Explore the general FAQs to learn more about fees, academics, health, safety, 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more about common questions by clicking the topic below:

Program Structure
Health, Safety, and Security
General Questions

Program Structure 

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 days of preparation at Northwestern University
  • In-Country Immersion - An eight-week internship with a community-based organization abroad
  • Final Learning 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

Learn more about the structure of the GESI program on the Academics page of our website, or contact GESI staff for more information.

How do I decide on a first-choice GESI location?
Check out our partner comparison chart, Recent Work pages, pre-departure packets, and get in touch with alums (email the GESI staff to get connected) in order to gain more perspective on different GESI locations.

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 that they are open to. 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 transfer your application to reflect your new preferences.

How is my internship placement determined?
For Guatemala (SEC): All GESI students intern directly with the program partner. By applying to go to Guatemala, students are applying to intern with SEC.

For FSD sites: The GESI staff works FSD site teams in-country to place students in teams of three to five. These teams are formed to represent diverse sets of skills and interests. We then work with on-site staff to find a partner organization that fits within the shared interests of each team. These organizations are very diverse, from NGOs to social enterprises to governmental organizations. What they have in common is that they have close relationships with FSD. Internship placements and GESI teams will be announced approximately one month before the program begins.

For Ghana (Amizade): Students applying to Ghana are applying to intern with our partner Amizade. Students with Amizade will work with the local NGO Peace Humanity International (PHI).

Learn more about our partners.

Where do I find detailed information about my GESI site?
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. Learn more about how to communicate abroad on our Health & Safety page, as well as country-specific pre-departure packets.

Where will I live? Is it safe?
While in-country, students live in homestays with local community members. Please visit the Accommodations page for further information.

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 his/her host country and project. In most cases, students can expect to be working at their host organization’s office or in the field 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 project-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 project. If you are interested in speaking with a past GESI alum about his/her experience, please contact us.

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.

To learn more about the work previous students have collaborated on with communities abroad, see our Case Study and Recent Student Work pages. 

How are local organizations or community groups selected?
Northwestern works with Kaya Responsible Travel, the Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS), the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD),  Social Entrepreneur Corps, and Amizade to select the local NGOs 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).

What can a team of students really accomplish in two months?
A lot! GESI emphasizes sustainability and encourages students to collaborate on work that will continue to positively impact communities long after the students return home. Many collaborate on work that build the capacity of the host community. Read about examples on our Recent Student Work and Case Study pages.

Additionally, through Kaya, ICADS, FSD, Social Entrepreneur Corps, and Amizade, GESI’s partners have a constant flow of interns who can continue the work GESI participants started.

When done well, short-term experiences also:

  • Change students: These experiences open the eyes of students to a new reality, equip them to create change, and send them back to their home country with a passion for an under-served place and a better sense of how they can impact global change from whatever sector they enter.
  • Build community capacity: A well-executed student project not only makes a short-term difference in the local community, but it also acts as a catalyst for community development. This collaborative work can initiate conversations that may not otherwise have happened, enhance the capacity of key community members to make an impact, and develop processes for change that long outlive the students’ presence.
  • Lead to larger initiatives: Often, students stay deeply connected to their host organization and come back to work with the community to expand upon the work they began. Many GESI alumni have returned to their host countries to develop their projects further, conduct research, or work at another local organization.

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 recent college graduates 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.

How many non-Northwestern students participate in GESI each year?
We encourage students from any university to apply to GESI. In fact, 30-40% of GESI participants are non-Northwestern students each year. Please contact us if you would like to speak to an alum from your school or other universities.

How racially diverse are GESI participants?
The GESI program and our partners work hard to create a program that is welcoming and inclusive for all participants, and that represents much more diversity than national averages.

According to the IIE 2013 Open Doors Report on Educational Exchange, only 24% of all study abroad participants and 38% of all college students describe themselves as being a race other than white, as compared to 55% of GESI students in 2014.

The following represents the approximate racial distribution for GESI 2014 participants:

  • Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander: 23%

  • Multiracial: 5%

  • Black/African American: 16%
  • Hispanic: 9%

  • Other: 2%
  • White: 45%

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 year
  • 45% sophomores
  • 25% juniors
  • 8% seniors or recent grads


How are students evaluated?
For both courses, Development in the Global Context: Participation, Power and Social Change and Doing Development: Theory and Practice of Global Community Consulting, 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, rather than the outcomes of their development work.

How much credit will students get?
Students receive credit for two Northwestern courses:

  • Development in the Global Context: Participation, Power and Social Change
  • Doing Development: Theory and Practice of Global Community Consulting

During GESI Summer, students earn two Northwestern credits (equivalent to six semester hours).

Click here for course descriptions and syllabi, and here for professor bios.

Will course credit transfer to my school if I am not a Northwestern student?
GESI cannot guarantee that course credit will transfer to other colleges, but we will work closely with students and their home institutions. We encourage all students to meet with their academic advisers and Registrar early to determine how/if the Northwestern credit will apply. At the conclusion of the program, students should request a Northwestern transcript in order to begin the process of transferring credit to their home institution. Click here to request a transcript for GESI Summer and here to request a transcript for GESI Fall.

I am not planning to get academic credit for GESI. Do I still need to complete all GESI coursework?
YES…and we hope you want to! By participating in coursework and activities, you learn skills and have hands-on-experiences that will make you effective in the field, benefiting your internship site, host community, and GESI team. In addition, GESI coursework is designed to prepare you for the professional world, providing you with project management experience within a team setting and also helping you reflect on your role in development and the world more broadly. Whether or not you are a Northwestern student, you will have a permanent record and a transcript at Northwestern; when applying to fellowships, graduate school, and other post-grad opportunities, you may be asked to furnish a transcript from all institutions you have attended. Failure to complete assignments will result an F on your record.


How much does it cost and why?
To read about the most up-to-date program costs, please visit our Costs webpage.

Can I use my financial aid?
See our Financial Aid webpage for more information.

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 Summer. By completing the online application you will automatically be considered for a scholarship. See our Financial Aid webpage for more information.

We recommend that all students see the “Fundraising Ideas” section of our Financial Aid page.

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 affiliated programs here, or contact the GESI office for more information.

How much money should I expect to spend in-country?
Although the amount of spending money students expend during the program varies based upon individual students’ spending habits, countries, and exchange rates, the average amount that students reported spending in 2014 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. At the conclusion of Pre-Departure Coursework, students will take a group flight, arranged by GESI, to and from their host country. For more information, please see the Costs and Travel, Passport, Visa pages.

Do I need to get a visa?
Learn more about how to obtain a visa according to your GESI location here

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.

Health, Safety, and Security 

What safety and security measures exist?
GESI has implemented comprehensive safety measures approved by Northwestern University and in collaboration with our partners, designed to address any health or safety issues that may arise. Learn more on our Health & Safety page.

Do students need special health insurance?
Northwestern University provides GeoBlue health insurance coverage for the entire period of time GESI students are abroad, regardless of any other coverage they might have from their parents. Learn more on our Health & Safety page. 

What happens in case of an illness or emergency?
GeoBlue Worldwide has collaborated with our on-the-ground partners to identify private healthcare providers (doctors, clinics, hospitals) within each community. These providers have been chosen for their knowledge of student health issues and safe provision of care with past interns. Should any health issues arise, students should immediately notify their FSD/SEC/Amizade site team, who will ensure that they receive the proper medical attention. In-country emergency contact information will be shared with students before they go abroad; students can then share this contact information with their families. Learn more about Northwestern’s policies on illness and emergency management here

Do students need any vaccinations or medications?
Yes. As a GESI participant, it is your full responsibility to identify and take all necessary health precautions prior to, during, and following the program. Please start your health preparations early, as some vaccinations must be taken as far as eight weeks or more before departure. Providing detailed medical advice is beyond the expertise of GESI so it is very important to consult the resources we provide on our Admitted Students pages.

Where can I get vaccinations?
Contact your primary care physician to see if they are able to provide all necessary vaccinations before you schedule an appointment. If not, you should visit a travel clinic. You can find a list of travel clinics in the Chicago area here and other national facilities here. To maximize the effectiveness of your appointment, take a copy of your program information as well as a printout of the CDC requirements for your program location.

How do parents contact their student in case of an emergency at home? How quickly can families get in contact with GESI participants?
Depending on the site, GESI participants will either receive a cell phone upon arriving in-country or have the option to purchase a low-cost phone or sim card which can be used in their US cell phone. These phones can be called from the US or can be loaded with money to call the US, at the students’ cost.

If for some reason families cannot get in touch with a GESI participant, they can call GESI staff at Northwestern University during office hours at 847.467.6400. For after hours emergencies please call Northwestern University Police at 847.491.3456.

General Questions  

Why study abroad?
Study abroad is increasingly recognized as a necessary component of the undergraduate experience developing students academically, professionally, and personally. Studies even show that students who study abroad may be more likely to graduate on time. Some of the many benefits of study abroad include:

  • Students experiment with their interests: Short-term field-based study abroad programs like GESI allow students to apply specific interests they may not be able to explore at their home university.
  • Students hone their language skills: Every GESI student will interact with non-English-speaking communities, giving them a unique opportunity to practice languages they have previously studied, or acquire a new language. In some countries, students will be surprised to speak English a new way, with idioms and intonation and style appropriate to diverse contexts.
  • Students gain transferable skills: Living and working in another culture is full of new situations and unexpected challenges. By navigating the streets of India, Ugandan business culture, or Bolivian family structures, students gain personal and professional skills that can be used throughout their lives.
  • Students make lasting connections: In addition to GESI staff members, Northwestern professors, and fellow GESI participants, students form enriching relationships with home-stay families, FSD/SEC site team members, NGO staff, and the communities in which they work. GESI is a true immersion experience, expanding students’ networks literally oceans away.

Adapted from Benefits of Study Abroad.

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:s that are difficult to acquire as an undergraduate but greatly valued by employers–skills such as project management, team-work 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.

Why does the program cost as much as it does?
GESI leverages the best of our on-the-ground partners–in country support, community connections, health, safety, 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. The program is designed to help students build skills

Learn more about the cost of the program on our Cost page.