The Novogratz Bridge Year Program in India is based in Udaipur, a medium-sized city in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Once the embattled capital of the kingdom of Mewar, Udaipur was home to one of India’s most famous kings who, along with his descendants, built the beautiful palaces and stone walls that remain part of the cityscape to this day. Udaipur is a diverse city, with large Muslim and Jain minorities, as well as a significant population of Adivasis, the indigenous inhabitants of the region. Udaipur also boasts a thriving civil society with various NGOs and passionate young people dedicated to issues of social justice. In their service placements, Bridge Year participants work alongside community members at non-governmental organizations that aim to address a wide array of social concerns, including migrant worker rights, natural resource preservation, educational access, and gender equality. Through daily life in Udaipur, short-term group service projects in rural areas, and various excursions and enrichment activities, students are able to explore India’s diverse cultural and religious traditions along with its most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.
In India, Princeton University partners 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.
Arrival and Orientation
Upon arrival in India, Bridge Year participants travel by train and jeep to Satoli, a small Himalayan village in the North Indian state of Uttarakhand. For their first week in Satoli, the group participates in an orientation program held in a rural guest house with comfortable facilities and breathtaking mountain views. During orientation, students discuss their goals for the program, begin introductory Hindi language classes, and participate in a variety of workshops related to Indian culture and society. Students spend the remainder of their time getting to know their peers, program staff, and members of community organizations working to address a variety of local concerns.
Fall Cultural and Service Learning Experience
From orientation, Bridge Year participants transition to a four-week rural immersion experience. Through homestays, service work with community members, and a variety of talks led by local experts, students begin to learn about the realities of life in rural India. Students also continue their intensive Hindi language instruction and join Bridge Year staff in discussions on community-engaged service learning.
The rural immersion experience starts in the village of Satoli, where Bridge Year students work with Aarohi, an organization dedicated to supporting rural education and food security in Uttarakhand. From there, participants move to the village of Munsiyari where they live in rural homestays organized by Himalayan Ark, a local community-run NGO, and take part in a daily routine that includes cooking with homestay mothers, harvesting crops, and collecting firewood with host siblings. At the same time, participants attend daily workshops, where they learn about farming, community forest management, and initiatives to increase female participation in local governance. In collaboration with the environmental organization Himal Prakriti, the Bridge Year group also takes part in a community-driven infrastructure project, for example, the rehabilitation of a damaged watershed. Upon leaving Munsiyari, participants set off on their first Himalayan mountain trek, traversing a section of the Pindari Glacier with spectacular views of the famous Nanda Devi range. Following the trek, the group travels to Kausani village, where they volunteer with Laxmi Ashram, a girl’s boarding school and ashram where Gandhi once resided. The rural service learning component in Uttarakhand concludes with an extended stay in Ranikhet at the Center for the Contemplation of Nature. In addition to continued Hindi instruction, activities include daily yoga and meditation, as well as discussions related to the geography of India, gender equality, forest ecology, and local cultural and religious practices.
Arrival in Udaipur
Bridge Year volunteers arrive in Udaipur in mid-October and immediately begin a weeklong orientation to the city that will be their home base for the next seven months. Students learn about the history of Udaipur, explore the narrow lanes of the old city, and gain a more nuanced understanding of its complex social dynamics. During orientation, students receive a thorough introduction to service placement opportunities. Participants visit each service site to gain a better understanding of the work, mission, and culture of each organization. Students and organizations are then matched based on the needs of the organization and the general interests of the students.
Throughout the Udaipur orientation, participants develop practical skills that help them navigate the city, integrate into local culture, and adapt more effectively to their service work.
Program participants live with families in Udaipur, providing them with a unique opportunity to practice language skills, establish relationships, and integrate more fully into local society. Participants can expect comfortable but modest accommodations that include a private bedroom furnished with a twin bed, a desk, a chair, and a place for clothing. While some homes may have
showers, participants should be prepared for bucket baths (usually cold) for bathing. Most meals are prepared by and enjoyed with the homestay family. These meals are typically vegetarian, as is customary in India.
Hindi language training begins during orientation and continues through early April. For the first four months of the program, Bridge Year participants engage in five to eight hours of Hindi language instruction each week. Starting in January, language training continues, but with less frequency, allowing more time for other activities. One-on-one tutoring is available throughout the program for those in need of extra practice. While the first few months can be challenging for students, conversational competence in Hindi can be attained relatively quickly.
Community Service Placements
Participants spend six to eight hours per day, four days per week, at their service placement. Travel to and from the service site depends on the assignment, but can range from a 15-minute walk to a 30-minute rickshaw ride. Staff help orient students to their respective assignments and provide continuous support throughout the program. Below is a list of host organizations in Udaipur that receive Bridge Year volunteers. This list is not comprehensive, but provides examples of the types of service assignments in which students might be placed.
- Seva Mandir, one of India’s leading development nonprofit organizations, seeks to “transform lives through participatory development.” They currently work with 360,000 people across 700 villages of southern Rajasthan, where more than 90% of the population relies on subsistence agriculture and most people live on less than 35 cents a day. Their programs focus on governance, health, education, sustainable use of natural resources, female empowerment, youth development, childcare, and social enterprise. Volunteer opportunities may include teaching, supporting research projects, assisting with community outreach, coordinating health education programs, and administrative tasks.
- Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti (JJVS) seeks to improve social, economic, and environmental conditions in rural areas by fostering collaboration among local tribal groups and empowering community members to leverage available resources. Programs focus on education, water management, agriculture, the preservation of traditional health practices, and the empowerment of women. Volunteer opportunities may include research related to traditional medicine, teaching, translation, tracking community initiatives, and assisting with health campaigns and microfinance projects.
- Jandaksha Trust is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of female migrant laborers in Udaipur. The number of women in the migrant workforce has increased rapidly in the last decade and Jandaksha Trust works to provide women laborers with legal assistance, career training, and better access to health care and education. Through its center and various activities, more than eleven thousand women have received Jandaksha’s support. Volunteer opportunities may include teaching, assisting with health education activities, documenting stories of labor violations, supporting research projects, and providing administrative assistance.
- Astha Sansthan was formed by a group of dedicated social workers in 1986. Astha is a Hindi word that means “faith,” and it was with faith in the strength of people and their capacities that Astha was created. The organization works to support the needs of tribal communities in Rajasthan through community organizing and grassroots action. Particular emphasis is given to the needs of women, children, and the disabled. Volunteer opportunities may include supporting ongoing research projects, assisting with data collection and analysis, translation, and event planning.
- Sadhna was established to promote the financial independence and security of women living in rural communities. The organization focuses on teaching artisanal skills to produce crafts that are then sold on the fair-trade market. Sadhna also helps women build support networks and cooperatives that encourage self-empowerment. In addition to their handicraft initiative, Sadhna offers educational workshops on leadership and financial literacy. Volunteer opportunities may include assistance with longitudinal studies, educational campaigns, and marketing initiatives, as well as research into fair trade.
- Vikalp Sansthan seeks alternatives to existing social structures marked by discrimination, violence, and unequal opportunities for women and girls. The organization addresses issues related to gender-based violence, unequal access to education, and child marriage and works with survivors to rebuild their lives. Since 2004, the organization has influenced over 200,000 “change-makers” through their classes and outreach efforts. Vikalp operates out of its main office in Udaipur and works with over 400 volunteers in 9 districts and 231 villages throughout Rajasthan. Volunteer opportunities may include teaching sports, planning community outreach programs, and providing creative media and technological support.
- Jatan Sansthan supports women and children in rural communities. Their services and workshops focus on maternal health, sexual and reproductive health, childhood education, migrant support services, female empowerment, and democratic participation. Volunteer opportunities may include assisting in research projects, supporting awareness campaigns, organizing community outreach activities with youth groups, facilitating health education programs, and working on civic participation activities.
- Action Research and Training for Health (ARTH) is a public health organization founded in 1997 that seeks to improve the accessibility and delivery of health care in India. ARTH conducts research, training, and advocacy to improve existing health care delivery systems with an emphasis on the health and well-being of women, adolescents, and children in rural and tribal communities. In addition to providing administrative support, volunteers assist with the organization of training programs, the coordination of political advocacy efforts, and research on topics such as reproductive health and child nutrition.
- Aajeevika Bureau works to provide lasting solutions to the economic, social, and legal challenges of migrant workers. Combining advocacy, research, and logistical support, Aajeevika assists migrant workers, while setting new standards for government and industry. Their interventions have included skills training, job placement, legal aid, health care counseling, and the provisioning of photo identification. Volunteer opportunities may include providing administrative support, assisting with research projects, coordinating health interventions, organizing financial literacy programs, and editing publications.
- Shikshantar Andolan was created in 1998 to help individuals to reclaim control over their own learning processes and rebuild “learning webs” within their communities. In the Gandhian spirit of satyagraha (“non-violence”), the organization promotes alternatives to existing formal educational institutions and advocates for “unschooling” opportunities, including workshops on topics ranging from homeschooling to permaculture, computer repair, and filmmaking. The program and its participants have generated several sustainable and environmental initiatives, including a thriving guesthouse, an organic restaurant, a shop featuring “up cycled” goods, and two heritage walking tour organizations. Volunteer opportunities include providing administrative support, assisting with event planning and outreach, and serving as a peer-to-peer co-learner for community members of all ages and backgrounds.
Cultural Enrichment Activities
Over the course of the program, local experts and other guest lecturers are invited to discuss diverse topics including Indian history, politics, the caste system, gender equality, urbanization, the arts, and the environment.
Bridge Year participants also partake in at least two program-sponsored excursions outside of the city of Udaipur. Excursion destinations depend on many factors including weather, time constraints, student interest, and relevance to the overall program, but a number of different options are available. Possibilities include a rural village stay in a tribal community close to Udaipur; a long weekend in Jodhpur, Jaipur, or elsewhere in Rajasthan; and a student planned excursion to Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh. To the greatest extent possible, participants are given ownership over the research, planning, and logistics for these group expeditions.
Finally, Bridge Year participants have the opportunity to engage in independent projects or mentorships in topics like stone carving, Kathputhli (Rajasthani puppet making and performance), Ayurveda, Indian cooking, cricket, sitar, yoga, and Sanskrit. The activity may directly enrich the participant’s service assignment or serve to enhance an understanding and appreciation of India and Indian culture.
Student-led Spring Excursion
Students depart Udaipur in late April, traveling by train and plane to the region of Ladakh on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in the northernmost part of India.
The excursion introduces students to a unique culture and environment, altogether different from the months spent in Rajasthan. In recent years, Bridge Year groups have worked in collaboration with the Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, SECMOL. (http://www.secmol.org). Founded in 1988 by a group of young Ladakhis, SECOMOL seeks to reform the educational system of Ladakh. Its activities include supporting village education committees and facilitating teacher trainings, as well as running an alternative school that provides courses in sustainable farming, renewable energy, and ecotourism. In addition to their time at SECMOL, the group spends a week in a Ladakhi village homestay and engages in multi-day treks in the surrounding Himalayan mountain ranges.
The final week of the Novogratz Bridge Year Program in India takes place in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Here, participants engage in a “Transference Workshop” to examine lessons learned from their Bridge Year experience and reflect on their return home, their goals for the future, and the ways in which they can best integrate their experience into daily life at Princeton.
- Program Location: Udaipur, India
- Country Name: Republic of India (English); भारत गणराज्य (Hindi)
- Population: 1,350,438,098 (India); 662,922 (Udaipur)
- National Symbol: the Lion Capital of Ashoka (official), Bengal tiger, lotus flower
- Languages: The Constitution of India recognizes 22 official languages. Hindi, written in Devanagari script, is the most prominent. English is also widely spoken.
- Religions: Hinduism 79.8%, Islam 14.2%, Christianity 2.3%, Sikhism 1.7%, Buddhism 0.7%
- Currency: Indian rupee
- Fast Fact: India has the largest postal system in the world. With more than 150,000 post offices, it is three times the size of China's postal system.