Explore the general FAQs to learn more about fees, academics, and logistics. If any of your questions are not answered here, feel free to contact GESI directly. No question is too silly – odds are we have heard it before! We are here to help and happy to speak further.
What is the overall structure of the GESI program?
The GESI model integrates innovative program components that are not offered in traditional study abroad experiences:
- Pre-Departure Coursework: Seven - eight days of preparation at Northwestern University
- In-Country Immersion: An eight-week internship with a community-based organization abroad
- Final Reflection Summit: Three days of reflection with students from all GESI sites at Northwestern University in which students reflect on their experiences, share what they have learned, and explore how to transform their GESI experience into a lifestyle of global engagement
While in-country, teams of three to five students are placed in local community organizations such as schools, clinics, social enterprises, and government agencies to design and implement community-driven collaborative work. Students move from academics and awareness to action through:
- International Development Internship: Students gain valuable experience in all aspects of project planning and implementation: proposal writing, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation
- Cultural Immersion: Living and working with host families and organizations gives students invaluable cultural insights and experience
- Academic Coursework: Structured reflection on academic theory, personal development, and fieldwork build on the foundation laid during the Pre-Departure Coursework
How do I decide on a first-choice GESI location?
- Area of work. Each location offers work that revolves around community needs, like women’s empowerment or microfinance.
- Partner organization. GESI works with five partners, who each approach development a specific way. One of the partner models might resonate with you.
- Language ability. One year of college-level Spanish or the equivalent is required for Bolivia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. The other locations have no language requirement.
How is my GESI location determined?
During the interview, a GESI staff member will ask questions to learn about your strengths, what is important to you, and why you are interested in the GESI program. This, along with your preference for a particular site, major, language ability, organizational involvement, and areas of interest help GESI staff place students in a location. In addition to student strengths and interests, GESI staff considers the preferences and needs of each community when placing students in country locations.
In the online application, GESI applicants apply to their first choice country location and indicate other locations to which they are open.*
*Note: You should not complete more than one application in the online system or list GESI as your first and second choice. If you change your mind about your location preferences during the interview (which is very common!), the GESI staff will adjust your application to reflect your new preferences.
Where do I find detailed information about my GESI site?
Our GESI program pages help provide more specific information. Refer to your country-specific pre-departure packet for detailed site information, including a recommended packing list.
How do I stay in contact with people back home?
GESI encourages students and parents to discuss how, and how often, they will communicate prior to the start of the program. You will learn more about how to communicate abroad once you are accepted into the program.
Where will I live? Is it safe?
Once in-country, students are picked-up by site teams and taken to a local hotel or guesthouse for orientation. After orientation, students are placed with their carefully selected accommodation for the duration of their time abroad.
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.
All families are thoroughly vetted by our on-site partner organization to ensure that they will provide safe accommodations. Our partners also meet and train each family to ensure that they understand their role as a host family.
When will I learn about my homestay family?
Although we realize that learning about one's homestay family can be among the most exciting (and anxiety-producing) aspects of students' preparations to go abroad, we often cannot make homestay information available until a few days before students' departures. Since the GESI roster undergoes occasional changes at the last-minute, we finalize homestay arrangements with our in-country partners in the weeks just prior to student arrivals in-country. In the meantime, rest assured that you will have a carefully-selected family ready and waiting for your arrival.
What is a normal day in-country like?
A student's daily life depends on their host country and project. In most cases, students can expect to be working alongside their host organization during the normal workday, spend time with their host family or friends in the evenings, and take the weekends off or spend it with their host family.
That said, students are often eager to schedule their work hours and related events during times at which they can involve a significant number of community members, which may mean working more weekend and evening hours while resting during the day. Day-to-day schedules will vary, depending on the pace of life in a student's host country as well as the nature of their particular host organization.
What sort of work will students do while abroad?
No two GESI experiences are the same. The work that students do while abroad is highly dependent on the skills you and your GESI teammates bring to your internship, and the resources and needs of the organization that will host you as interns. The GESI staff will work with you during the application process to help find a location and internship that is a good match for you. Once you’re in-country you and your GESI teammates will collaborate with your host organization to determine the focus of your work.
How are local organizations or community groups selected?
GESI works with Kaya Responsible Travel, the Institute for Central American Development Studies, Social Entrepreneur Corps, and Amizade to select the local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), small government office, social enterprises, and community groups in each country. We select and place students at organizations and community groups that demonstrate:
- Clear focus and mission easily aligned with student efforts. We look for sites in which the level of GESI student interest is high.
- Staff capacity to support a group of interns. The partner providing in-country supervision must have full-time, year-round staff working closely with local NGOs and/or community groups.
- Ongoing programs where students can add value. We look for communities and organizations that have programs containing possibilities for students to add value.
- Flexibility to work with the unique sets of talents GESI students offer. GESI looks for organizations that will communicate effectively with GESI teams.
- Desire for a long-term, sustained relationship with the GESI program.
- Country and site location complies with all university policies on state department travel warnings and risk assessment criteria (health, safety).
Who should apply to GESI?
Even if you've never read a book on international development, volunteered, or been abroad, GESI wants students passionate about global change. Recent first-year college students through students getting ready to graduate are eligible. GESI recognizes the value of diverse student perspectives and is designed to meet students wherever they are in their personal and professional development. Whether you are interested in a career in teaching or consulting, finance or non-profit, engineering or politics, GESI serves as an excellent opportunity to build your skills and hone your interests so that you can make a difference wherever your career path may lead.
Is GESI available to non-Northwestern students?
We encourage students from any university to apply to GESI.
During which undergraduate year should I apply to GESI?
Many GESI students choose to participate early in their academic career since GESI often impacts students' future academic and co-curricular interests. Other students choose to participate once they have more experience or time in their schedules. No matter when you decide to participate, we believe GESI will be a valuable and transformative experience. In general, the distribution of students averages:
- 22% first years
- 45% sophomores
- 25% juniors
- 8% seniors
How are students evaluated?
For both courses:*
- COMM ST 395-SA Doing Development: The Theory and Practice of Community Engagement
- INTL ST 393-SA Development in the Global Context
students are evaluated based on a combination of class participation, written assignments, and final group reports and presentations. Students are graded on the academic portions of the program and the efforts they make at their internship sites, not the outcomes of the work a their host organization.
How much credit will students get?
Students receive two direct Northwestern credits,* equivalent to six semester hours:
- COMM ST 395-SA Doing Development: The Theory and Practice of Community Engagement
- INTL ST 393-SA Development in the Global Context
How much does it cost and why?
GESI leverages the best of our on-the-ground partners – in country support, community connections, health, safety, and logistics – and the best of Northwestern University – experiential teaching, access to experts in the field, structured reflection to frame your experience, alumni networks, and greater support to meet your academic goals.
To read about the most up-to-date program costs, please visit the GESI program page for your desired location.
Can I use my financial aid? Does GESI offer scholarships?
Full tuition and partial tuition scholarships are available for Northwestern students who are eligible for financial aid who plan to participate in GESI. By completing the online application you will automatically be considered for a scholarship.
See our Money Matters pages for information on financial aid, scholarships, and loans.
What if I need to withdraw from GESI after being accepted?
If you withdraw from GESI after submitting a signed online Program Confirmation Form, you will be charged for unrecoverable costs incurred on your behalf by the program office, and your $1000 deposit will not be refunded. Learn more about withdrawal policies for Northwestern programs, or contact the GESI team for more information.
How much money should I expect to spend in-country?
Although the amount of money students spend during the program varies based upon individual students' spending habits, countries, and exchange rates, the average amount that students reported spending in 2018 was between $250-$500. Most students used this money for souvenirs, gifts, eating in restaurants, entertainment, and tourist excursions.
What travel arrangements are students responsible for?
Students are responsible for booking their own transportation to and from Northwestern. GESI arranges and books group flights to and from students’ host countries and will bill student accounts directly.
Do I need to get a visa?
GESI staff will work with you on the latest visa requirements.
Am I allowed to stay with family or friends in Chicago/Evanston for the Pre-Departure Coursework and Final Reflection Summit, or do I have to stay with the group?
Since the two summits offer valuable opportunities for group bonding, we encourage students to stay with the group. However, with advanced notice, we allow students to stay with family or friends during either or both of these summits. Please note that students who do not stay with the group are still responsible for paying the full program fee, and they are still required to be present and punctual for all classes and activities.
What is service learning? Why is it so important?
Service learning is defined as a "course-based, credit-bearing educational experience in which students (a) participate in an organized service activity that meets identified community needs and (b) reflect on the service activity in such a way as to gain further understanding of course content, a broader appreciation of the discipline, and an enhanced sense of civic responsibility" (Bringle & Hatcher, 1995)
Studies have shown that service learning has a positive effect on skills that are difficult to acquire as an undergraduate but greatly valued by employers – skills such as project management, teamwork experience, leadership, budgeting, and impact evaluation.
What is "global engagement"? What is "immersion"?
"Global engagement" is the act of actively participating in a cross-cultural experience. It implies crossing physical, social, and ideological borders not merely to observe, but to meet community members, wrestle with the complexities of another society, and ultimately forge international partnerships.
"Cultural immersion" involves experiencing every aspect of another culture with the goal of becoming integrated into the cultural fabric. In GESI, this means students live in homestays, work with partner organizations, and adapt to the host lifestyle.