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Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI)

About GESI

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. 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. 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.

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.

GESI students work with community-based organizations in Uganda.
Beautiful colors: GESI students admire umbrellas in Hanoi, Vietnam


Partner Organizations

The GESI team collaborates closely with in-country partners who possess local expertise and relationships with grassroots efforts and organizations in communities where students will live and work. Learn more about our partners in each of our locations, and about the philosophies behind their work.

Keep in mind that while you will select your top two location preferences on the application, the GESI staff will ultimately determine your placement based on:

  • Available spots. The sooner you apply, the more likely you are to go to your first-choice location!
  • Demonstrated language ability for Spanish-speaking locations. This is tested in your interview.
  • Your work interests.
  • The requests and needs of the community.

"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 (Uganda 2014)

Connect with GESI Alums



Before Leaving the States: Pre-Departure Coursework

GESI starts with pre-departure orientation, where students take two Northwestern courses focused on building an understanding of their role in the process of international immersion and community development. Students also attend country-specific sessions, learn about development topics from practitioners, and attend language classes to prepare them for time abroad. Throughout pre-departure, GESI students work closely with a team of program alumni and student instructors, who provide academic and personal support, assist in teaching activities, and prepare feedback on GESI students' weekly reports throughout the summer.

In-Country: Open Letters

An open letter is a one-page response to a communal prompt, addressed most often to your colleagues or peers. It is personal writing, purposefully shared. In GESI, Open Letters  provide an opportunity to have creative space for reflection and expression. The Open Letters process also serves to build trust and foster accountability within GESI groups. Students select one Open Letters prompt per week to respond to from a list of 8-10 prompts. At the end of each week, students gather with their teams to share their letters.

Upon Return: Final Reflection Summit

We believe reflection is an integral – and often missing – 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. Through guest speakers, students are also introduced to paths to stay engaged with the issues they care about most. During the Final Reflection Summit, students will submit and present a group project poster.


Pre-Departure and Final Reflection Summit

During the pre-departure coursework and upon return from their host countries, GESI students stay in downtown Chicago at Hosteling International Chicago in shared-rooms with other GESI students. Meals are provided.

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.


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 homestay family 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 GESI and the relevant 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.

Travel, Passports, & Visas

Before students leave Northwestern for their in-country experience, passports, visas, and flights must be organized. Northwestern staff will help you throughout the process, and will provide more information once accepted.


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

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