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Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) in Bolivia

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Program sponsor: Northwestern

Colorful colonial buildings on Plaza Colon in Cochabamba
Colorful colonial buildings on Plaza Colon in Cochabamba

The Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) is a study abroad program that provides undergraduates with the knowledge, tools, and experiences to confront shared global challenges. Through service-learning in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, Uganda, or Vietnam, teams of students join the efforts of local organizations to advance community-driven change.


GESI students are placed in local organizations through the Foundation for Sustainable Development. The urban environment provides many opportunities to dive in and address some of Bolivia’s most pressing issues like education, women’s rights, political activism, poverty rights, and NGO management.


Cochabamba has an especially vibrant history of grassroots activism, with long standing fights against corruption, most famously the Water War protests over the privatization of water. Nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, Cochabamba is a bustling, diverse city. While Spanish is spoken throughout the country, GESI students will also hear many indigenous languages as they move around the city or go on excursions. Nicknamed the “the Eternal Spring” and the “Garden City,” Cochabamba has a pleasant year-round climate and is known for some of the best cuisine in Bolivia.

Community experience

Bolivian host families are often large and multigenerational. It’s not uncommon for students in Bolivia to meet the entire extended family, attend a wedding, or be invited on weekend trips with their host families.

Begin Application Process


COMM ST 395: Doing Development: The Theory and Practice of Community Engagement

This course helps GESI students strengthen local community development efforts by identifying and harnessing existing community assets. The practical lessons in this course include asset mapping and identifying processes that improve intra- and inter-team communication and relationships. The objectives of this course are (1) to prepare students to successfully execute community engagement work with host organizations or local host communities, (2) to provide structure for their work in-country (3) to teach students how to reflect collaboratively and meaningfully on their learning experiences when they return. Through this method of preparation, implementation, and evaluation, students become more competent collaborative change-agents in their communities and institutions.

INTL ST 393-SA: Development in the Global Context

This course combines intensive classroom and structured experiential learning to analyze community-based international development. Students examine fundamental debates over the nature and goals of international development, alternative approaches to development work, the common assumptions employed in development work, the effects of power in development work, and the theory and practice of community-based development. In addition, students will be introduced to the political, social, economic, cultural and geographic characteristics of each host country that are most relevant for development. During fieldwork, students apply these principles to design and implement a small-scale community development project with peers and community partners. Through a series of written assignments, students use their time in the field to conduct interviews and additional research to analyze core questions and controversies within international development. Students reconvene at Northwestern to examine individual experiences and research in the field, as well as compare experiences with GESI peers who worked in other countries and different development sectors. Students draw lessons from these comparisons and articulate their own arguments about international development work.

Program Requirements


Open to Northwestern and non-Northwestern students from all majors meeting Northwestern's minimum application requirements.


1 year or the equivalent of college-level Spanish


  1. Apply for permission to study abroad
    All students are required to apply for permission to study abroad. Learn more about the process, deadlines, and access the application on the apply to study abroad page.
  2. Interview with GESI

Program Contacts

Estimated Credit

2 Northwestern units per semester. Visit Registration & Credit to learn more about credit types and requirements, registration, and other considerations.


While in-country, students stay with carefully vetted local community homestay families. Amenities at homestays vary by country and household; however, all families are expected to provide a bed, safe drinking water and food, and generally sanitary living conditions for students. Electricity and running water may not be available at all sites. When possible, each GESI student will be placed in his or her own individual homestay unless a student indicates a special reason for wishing to be placed with another student or unless circumstances at the site do not enable students to be placed individually.

Host Institution

The Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization created to offer capacity building and funding to grassroots community-based organizations. Each community-based organization where GESI student work addresses one or more of the following development areas:

  • Microfinance/Microenterprise
  • Youth and education
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Community development
  • Women’s empowerment
  • Human rights

Program Cost

2019 Program cost: $10,788*

*The cost of GESI tuition is the same across all six locations. The cost difference is in additional costs such as flights, visas, and estimated spending.  Compare the total estimated cost for each GESI location

Billed by Northwestern: $10,788

  • Tuition, room, and board: $9,020
  • International airfare: $1,768*
  • Study Abroad Administrative Fee (SAAF): $0
*Costs are estimated until booked in the spring

Estimated Additional Costs: $1,108

  • Visa: $160*
  • Discretionary/personal expenses: $400
  • Other expenses: $548
*Students are responsible for obtaining their own visas. Prices are subject to change, as they are set by each country.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

  • Students applying to this program are eligible to apply for GESI scholarships and are also encouraged to apply for other funding opportunities.
  • Northwestern students receiving financial aid during the academic year may be eligible to apply for summer aid for this program. Visit the summer aid & scholarships page for additional information.

Program Financial Details

This section outlines some of the billing and financial arrangements for Northwestern Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) programs, and is intended as a guide to help you navigate the financial aspects of your study abroad process. You should always refer to your program materials for the most current information and instructions.

Program Confirmation

Once you are approved to attend a GESI program, you will need to complete a Program Confirmation form to confirm your participation. Northwestern students attending GESI programs are not required to pay a confirmation deposit, but will be charged a cancellation fee for withdrawing from the program after confirming.

Northwestern Invoice

Your Northwestern invoice will be issued through CAESAR on the regular quarterly schedule, and will include your GESI program fee (tuition, room/board, insurance), as well as your program airfare.

If you receive GESI scholarships, financial aid, and/or loans, these funds will apply directly to your NU account.

Withdrawal & Refund Policies

If you withdraw or are dismissed from a GESI program after submitting your program confirmation form, you are subject to the withdrawal & refund policies for Northwestern programs.

Program Website