The college has launched a new bilateral exchange program that will allow its students to study abroad at FLAME University in Pune, India. Students will have the opportunity to study alongside FLAME students for a semester in Pune, and in turn, FLAME students will be able to spend a semester at Amherst.
FLAME University, a liberal arts institution, was founded in 2015. Its website describes FLAME as “the pioneer of liberal education in India” that will provide students with the “necessary knowledge and skills to enable them to play a significant role in the field of their choice.” It is among the first liberal arts colleges in India alongside several other schools like Ashoka University, with whom Amherst is currently participating in a short-term faculty exchange. FLAME University has similar student exchange programs at Wellesley College and Yale University.
Yael Rice, professor of art and the history of art and Asian languages and civilizations, visited FLAME last spring and noted that “it’s critically important that Amherst College students have access to those kinds of opportunities to study in South Asia … especially with the number of faculty who teach, who research, who specialize in South Asia.” She added that it could appeal to those in STEM fields, social sciences and the humanities. No matter their track, students will be able to pursue opportunities to work with companies and organizations in the city.
According to Janna Behrens, director of the global education office, the FLAME exchange is a good fit for “two streams” of students: those interested in studying South Asia and those interested in experiencing the “liberal arts in a new environment.”
“The students that are choosing to attend an institution like FLAME are not choosing some of the pre-professional, historically prestigious universities,” Behrens said. “And that kind of sense of adventure and intellectual curiosity and even … entrepreneurship” makes FLAME “a great place for Amherst students.” Rice said that according to some of her colleagues at FLAME and other institutions, “FLAME draws a somewhat different demographic [than other schools], being a private institution. That said, it seems to be a regionally diverse demographic. It’s not just young people from Maharashtra; they’re coming from all over the country.”
Behrens added that FLAME offers small classes based on discussion and group work that she expects will be familiar to Amherst students. When she visited FLAME and sat in on a class, it “felt like an Amherst class,” said Behrens.
At FLAME, Amherst students will also find “an experience that is modern India,” she added.
FLAME University’s Discover India program is a particular source of enrichment. Discover India, which is required for every matriculated Indian student, involves a year of faculty-mentored research about a chosen aspect of Indian culture. Amherst students will be able to experience a slice of the Discover India program by working with FLAME students on their projects, Behrens said. During the Discover India program, FLAME students produce an 60-80 page research paper and an 8-10 minute documentary while also participating in a poster session. The year culminates in a competition, and the highest-scoring project receives a grant to study a thematic aspect of the culture and heritage of a foreign country.
Only a handful of Amherst students have traveled to India in the last five years through external study abroad programs, according to Behrens. However, she expressed confidence that interest will grow now that Amherst has its own partnership with an Indian institution. She cited the college’s partnership with Doshisha University, which began 10 years ago, and the more recent partnerships with Yale-NUS and Yonsei University as examples of programs that increased student interest in visiting Kyoto, Singapore and Seoul, respectively. She expects the FLAME program to produce similar results.
The college’s relationship with its partners is also “deeper” than its relationship with third-party programs, Behrens said, noting that Amherst faculty put forward the proposal for the FLAME partnership. Behrens also stated that FLAME students visiting Amherst will positively impact the school environment and generate greater interest in studying abroad in India.
Wellesley’s student exchange with FLAME, which has spanned almost two years, served as a model for Amherst’s program. Amherst, FLAME and Wellesley are currently working on a liberal arts conference in March.
Rice’s own study abroad experience contributed to her interest in South Asia. She said this exchange program could appeal to “people like [her] who studied in Nepal as an undergraduate, who really didn’t have any connection to the region until [she] kind of landed there as a 20-year-old junior.”
“In some cases, students end up studying abroad out of clear deliberation, sometimes it’s just kind of happenstance, and I think a student is much more likely to take the plunge if they know it’s … an Amherst-sanctioned program,” Rice said.