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Global Engagement Studies Institute brings students beyond the classroom to discover their values

For most students, going abroad is a life-changing experience. For students taking part in Northwestern’s Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), the experience is further enriched by “the integration of civic engagement and social innovation.” 

GESI is an “internship-based” study abroad program, meaning students work on a community-identified project — in areas such as small business development, micro-finance, women’s empowerment, early childhood education and environmental sustainability — while staying with a local family.

Entering its 10th year, GESI has become one of the most diverse study abroad programs in the U.S. Nationally, only about 27 percent of students who study abroad are students of color, according to the Institute of International Education. But in 2016, 69 percent of students who participated in GESI were students of color.

GESI sends students to eight countries: Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ghana, India, Kenya, and Uganda. Each GESI site is run by one of three on-the-ground partners: The Foundation for Sustainable Development, Social Entrepreneur Corps, and Amizade Global Service-Learning.

Below, students and alumni discuss their GESI experience, and how the program continues to impact their lives: 




 “The importance I place on self-care has grown. Through GESI, I learned to listen to myself and what I wanted. I still stress about classes, and I still push myself academically, but now I want to nourish myself with topics I find fascinating. GESI helped me figure out what’s important to me, and helped shape my college experience.”

- Danielle Elliott, ’17, a current GESI fellow and journalism/political science double major who traveled to Bolivia in summer 2015




 “[After GESI], when I’m studying U.S. foreign policy, I recognize who the policies really affect. Who is this foreign aid really going to? When the U.S. gives a lot of food aid to a country and local food prices collapse — that can send the country toward famine. Who is actually being affected and how does that actually work? What do those economies look like? What do those interpersonal relationships look like?”

- Isaac Rappoport, ’17, a political science major who traveled to Uganda in summer 2015


East Africa 


“All of GESI has been life changing. It helped me see what poverty really looks like. It was an opportunity to put a face to poverty. It was an opportunity to explore a part of the world that I only learned about in the classroom and hadn’t been able to experience firsthand. GESI taught me that development is a lot more complicated than you’d think. You really have to listen to what a community needs.”

 - Caleigh Hernandez, a Northwestern alum and founder of Best Foot Forward, a socially conscious footwear company that works to empower underrepresented populations in East Africa




“This summer I’m hoping to work for the Peruvian Embassy in Lima. GESI helped me find a passion for a specific region of Latin America.”

- Bryan Wood, ’18, an international studies major whose experience with GESI in Bolivia led him to pursue more work in South America’s Andean region

With civic engagement and social innovation at its core, GESI paves a path for Northwestern students to listen, reflect, and contribute to an increasingly connected world.

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