The Bridge Year Program in India introduces students to the diversity, complexity, and intrigue that characterize modern Indian society. Based in Varanasi, students live with homestay families and volunteer alongside community members at local schools and non-governmental organizations working to address a wide array of social issues, including illiteracy, inadequate access to education, and human trafficking. Through daily life in Varanasi, one of India’s oldest and holiest cities, two short-term group service projects in rural areas, and various excursions and enrichment activities, students explore India’s diverse cultural and religious traditions along with its immense poverty and some of its most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges. Along the way, participants learn conversational Hindi, trek through the Himalayas, and visit some of India’s most captivating cities and monuments.
Program Location: Bridge Year students in India spend nine months of service based primarily in the city of Varanasi, also known locally as Banaras, located on the banks of the Ganges River in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. In a number of ways, Varanasi represents so many of the hopes and needs of India. It is a thriving and dynamic city, extremely rich in cultural, religious and historical significance. At the same time, many of its 1.1 million residents struggle daily with the challenges of discrimination, poverty, insufficient health care, and limited access to education.
Local Language: English is widely spoken throughout India though residents of Varanasi mainly speak Kashika Bhojpuri, a close relative to the Hindi language. As part of the Bridge Year, students participate in an intensive Hindi language program in order to gain the necessary communicative competency to engage in community-based service work.
Program Partner : In India, Princeton University is partnering with Where There Be Dragons, an organization specializing in overseas experiential education. Since their founding in 1993, Dragons has managed hundreds of unique small-group service learning programs in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Dragons is dedicated to inspiring youth leadership and responsible global citizenship through community-based service projects and cultural exchange.
Service Opportunities: Dragons has well-established relationships with a number of service institutions operating in Varanasi. These include orphanages, literacy programs, schools for the economically disadvantaged, programs for children with special needs, a program working with the children of prostitutes, leper colonies, the Mother Theresa Center for the Indigent, and organizations with vocational training and micro-finance projects. Bridge Year participants are introduced to a variety of project types in addition to being assigned a primary project. By mid-December, participants are typically fully engaged in their primary project work and have gained greater expertise and responsibility in their defined project area. Around this same time, Bridge Year participants in Varanasi have the opportunity to work with local staff and mentors to develop and execute an independent enrichment activity to be completed prior to the program’s conclusion.