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Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI)

2023 Program Options

All new applications will be considered on a rolling basis until the program location is full. 

The following in-person locations (Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uganda and Vietnam) are approved for return to travel. Program details can be found below and in the GLObal Gateway.

Schedule an appointment with a GLO adviser to discuss the program options in more detail:

  • Tabish Bilal (GESI-Uganda)
  • Miranda Goosby (GESI-Vietnam)
  • Patrick Eccles (GESI-Ecuador)
  • Sara McGuinn (GESI-Bolivia, GESI-Costa Rica)


About GESI

The Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) is a study abroad program that provides undergraduates with the knowledge, tools, and experiences to partner with communities to confront shared global challenges. GESI provides opportunities in collaborative experiential learning – opportunities that develop global leaders while contributing to the sustainable development of communities in which our students work and learn. Working in internships, interdisciplinary teams of students join the efforts of local organizations to advance community-driven change. If you are looking for a program where you learn by doing and are ready to challenge yourself in the pursuit of global social change, GESI is for you.

Quick facts:

  • GESI is one study abroad program with different location options
  • Applicants are assigned to an internship based on their preferred location and sector interests
  • All students live with a host family 
  • All years in undergrad and all majors/minors are eligible 

Application Process

  1.  Attend a required GESI information session or view a recording to learn more about the program and location-specific details. Select your preferred GESI location. 
  2. Complete your application to a specific GESI location. Applicants will select a specific GESI location and one alternative location preference.
  3. Schedule a program interview with the appropriate GESI advisor 

GESI staff will review applications with attention to your:

  • Location preference. Students will apply to a specific GESI country location and indicate a second-choice option in the event spots become unavailable in their preferred location. 
  • Demonstrated language ability for Spanish-speaking locations--to be evaluated in your interview.
  • Interests and how they align with available internship opportunities and the needs and priorities of the community organizations where students work.

"GESI takes everything you think you know about the world and completely flips it upside down in an extremely impactful way. The skills and lessons I learned from GESI will last me a lifetime."

Rachel Gladney

Connect with GESI Alums

Program Details

GESI has three components that make up the structure of the program:

  • Pre-departure Seminar (week-long coursework and orientation at Northwestern)
  • In-country Immersion (8 weeks interning with a host organization and living in a homestay)
  • Final Reflection Summit (3 days of re-entry programming back at Northwestern)

All accommodations and the majority of meals are arranged for students for all three components.

Summer 2023 Program Dates

Pre-departure Seminar (at Northwestern): June 12-18
Departure Day: June 19
In-country Immersion: June 20-August 13
Final Reflection Summit (at Northwestern): August 14-16


Pre-Departure Seminar

The GESI program starts on Northwestern’s campus where students take part in a week of pre-departure coursework and orientation focused on building an understanding of their role in the process of international immersion and community development. In addition to lectures, team-building and small group activities, students will attend country-specific sessions, learn about development topics from practitioners, and attend language classes to prepare them for time abroad. The pre-departure seminar also include a focus on discussing social identities, health and safety, and sharing resources and practical information for the field. GESI students will also work closely with a team of peer facilitators, who will provide academic and personal support, as well as assist in teaching activities.

3-credit GESI field studies course:

  • INTL ST 393-SA Development in a Global Context*
    This course combines intensive classroom with structured experiential learning, as well as peer-to-peer education to examine international development work. The course sets contemporary development practice in the context of fundamental debates over the nature and goals of non-profits and other such efforts, the causes of global poverty, and the history of development, with particular attention to the relationships between power, participation, and social change. Students will be introduced to the political, social, economic, cultural and geographic characteristics of their different locations, with consideration to how these factors influence community-based work. Overall, the course seeks to give students the intellectual, emotional and practical readiness, and framework to pursue and reflect critically on their field experience and in-country work.
*Course title and syllabus are to be considered a draft and subject to change.

In-Country Immersion

While abroad, you will be working in teams with local organizations, advancing their efforts towards sustainable change. Topics vary by program location and include a focus on issues like human rights, sustainable agriculture, gender rights, health services, and youth/education. Your schedule will resemble a work schedule common in your location (roughly 30 hours/week). All students live in homestays and will complete weekly assignments (reflections, field essays and final papers) submitted to Northwestern program faculty. Host organization supervisors will also evaluate students on their project work and community engagement during the internship experience. 

Final Reflection Summit

At the end of GESI, all students reconvenes in the classroom at Northwestern for three days of re-entry coursework and programming as a cohort.  Everyone discusses lessons learned, challenges, and successes of their internship and in-country experience. We believe that reflective practice is an integral component of study abroad programs. The GESI Final Reflection Summit is designed to help students contextualize their international community development experiences within the larger issues of international development theory and practice and to look ahead to next steps beyond the program.

Pre-departure packets

Coming soon.

Travel, Passports, & Visas

Please make sure to have a current passport, valid for at least six months from the end of your program.  Once you are accepted, you will be provided more information about applying for your visa, flight booking, etc.

If you have more questions about the GESI program, review the program pages for your desired location(s) and read through GESI FAQs.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Scholarships are available to support participation in GESI for financial aid eligible students, including scholarships to cover the full program fee (tuition, room and board) and other program costs (airfare and other travel-related expenses). 

Student Stories

One active way GESI encourages story sharing is through the Open Letters curriculum. Open Letters are an exercise to deepen reflective practice, reinforce group formation, and provide opportunities for students to convey the impact of their experiences and engagement in new ways. The Story Slam is the live recording of GESI students sharing an Open Letter. These are live recordings that have not been edited or modified.

Story Slam Summer 2016

Story Slam Summer 2015