Justice, Peace, & Sustainable Communities: Semester in India

Program Overview

The Country

Experience living and learning in India. India has been dubbed the world’s most multidimensional country, from its snow-dusted mountains to sun-washed beaches, tranquil temples to feisty festivals, lantern-lit villages to software-supremo cities. Home to more than one billion people, India is full of ethnic groups and religious depth. With one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India has certainly made giant strides over the past decade. However, despite averaging an annual growth rate of around 9% in recent years, vast sections of the country’s billion-plus population have seen little benefit from the economic boom. Indeed, the government’s ongoing challenge is to spread both the burden and bounty of India’s fiscal prosperity. Not an easy task given that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is far from shrinking, and poverty is set to spiral upwards if India’s population rate continues to gallop beyond that of its economic growth.

At several different sites in India, students will have many opportunities to observe and examine the vast multiculturalism and the beauty of diversity in India. (Excerpts taken from http://www.lonelyplanet.com/india.)

Description and Location

Co-sponsored by Concordia College and Gustavus Adolphus College, this program has run for two decades, and is taught in collaboration with Visthar, an NGO near Bangalore. Gustavus administers and leads the program in odd years, and Concordia administers and leads it in even years. Students explore issues of democracy, peace, human rights, economic justice, religion, ethics, social change, and environmental justice through both traditional and experiential learning components. Past participants have described it as a deeply meaningful experience. India has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years and is currently home to over one billion people. A population so big fosters amazing diversity in culture, religion and language. Most people in India are Hindu, but there are also large Buddhist, Christian and Muslim minority populations. Though Hindi and English are the national official languages of India, there are 18 official regional languages recognized, and hundreds of languages in all. Hindi is spoken by roughly 40% of the population.

Visthar is located a few miles outside Bangalore, in southern India. Bangalore, a city of 5.8 million located in Karnataka state, is known as the Silicon Valley of India, and is also home to many colleges and research centers. It is the fastest growing major metropolis in India. Students also visit other locations in India during the semester. Program sites change each year but may include Koppal, Orissa, Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Udaipur, Mumbai, and other locations. A one-week break allows students to explore other areas in India.

Program Structure

A pre-departure orientation in August preceding the program will enable students to get to know each other and there may be opportunities the preceding Spring for informal interactions. Summer reading and preparation is usually required. Once on-site, students will be in contact with people who work every day to improve living conditions in India. The academic classes are based on an "action-reflection" model where students are introduced to a topic through a series of class lectures, and follow through with the new knowledge by traveling to selected sites to learn directly about the subject from and with people who are actually being affected. Examples of past sites include wildlife reserves, urban slums, medical facilities, a school for the children of temple prostitutes, and an indigenous village to learn about sustainable farming techniques.

Is this the program for you?

What the Semester in India program IS and IS NOT.

  • Students explore issues of peace, justice, globalism, development, and the environment through both traditional and experiential learning components. Past participants have described it as a deeply meaningful experience.
  • Relationship building IS a key component of this program, and students are expected to work closely with each other as well as staff, residents, and clients of Visthar. The quality of the experience is measured by the relationships that you build. You will work with individuals who are incredibly generous with their time and energy on your behalf.
  • This program IS NOT the type of study abroad that is about being on vacation, touring around, sitting in cafes or bars, or traveling on your own.
  • This IS the kind of program where just about everything (including sights, sounds, smells, and tastes) will be different than what you are used to, and you will have to deal with it proactively. You will be asked to dress more modestly than you might in the U.S., behave in more reserved ways, and get used to an entirely different cuisine that is spicier than what you’re probably used to, but also is delicious and nutritious.

What kind of student is a good match for this program? An ideal participant:

  • Is eager to step outside of his or her comfort zone.
  • Is happy with living simply and more rustically. Western luxuries such as hot water, electricity, internet, western toilets, and familiar food will be absent for periods of time.
  • Has experience with community service and issues of social justice and is compelled by causes that are much bigger than one person. Is more focused on others than on oneself.
  • Is flexible in the face of an ever changing schedule and will be okay with not always knowing what’s on the agenda and itinerary until the last moment.
  • Is able to handle frustration and confusion when things (inevitably) don’t go as expected.
  • Is even-tempered, and emotionally and physically healthy.
  • Will be open to embracing – not just observing – the Indian culture.
  • Has a genuine curiosity.
  • Is able to live and work (and thrive) as a member of a group without needing a lot of alone time.
  • Is willing to thoughtfully interact every day with the faculty leader, student group members, Visthar faculty and staff, homestay families, guides, guest lecturers, NGO leaders and others.
  • Goes into this experience knowing that it will be difficult or “not fun” at times.
  • Will be gracious, polite, respectful and mature no matter what the situation.
  • Makes the effort to maintain a positive attitude and work through issues that arise.
  • Understands that they will get out of the experience what they put into it.

What the learning experiences will be like.


The classroom-based component of this program will be nothing like what you are used to at Gustavus or Concordia. There are many days where you will be in lectures or related activities for most of the day, hearing from local guides, instructors or NGO leaders. Generally speaking, lectures utilize a “guru” approach to learning. In India a teacher has the status of learned master. Occasionally a speaker may lecture for up to four hours; in other instances speakers may be difficult to understand. But, these are professionals in their field – perhaps the CEO of an NGO – who are anxious to help you understand the full context of the work they are doing. It is imperative that you are well-prepared for these sessions and are able and willing to ask informed and respectful questions even if it is hot and you are tired.

In the Field

Program participants will have a variety of opportunities to truly immerse themselves in India and the issues that confront Indians. These include: living at Visthar and engaging Visthar staff; meetings with and activities led by local experts; interactions with elementary aged students who are also living and learning at Visthar; a homestay with a family in Bangalore; service projects on behalf of those whom Visthar serves; and travel to many sites, cities, and villages. Overall, learning is experiential and based on an action-reflection model where you hear about the issues, see and experience them first-hand, think deeply about them, write about them, and discuss them with others. Engagement at each of these stages is imperative so you can sort through the complexity that you will face. Engagement with others and personal reflection will help you go beyond initial perceptions and into the realm of a deeper understanding; in the end your thinking will begin to embrace the complexity and you will be able to navigate the nuances of many important global issues of our time in more meaningful ways. It is important that you not only learn about India, but that you also understand related issues, past and present, in the United States.


You will have regular reading and writing assignments prior to departure and while you are in India. There are only a few computers at Visthar available for you to use, electricity is unreliable in India, and we also will be traveling away from Visthar. We recommend that you take a personal laptop if you have one.


Students will depart from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and fly into and out of Bangalore. All participants must depart from MSP, no exceptions. Flight deviations for the return may or may not be available. More information will be available closer to the program start. In-country transportation will include plane, train, bus and automobile.

Housing and Meals

Students are based at Visthar, near Bangalore in southern India. While there, students stay in dormitory-style housing, two per room, and each room has its own bathroom. While in the field, students will stay at other NGOs, in hostels, or in homestays. During intersession, students are responsible for their own traveling expenses, including room and board.


Program dates are approximately mid-August to mid-December.

Passport and Visa

For U.S. citizens, a passport and visa are required for entry into India. The coordinating Study Abroad Office (at Concordia College or Gustavus Adollphus College) will coordinate the visa process, but participants are responsible for obtaining their own passports. Information on how to obtain a passport is available from the Center for International and Cultural Education or the State Department.

Faculty Leader 2016

Matthew Lindholm
Fall 2016 Program Director, Concordia College

Matthew Lindholm

Program Director Matthew Lindholm has wanted to go on the India semester program ever since he started teaching at Concordia in 2001! Though he is somewhat new to learning about India, he is deeply interested in the rapid pace of social change in contemporary postcolonial India – burgeoning cities playing an increasing role in the global economy, stunning wealth alongside poverty and deepening inequality, remarkable cultural and religious diversity, and ongoing experiment and travails with democracy. Lindholm has twice taught a course on global cities with Concordia students in London and Paris and has traveled with colleagues and his family in China. At Concordia, he teaches courses on cities, cultural anthropology, health and illness and chairs the Sociology and Social Work Department.