace and Conflict Studies: Gandhi and Beyond: Peace and conflict studies have taken on an important role in South Asia studies in the last decades of 20th century. This course analyzes 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 also focus on Varanasi, a representative site of contestation and cooperation for inter-civilizational dialogue and communal peace.
- Living Religious Traditions in India: This course aims to expose students to the religious diversity of India and 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. Students develop an academic understanding of the festivals and rituals that may be observed during a semester in Varanasi.
- Exploring Community & Culture in a Global Context: Through a creative asynchronous online format, this course facilitates active engagement with your host community, exploration of cultural identity and examination of diversity in the context of political, economic and sociocultural structures. Students cover topics such as intercultural communication skills, intercultural learning theories, tools for intercultural analysis and the development of personal strategies for engaging with differences of any kind following the study abroad experience. This course is ideal for students seeking transferable skills and specific competencies for success in the global marketplace. Depending on your chosen IFSA program, this course may be taken as a part of or in addition to your full credit load. Home institution approval is required for enrollment.
- MUSIC AND DANCE: 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 are introduced to North Indian classical music and dance through the Indian method of learning. 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.
- YOGA AND YOGA THEORY: 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 have classroom lectures with their Yoga professor two times per week to study both the religious and theoretical foundations of Yoga. Students then meet regularly with their teacher to practice Yoga.
- ARTISANAL APPRENTICESHIP: Varanasi, long known as a center for silk production, has attracted many of the world's finest luxury brands to its doorstep. This 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 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.
Students may select Directed Research as an alternative to the Culture in Practice field component. Pre-approval is required prior to November 15 (for spring semester) and May 1 (for fall semester). Contact your Program Advisor for more information about this option. 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, religious or cultural studies, tribal, environmental or women's issues, 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 feasibility in the program location.
Housing & Meals
The IFSA Team
IFSA has a dedicated team who are here to help you prepare to achieve your goals. Feel free to reach out. We are happy to answer your questions!