The Center for South Asian Studies’ Summer in South Asia (SiSA) fellowship was established in 2006 thanks to a generous gift from an anonymous donor. This fellowship provides U-M undergraduates with an opportunity for a fully-funded internship in India over the summer months. 

CSAS recently hired Abdul Kizito as a SiSA mentor to help students with the application process and to answer any questions they may have. 

With the deadline for SiSA applications less than a month away, we sat down with Abdul to learn more about him, his background, and the program. 

1) Tell me about yourself. What are you studying? Where are you from? 

I am originally from Uganda–different places in Uganda–but I have also lived much of my life here in Ann Arbor. I went to high school not too far from here. I love uncommon stories, if that is a thing. I used to watch many movies, and don’t get me started on my favorite shows, but now I read a lot of books and am slowly building up my watchlist again. I would describe myself now as an anthro nerd and budding filmmaker.  I am a first-year PhD student studying experiences of diaspora and movement, specifically Africans in India. 

2) How would you describe your new mentor role? 

I see myself as the person to break the ice. Applying for an internship or fellowship is a scary thing! But it’s not. This fellowship application is not intended to be complicated. The Center wants people to go to South Asia. The application is easy, but you may have questions, which is ok. As a mentor, I help people think through places, organizations, and projects they could do. I try to break down the process and options to make it less intimidating. 

3) Tell me about your time in India. Any important lessons learned? 

Always carry cash! And make friends! One time, I was at the edges of Yelawaldi, a place in Pune. My phone battery was dead, my bank card was not working, and the monsoons were in full swing. I didn’t even know where I was. I walked to a local restaurant and started conversing with one of the guys there. One of the customers called me an Ola (basically Uber for auto rickshaw) to a hotel that I stayed at during my first weeks. The manager there knew me, and we were good friends. He covered my Ola costs and let me charge my phone at the hotel. I eventually paid him back. It was a good lesson on the benefits of opening yourself up to people and carrying cash.

I went to Pune in Maharashtra to learn about African students there. I lived in a hotel for a few days and with other Africans for the rest of my time. I spent a lot of time hanging out in a cafe frequented by the Africans, visiting them at their places and parties, and I even went with some of them to their schools. I always got chicken shawarma for dinner from one of those street restaurants in Khondowa. I made many friends with whom I even took one of those crowded trains and once had a road trip from Pune to Mumbai and back. My whole time there was an adventure. Few Indians I met spoke English, making using Google Translate an exciting part of the experience. 

4) How do you feel your trip there helps you in your new role? 

Before traveling, I had to extensively research organizations I could have worked with. Though I eventually developed my project, I got some familiarity with the organizations and what it is like to reach out and even apply to work with them. My experience preparing to go and being there gave me a sense of what developing a project is like, and of what it was like trying to move around in India.

I carry some tips and tricks, but what I offer best is the sense that it is easier than you think, and if I did it, so could you. 

5) What are some key things students should be thinking about when they apply for this fellowship? 

Students should ask themselves where they are right now and what they might want to get from an experience like this. Some people are thinking about internships, others wish to travel and meet new people, some have research questions, and some want to make art or write books; what could you do for a fully covered opportunity to learn from an experience in another country? 

6) What do you think they can gain from time in India - or what do you think are some of the most significant advantages of the fellowship? 

Making new friends, learning how to navigate a new country, getting a glimpse of a world that you might have only seen on TV or read in books, and getting unique work experience in your field, but I think the biggest thing is the experience of a world that is very different from here. 

The most significant advantage of the fellowship is the ability to do whatever you want. There are not a lot of accessible opportunities like that for undergraduates, not to mention after school. 

7) What's the most commonly asked question from students (about SiSA)? 

What should I do? And my answer is: What project have you always wanted to work on or try doing?

SiSA Fellows receive $4,500 to learn through an unpaid internship or conduct independent research projects in India over the summer months. This amount is sufficient to cover all costs associated with traveling to India, living there, and traveling after the internship or research period. The minimum required time in India is four weeks, but students can stay up to four months. Undergraduate students from any academic discipline are eligible.

SiSA Fellows have focused on various topics related to their academic degrees and/or areas of personal interest. Past SiSA Fellows have built solar panels with community members in a rural area, worked on a Bollywood movie set, and served in a rural healthcare NGO. Participating in this fellowship provides students with transformative international experiences that leave a lasting personal, academic, and professional impact on their lives.  

No familiarity with an Indian language, prior research, or professional experience is required. SiSA staff members are available to assist throughout the application process.

SiSA Fellowships have funded over 100 students. 

If you are interested in SiSA, you have many options for more information. Visit our website. Join a group chat to get application tips and guidance by connecting with past fellows, mentors, and other SiSA hopefuls. Sign up for a meeting with Abdul or email him at to arrange a time.