• Overview - India


    india_templeThe Indian subcontinent is a complete sensory overload. The sights, smells, and sounds can at the same time be exhausting and exhilarating. It is this paradox that makes India so fascinating for so many travelers. The country is incredibly diverse in terms of geography, religion, languages, art, cuisine, and customs. South India, in particular, has a strong sense of culture and tradition, especially Hindu tradition. Tamil Nadu is the cradle of Dravidian culture, one of the oldest continuous cultures on the planet. ELI operates throughout the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. 

    Kerala is the southwestern-most state in India. For primarily geographical reasons, the culture in Kerala developed in realtive isolation from the rest of India, and many unique customs are still practiced on a daily basis. Karnataka, in turn, bridges the north and south of India and is home to the hi-tech capital of India, Bangalore. In part because of this range of diversity, South India has generally avoided some of the more violent clashes that have occurred elsewhere in the country. Travelers in this region can explore ancient temple cities, soak in cosmopolitan Chennai, float through Kerala's backwaters, sunbathe on sandy beaches, trek through the Western Ghats, and maybe catch a glimpse of a wild tiger or elephant.

    ELI partners with many organizations in India to create diverse volunteer and internship opportunities. Participants can teach in the hill town of Munnar surrounded by tea plantations, help out in a village orphanage outside Chennai, study at one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in India, help plan an HIV awareness campaign in the poor neighborhoods of Chennai, plant trees in the Palani Hills, and much more. Each program offers an unforgettable cultural experience in a civilization that has been a center for art and learning for thousands of years.


  • Orphanages

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    Most children who end up in Indian orphanages face a grim future of labor and poverty. As a result, more and more organizations are placing an emphasis on education to help alter this path. ELI works with orphanages in and around Chennai and in rural areas in Southern India that endeavor to provide opportunities for education and personal growth. ELI volunteers participate in a wide range of tasks including playing games, leading activities, assisting with classes for children not yet able to attend school, after school tutoring, feeding the children, assisting students with physical or learning disabilities, and bringing smiles and fun! These placements are a good match for participants who are adaptable, resourceful, upbeat and full of energy. Check out Caitlyn's interview for an idea of what her volunteer experience was like and how she coped with the culture shock. 

    "It exceeded my expectations. I didn’t expect to fall in love with the children at the orphanage but it was inevitable. I instantly felt like I was part of a family and miss the place that had so much become my home." Yelena, 2010

    Accommodations depend on the organization, as they are always provided on the property. The rooms are simple but cover basic needs - all volunteers have a single bed with sheets, pillow, and attached bathroom with western style flushing toilet and stand up shower. Some organizations can afford an air conditioner, and some cannot. Occasionally a volunteer will have his or her own room, but usually the bedroom is shared with at least one other volunteer. All meals and sanitized water are provided on-site by the kitchen staff, and the food is usually spicy and vegetarian.


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  • Women's & Social Welfare in India


    ELI works with organizations throughout Chennai that are devoted to empowering marginalized women. The organizations have evolved from emphasizing relief/welfare to emphasizing development and empowerment. Volunteers can get involved in a number of projects during their stay, ongoing programs include:

    This program began in 2004 to prevent incidents of trafficking in women and children through rescue, rehabilitation, providing shelter, skill training, employment opportunities, providing medical and legal assistance and creating awareness against this issue.

    The Rag Pickers pilot project was stated in 2009 to create a safe night shelter for street children. These children are found working among the dumping yards in hazardous conditions with inadequate facilities. The goal is to eventually expand to include medical services, education, safety & hygiene and savings plans.

    The objective of this program is to reduce the vulnerability of slum dwellers and youth to HIV/AIDS. A number of methodologies are employed to create awareness including street theater, individual counseling, blood camps, condom promotion and mass education campaigns. 

    Women In Development (WID)
    This program, launched in 2003, aims to promote leadership among women living in Chennai slums and to enable equal participation in the community structure. To ensure this, self-help groups for bank loans or micro-credits are established with 12-20 women. As more self-help groups are formed, they organize into federations and eventually a confederation encompassing more outreach, advocacy and education.

    Family Counseling Center (FCC)
    This center provides professional counseling services, referral services and liaisons with police and legal systems. Some of the main activities of the center include marital and divorce counseling, employment assistance, shelter for women, girls and children, reintegration of runaway girls with their families and medical services. Family counseling has helped to promote better relationships and understanding within local families for the past fifteen years.

    Short Stay Home (SSH)
    In conjunction with the family counseling center, the short stay home reaches out to deserted, destitute, separated and harassed women. It is a temporary shelter for women who are physically and psychologically battered, giving them a safe environment to reflect and resolve their conflicts. Activities focus around enhancing concepts of sharing, group spirit and mutual acceptance.

    Please note, volunteers and interns with this program are volunteering for the social services organization as a whole.  While you are free to get involved in any ongoing projects, you may also be asked to assist with other projects or tasks within the organization.

    Read Nancy's interview to get an idea of what her internship expericne with a women's group was like. 

    The volunteer flat is located directly above the adminstrative offices. It is a suite of shared rooms with single beds (some of which are bunk beds). It is recommended that volunteers bring sheets and a pillow. There are shared bathrooms with western style toilets and a stand-up shower. ELI volunteers are placed in rooms with air conditioning.


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  • Medical Volunteer/Internship in India

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    ELI works with a charitable hospital in Chennai to create unique internships designed for pre-med, pre-nursing, nursing, medical and dental students. Interns have the opportunity to shadow doctors and nurses, observe diagnoses and treatment schedules, and learn firsthand about the day-to-day practice of medicine in India. Pre-meds will not have medical responsibilities but may be asked to assist with some tasks if the staff feels the participant is capable and the assignment is appropriate. Medical students start out by shadowing and then complete tasks as they are assigned by their supervising doctor. Participants in this program are also invited to assist with public health education campaigns in the community. For information on the day to day experience of the medical internship, see Olivia's Photojournal.

    "It actually exceeded my expectations, really. Even though I was only doing the two-week session in Chennai, I learned so much about how the hospital works, I observed patients with doctors, I went out into the field several times to help spread awareness on various things like HIV/AIDS, TB, and so on. I even helped set up two eye clinics and it was a good turn out every time. This will definitely help me in my pursuit to become a doctor." Nausheen, 2010


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  • Volunteer Teaching in India

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    Kerala is on the tropical southwest coast of the Indian Subcontinent, sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Indian Ocean. Volunteers teach English and other subjects in schools near Munnar, Adimali, Varkala, and several other towns. Many of the schools have a long tradition of accepting children from all castes, and most are run by Catholic priests. Other schools serve underserved populations such as tribal communities, hearing impaired, and HIV+ students. Teaching in Kerala and the Ghats is a rare opportunity to experience the easy rhythm of community life in a stunningly beautiful setting.

    Volunteers do not need any teaching experience, but they need to be fluent in English, flexible, excited about education, and able to independently lead a classroom in academic exercises and activities. It's a good idea to bring a few activity ideas with you! This placement requires at least a 4 week commitment in order to minimize classroom disruption. Also, please note that the schools in Kerala are on holiday April through June, and the number of volunteers on campus is limited during country-wide testing.

    Accommodations are provided in on-campus housing by each school in Kerala. All volunteers have their own room with a single bed, access to a western style toilet, stand up shower, and electricity (please note that tribal school accommodations may not have all of these amenities, and accommodations are in guest houses or homestays with one of the school's administrators). Three spicy vegetarian meals are served each day.


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  • Journalism/Travel Writing Internships

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    Print journalism has existed in South India for over 200 years since the Madras Courier, a weekly newspaper, began publishing in 1785. Today, Chennai has eight major daily newspapers and an ever increasing array of weekly and monthly publications. ELI works with several publications based in Chennai designed to give interns practical training while providing a unique, in-depth learning experience and insight into the fast-paced world of English print media in Chennai. By interning abroad, participants will gain exposure to diverse journalistic practices and learn about international issues facing the industry. Interns finish the program having developed a portfolio of published articles.  Journalism internships require an 8 week commitment. A writing sample will be required in the application process.

    "To experience India is to be with India, not tour it. There is plenty to see, but what really has made an impression in my experiences in Chennai is the interaction between the people with whom I have worked with at the paper... Being a very small American minority in South India most of the time has not hindered this whatsoever. Many people have given me acceptance into their ways of life, and I feel that I have repaid them by keeping a broad mind, and a healthy conscience. I would recommend anyone journeying to India, or anywhere abroad to do the same." Nicholas, 2009

    Cheack out fearless Journalism Intern Kaleb's interview about his internship and his blog about Cycling in Chennai...only recommended for the experienced cyclist!

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  • Foreign Service Internship in India

    The U.S. Commercial Service (CS) in India offers internship opportunities throughout the year. This is a Commercial Service program, under the direction of a Commercial Officer. The internship experience provides marketing, budgeting and trade promotion support to CS programs.

    The objective of your experience is to learn how to successfully work in a foreign country. You will acquire skills that allow you to adapt to new customs, handle foreign exchange, and communicate successfully, mindful of cultural differences, in a foreign environment on a variety of topics ranging from ordering food to business-related tasks. Finally, you will make valuable contacts in the U.S. and Indian business community that may help you in your career goals.

    Responsibilities include:

    1. Revise, update, and compose entries into the Client Tracking System database to record staff counseling sessions and success stories. This information is a key management tool for the Department of Commerce in that it is one of the many criteria used to determine the agency’s annual budget. The database is used to create an industry specific, qualified contact list for a U.S. exporter.

    2. Handle incoming telephone calls, ensuring that clients received timely and quality assistance.

    3. Research, prepare and edit English-language documents to prepare them as final drafts for an American Officer’s review. These tasks require you to use analytical skills, make judgement calls, ask for guidance and prepare text to be published to the Internet. You may be asked to draft ad hoc reports, prepare agendas, prepare and enter Export Success Story documentation or edit market research reports (ISAs, IPS, ICPs) about India.

    4. Conduct ad hoc research. Using your knowledge of the Internet, Commercial Service databases and Embassy facilities you will carry out these projects on behalf of U.S. exporters. This can range from a two-page information sheet highlighting relevant information or a PowerPoint presentation in English (corrected by local staff or an American officer).

    5. Carry out routine clerical tasks. In addition to acting as the back-up receptionist, you may file documents (paper and electronic), upgrade our electronic files, escort our visitors and prepare basic memos to the Ambassador or other Embassy personnel.

    6. Trade Shows, Trade Missions and Receptions – you may be asked to staff our booth at a trade show and to give information about our services to clients. If we have a trade mission, you will be assigned to help clients making appointments, interpreting (depending on your comfort level), escorting and handling logistics. You may be asked to attend business receptions at the Ambassador’s residence or other location and represent along with the staff CS India.

    Who is Eligible?

    • United States citizens studying in U.S. or India
    • Students currently enrolled in a college/university or those who are accepted in a school for the quarter/semester following the internship. Students must return to complete their education following the internship
    • A superior academic rating
    • Long term availability: minimum eight weeks and are required to be full-time while working in India - 40 hours per week.
    • Excellent oral and written communication skills, computer skills, and interpersonal skills
    • Must receive a positive background security check by the U.S. Government prior to the start of an internship

    Will I Be Paid?

    No. This internship is a voluntary position and is unpaid. However academic credit is available; consult with your advising councilor. Upon completion of the internship, you will receive a certificate of completion and an official letter of recommendation can be provided and many Universities will award academic credit for your work. Students are responsible for obtaining their own transportation to and from post, housing, and personal expenses.

  • Conservation

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    Southern India is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species. The forests of the Western Ghats are classified as a biodiversity hotspot, but these ecosystems are under threat due to development, deforestation, introduction of exotic species, and poor wastewater management. Volunteers work with an environmental group based in the hill station of Kodaikanal. Ongoing projects include environmental education outreach, reforestation, wildlife population monitoring, pollution prevention, and water quality monitoring.

    Conservation volunteers live in a shared apartment in the hill station of Kodaikanal. A family lives on-site providing meals, maintaining the property, and working side-by-side with volunteers on conservation projects. The apartment has a western style flushing toilet and a stand up shower. Hot water is usually available, and electricity is available intermittently. Just outside the volunteer apartment is a large veranada that affords sweeping views of the valley below. The conservation project can only accommodate up to 3 volunteers at a time.


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  • Artist Village

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    The Cholamandal artists' village was started in 1965 by thirty artists with the goal of reviving modern creative arts and creating an independent, self sustaining community of artists. Located about 6 miles south of Chennai along the eastern coast, the village has become an important arts center in southern India. ELIers at the arts center have the opportunity to work side by side with local artists, help improve the facilities, maintain displays at the gallery, assist in developing marketing strategies, and work on their own projects. Daily schedules are unstructured and extremely flexible to allow for expansive creativity.

    Due to the relaxed nature of this placement, most participants choose to stay a maximum of 2 to 4 weeks. This placement is ideal for motivated artists who can draw on the inspiration of India to work on their own projects.

    The guest loft is on the main property, in the sculpture garden and next door to the gallery. It sleeps up to 2 foreign artists at a time. It has a western style flushing toilet, stand up cold shower, and other western style amenities. It is recommended that participants brings sheets/sleeping bag, pillow, towel and mosquito repellant. Three spicy vegetarian meals are served a day.


    Click here to inquire for more info   Apply Now


  • Study Abroad

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    Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is India's fourth largest city. It was an important city during the British colonial era, and remains one of the most dynamic and interesting cities in the country today. Studying at the University of Madras will give you insight into the new India, as the world's largest democracy, as well as the old, a civilization rich with tradition. Yes, it is one of the high tech centers of India and the world, rivaling Bangalore for preeminence, but unlike Bangalore, Chennai is also a major cultural center, with art, music, dance, and film throughout the city.

    India is a highly educated country, and Chennai leads the way. There are colleges and universities at every turn, but the most prestigious of these is the University of Madras. A wide range of subjects are available to the visiting student and classes are taught in English - one of the official languages of India. Whether you want to study history, philosophy, dance, chemistry, or Indian literature, there is something for you. Would you like to get involved in some volunteer work or an internship to boost your resume. ELI is very active in the Chennai area and can arrange a wide array of projects to complement your study experience or as a stand-alone option.

    Why Study in India?

    • Choose from a diverse course catalog at one of India's most elite Universities
    • Courses taught in English
    • Live in the cultural center of India
    • Immerse yourself in the life of the local community by participating in our service learning program

    See full details of our Study in India Programs


  • Feedback

    For similar resources on other countries and programs, please see the "Experiences" tab above.


    Brenda's Photojournal
    Olivia's Photojournal


    Kaleb's Interview
    Olivia's Interview
    Caitlyn's Interview

    Video Clips:




    "Krish was VERY helpful and friendly! I knew that I could call him if I ever had any questions or problems. I also very much enjoyed having lunch with him and the other ELI volunteers; it was fun catching up with them and receiving advice from someone outside of PV. It was so cool that he arranged that! I had originally considered volunteering in India without the help of a program, but am VERY glad that I chose to go with ELI. When traveling to a new country there are so many things to prepare and consider that it could feel very overwhelming (i.e. getting a cell phone, figuring out what to pack), but I felt that I was very well prepared and supported throughout my entire time there. Thank you for making this such a wonderful experience for me!"
    -Arianne B.

    "I did not know what to expect, really. So I guess in that way [the orphanage] met my expectations. In every possible regard, the people there only gave me the love I gave them.  Meaning they were as kind and patient and understanding as I was and I couldn’t have been happier with my acceptance there. Furthermore, I soon began to feel as if [the orphanage] was a kind of family"
    -Naomi L.


    "There is a lot to see in Chennai, and many different places to shop!! So I would suggest making a list of places before coming first, or even once participants get to Chennai, they should ask what good places there are to shop, eat, watch movies, etc., and make a list of that. That way when they are not in the hospital or out in the field, they have stuff to do in the city itself."
    -Nausheen S.

    "Be prepared for an adjustment period. Take care of your health.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions; Indians are very friendly and helpful!  If you are unhappy with something, mention it to Krish. He will do his very best to make sure you are happy.  Get away from work... attend free concerts, go to bars, or the beach, hang out at a Cafe Coffee Day.  If you love music, go to Chennai in December/January, when they hold a huge classical music festival. Be sure to check out the dance too!  Have no fear! Go for it!"
    -Cadence M.

    "Chennai is a hot, bustling city, smelly at times, busy always. One will be hard-pressed to escape exhaust fumes and people on every corner--do not come here to 'get away from everyone'.  Good conversations can be had despite the language barrier at the numerous tea stalls around. Check out St. Thomas Mount, Mahabulipuram, and Pondy on the weekends. Ride the buses and the trains--much cheaper than stopping auto drivers who are all too eager to rip you off."
    -Dimitri S.

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  • Details

    Program Includes:

    *Pre-departure Materials
    *Airport Pick Up by Taxi in Chennai or Kochi
    *City Tour
    *24/7 In-country Support

    Program Does Not Include:

    *Round Trip Airfare to India
    *Return Trip to Airport
    *Required Travel and Medical Insurance
    *Visa Fees
    *Food is not included in all programs. Please inquire with us whether food is included in your program.

    Start Dates

    The programs in India have completely flexible start dates most months of the year. It is generally suggested that participants arrive between Sunday and Wednesday to go through orientation and then jump right into their project.

    ELI volunteers take a taxi to a hotel for their first night in Chennai.  Orientation starts the next morning.· During the orientation we will help you set up a cell phone, exchange money, and take you sightseeing in Chennai before you settle into your program.

    Orientation and Accommodations

    Most participants spend their first night in the YWCA International Guesthouse in Chennai. Orientation starts the next morning. During the orientation we will help you set up a cell phone, exchange money, and take you sightseeing in Chennai before you settle into your program.  Accommodations for the remainder of the program vary by project.

    Notes & Helpful Links: 

    Check the time in Chennai with this Time Conversion Tool, and Check the Weather.  ELI's Director blogs about eating his way through India in Hey Vegetarians!  Participants need to visit a travel nurse before their arrival in India.  For immunizations, we defer to the recommendations from the Center for Disease Control.

    Apply Now

    After you fill out the Application Form on our website, our Application Advisor will be in touch to help you with the next steps.  We have set up an India Checklist for you to see exactly what steps you will need to take to go abroad with ELI.


    Click here to inquire for more info   Apply Now





  • Cost

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     Application Fee: $100
    (Refundable only if we are unable to find a placement that·matches your request.)

    Length of Program Orphanage
    Social Welfare
    Internship Artist Retreat Teaching in Kerala
    2 Weeks US$835 US$1145 US$1250 US$1300 N/A
    4 Weeks US$935 US$1285 US$1405 US$1500 US$950
    6 Weeks US$1035 US$1425 US$1560 US$1700 US$950
    8 Weeks US$1135 US$1565 US$1715 US$1900 US$950
    10 Weeks US$1235 US$1705 US$1870 US$2100 US$950
    12 Weeks US$1335 US$1845 US$2025 US$2300 US$950

    All prices are listed in US Dollars. The program fees reflect the costs ELI faces when setting up a program. We work hard to keep our costs as low as possible. ELI is a registered 501(c)3 non profit. US taxpayers may be able to deduct some or all of the program fees (for volunteer projects only). If you are outside the US and wondering what these costs translate to in your currency, click here for an online conversion tool that will give you the approximate current exchange rate.


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