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Founded in 1961, this program offers an unparalleled opportunity to live and study in Varanasi, India - a city that highlights India's ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity. Varanasi (formerly known as Banaras) is located along the Ganges River and is a major Indian pilgrimage center as well as a thriving modern city of approximately 1.3 million inhabitants. As a program participant, you will encounter large Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist and Christian communities. The city is known for the origin of Jainism and Buddhism and has many religious sculptures, great architecture and a wonderful variety of food.
Taking full advantage of the unique social landscape of Varanasi, the academics of this program provide structure to the learning experience, but also grant you the freedom to explore areas of personal interest as they relate to Indian culture and society. You will study Hindi language and enroll in an integrative core culture course that surveys the sites and resources of the Varanasi community. The program also blends in a combination of independent learning opportunities, including individual and group tutorials focused on expressed areas of interest and an independent research project.
The city of Varanasi, also called Banaras or Kashi and home to about 1.3 million, lies on the banks of the Ganges River, a sacred river for the Hindu population. The river is so long that there are 120 Ghats (stone steps) leading from the city to the river banks. Varanasi is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for the Hindus, and is very rich in culture and tradition. While many Hindus worship in Varanasi, the city is filled with religious diversity and is proud to identify as one of the only places where those of different belief systems live in harmony. It is one of the oldest living cities in the world, where culture and tradition continue to thrive.
On the academic front, Varanasi is an international center of learning. Students from all across the globe congregate to study at Banaras Hindu University (BHU). Located in Northern India, Varanasi offers prime access to Sanskrit studies, among other niche cultural and religious studies. Its neighboring cities are also worth exploring. Sarnath, an important pilgrimage site where Buddha gave his first sermon, is a mere 10 kilometers away. Varanasi is alive with gharanas music (a Banaras style of music), dance, religion and culture.
Getting to Your Program
You are responsible for making your own travel arrangements to and from India.
A student visa is required. U.S. citizens must have a U.S. passport valid for at least six months beyond the end of the program. You will apply for your own visa. IAP will provide you with visa information.
IAP expects you to be an active participant in preparing yourself for your study abroad experience. As a participant on an IAP program, you will receive a pre-departure orientation, either in-person or online. The type and format of this orientation will vary by program and will be provided to you upon acceptance to the program.
Upon arrival in India, you will receive a brief orientation in Delhi. In Varanasi, you also receive a two to three day orientation focusing on culture, health and safety, and logistical items related to living in India.
During orientation in India, you will stay at local hotels arranged by the program. After orientation, you move to your permanent housing. Options for housing include renting a room, renting an apartment, or living with a family.
During the program, you eat two meals each week day at the program house. The program house has a library and computers, hosts the classes and serves as a center of operations, including cultural activities and guest lectures.
Excursions and Activities
At the beginning of the fall and spring semesters, you participate in a 7-10 day intensive Hindi language retreat to focus on Hindi language learning. Other excursions and field trips may include tours of Varanasi, a city mosque or temple tour, visiting Sarnath and weekend trips to Bodh Gaya or Khajuraho. Cultural activities and performances are planned throughout the fall and spring semester.
You also have the opportunity to go to Hindi movies, see local concerts or explore the Ghats on the Ganges River. There are a variety of religious and cultural celebrations that you can enjoy with locals and host families.
You will be enrolled in the UW System required health insurance through Cultural Insurance Services International (CISI) and the cost of the insurance coverage is included in program fees.
The program has several on-site staff including a Program Director, Student Services Coordinators, Hindi and course instructors, an Office Assistant and program cooks.
Use the links below to find out more information on academics, daily life and student impressions for this program.UW in India Varanasi Handbook
(Fall - 2013-14)UW in India Varanasi Handbook
(Year - 2013-14)Varanasi, India Program Handbook
(Spring - 2013-14)
Returned Student Network
to contact a returned student.
Check out student profiles to learn more about their experience abroad.
Kristina Nielsen Ed WallaceClaire McRaith
"It was an amazing opportunity to do my own independent research. It was an opportunity I didn't expect to have until I was a graduate student."
"My year in India was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. What I found most satisfactory was the total immersion that the program allowed."
Read about current & past students' adventures.
Lydia - Academic Year 2013-14Jordan-Fall 2012
Watch videos about the program.
India Program VideoKristof Didrickson
How to Apply
First complete the IAP Online Application. The following supplemental application materials will become available to you through the application portal:
India, Varanasi AIIS Student Biodata Form
India, Varanasi: Passport Photo
Passport ID Page
Passport-Sized Photograph: 1
Passport-sized Photograph Scan
Unofficial Transcript (Student Record)
Unofficial Transcript - OPTIONAL - Additional File
Forms are subject to change. Complete the forms according to the checklist provided to you in the online application portal.
After the Deadline
IAP will review your application and make the final admissions decision. You will be notified of the admissions decision via email.
This academic program combines traditional classroom-based learning with experience-based learning, both in and around the city of Varanasi. Together, the various components present an academic experience that will expose you to the depth and complexity of Indian culture and society. You will have the opportunity to study with an extensive network of artists, community leaders, local scholars and program staff, all of whom will share their perspectives while allowing you to broaden your own.
Course offerings include the following:
1. Core History and Culture Course: You are required to take this interdisciplinary course that explores contemporary Indian social and cultural phenomena in an historical context. Local scholars with various academic backgrounds will guide you through topics ranging from social caste, cultural identity and religious expression to peace and justice and environmental studies, all within a broader Indian cultural and cross-cultural context.
2. Hindi language course (beginning - advanced): The semester Hindi language course starts with a five day, intensive, Hindi language program, during which you will focus exclusively on your study of Hindi. This course sets the foundation for the semester Hindi course and helps prepare you for life and study in Varanasi. The intensive Hindi language program combines a focus on spoken Hindi, where you can refine your speaking skills, while expanding your vocabulary, as well as time spent on reading and writing.
3. Cultural or language tutorials: These tutorials allow you to further explore various topics of interest, including Indian Performing and Fine Arts, as well as other Indian Languages (Bhojpuri, Sanskrit and Urdu). In this personalized setting, you will receive instruction from practicing artists and language scholars. These sessions are complemented by group discussions, where you will process what you have learned in a cross-cultural context.
If you would like to create an intensive Hindi course of study for the semester, you can choose to add a Hindi tutorial to your regular Hindi language semester course.
4. Independent Study: This is a research project that combines a series of seminars on research methodology with independent research. You have the freedom to select your own research topic, which must be approved by the program. Past participants have pursued topics in religion studies, philosophy, political science, public health, environmental studies, psychology, education and economics. To help guide this process, program staff will connect you with a research supervisor in Varanasi, who will serve as your mentor, facilitating access to resources and providing overall guidance and support. Your mentor will challenge you to focus on one facet of Indian society, so you can employ guided research techniques that reveal how this cultural element manifests itself in Varanasi. An emphasis will be placed on the process of conducting the research and evaluating your findings, rather than studying a body of content. This allows you to refine your data collection and analysis skills, as well as the application of these skills.
In total, you receive 17 credits for a semester of study.
Academic Year program
The academic year program follows the general course outline of the semester model. Additionally, participating in both semesters gives you the opportunity to explore topics of interest in more detail and work on a more in-depth independent study research project.
1. Indian Culture & Society seminar course: Builds upon fall course content.
2. Hindi language: Based upon your proficiency level.
3. Cultural or language tutorial: You may choose to conduct a more in depth exploration of your first semester topic or select a new tutorial topic.
4. A more in-depth research project that takes advantage of the additional time and resources that you will have access to over your year of study in Varanasi.
In total, you receive 34 credits for a year of study.
Use the links below to see a list of courses that students have taken on this program before and the UW equivalents. Note: this list only includes pre-approved courses for your program and may not be an exhaustive list of courses or departments. You will get instructions on the course equivalent process after acceptance.
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