Recent Northwestern graduates explain how GESI shaped their post-college path

July 13, 2017

The Buffett Institute's GESI study abroad program is open to undergraduates of all disciplines interested in an international experience that combines academic coursework with an international development internship. But that doesn't mean that all GESI participants intend to pursue careers in international development after graduation.

The professional and personal lessons from GESI can apply to a wide range of careers and paths because the program teaches students project and time management skills, how to work well with others, and how to be flexible and make the best out of challenging situations. Here are a few examples of recent Northwestern alums whose GESI experience helped shape their post-graduation plans:

Diane Arthur in Udaipur, IndiaDiane Arthur traveled to Udaipur, India where she interned with the local NGO Jatan Sansthan. She graduated in 2017 from the School of Education and Social Policy with a degree in human development and psychological services. She begins her job as a business analyst with Capgemini this summer.

“GESI taught me to take time specifically to learn from people’s different styles of living and doing and solving problems. Having difficult conversations about our differences with my supervisors was really important and helped build our relationship quickly. 

"One thing I love about the GESI program is the resources they provide for reflection and for helping you digest and understand your experience. None of my other experiences abroad have rivaled that. Before GESI, I didn’t know how to understand, to process, and to critically analyze but still enjoy an experience at the same time. I’m still crafting that art, but I’m taking that wherever I go—especially in the workplace. How can I break down my experience in a way that’s helpful to me but also lends a critical eye to what’s happening around me?

"My GESI experience makes me not afraid to take a risk—to accept a job in technology consulting—and not afraid to go into a space I would usually be very hesitant to approach.”

Jourdan Dorrell in NicaragauaJourdan Dorrell (right) worked at a community health center in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua in 2015. She graduated from Weinberg in 2017 with a degree in sociology and global health. She recently started her job as an associate account strategist at Google.

"GESI taught me a very important exercise that I don’t think a lot of Northwestern students do enough: to reflect on what we do and why we do it. Since I got back from being abroad, I now make it a priority to do things I care about. I want to make sure everything I do has value.

"GESI also taught me how to be independent. As college students, with all the things we have, we always feel like we need to be doing something or spending time on the internet. In Nicaragua I had Wi-Fi, but I also had a lot of time to myself. It took a lot of willpower to be able to navigate independence and solidarity in a way that was positive. That was important: having space to learn what it meant to be alone and the positive aspects of that.

Jireh Kang in IndiaJireh Kang graduated from the School of Communication in 2016 with a degree in communication studies and international studies. In 2014 she traveled to Udaipur, India with GESI. She currently works as a project assistant at the British Chamber of Commerce in Seoul, and also interviews regular decision applicants to Northwestern in Korea. “I always talk to them about GESI in interviews because I think it’s so unique!” she says.

"I originally wanted to do GESI was because I wanted to work internationally, but I was very unclear about what I wanted. I just knew I wanted to get exposure to working in a foreign country. In the process of doing GESI I learned the difficulties of working internationally: learning how to endure, learning what pushes me, learning what boundaries I have, and what limits I have. It was a multifaceted experience.

"GESI’s asset-based community development approach was really fundamental, not just for thinking in international development terms, but for how I work with people, and how I think organizations should work with people. The idea of being able to find and appreciate another person’s assets wherever you go, and being able to use that to maximize the benefits of the group, was one of the greatest lessons I had while at Northwestern."

Maria Beltran in UgandaMaria Beltran is about to enter her second year at Berkeley Law. She graduated from Weinberg College in 2015 with a degree in political science and French. In 2014 she traveled to Jinja, Uganda with GESI, where she interned at Kidron Valley Ministries, an NGO that works with families impacted by HIV/AIDS.

"GESI definitely impacted my studies and my professional future. It allowed me to think more critically about global questions and the work I was doing in class. Before GESI, I didn’t have instruction on how to make a sustainable impact on organizations. After GESI, I took courses on international balance of power, colonialism, and the theories behind that, and the theories that are going on right now.

"Because of GESI my interpersonal skills have improved, and I even developed nonverbal skills and finding ways to communicate when there’s a large barrier. I’d also say my problem-solving skills have improved. Every time I see a problem, whether in the legal world or socially, I now try to view it from a different lens, thinking about how others might perceive it, trying to poke holes in problems and see how I can best approach it. It’s been very helpful in thinking about legal policy. In cases that we read in law school, I’ll notice the courts or legislature will try to impose legislation to vulnerable populations, but instead of it helping, it can be paternalistic or problematic. It’s very useful to think of ways we [as legal professionals] can help out, but also allow these populations to be more empowered."

Carine Kanimba in NicaraguaCarine Kanimba graduated with a degree in political science from the School of Professional Studies in 2016. She is currently enrolled in the European Master in Law & Economics (EMLE) program, a yearlong, multi-country/university graduate program which involves study in France, Italy, and the Netherlands. In 2015, Carine studied abroad with GESI in Cuidad Sandino, Nicaragua.

"GESI definitely changed my life and the track of what I’m currently pursuing. I had very little interest in economics until I did GESI. It was a learning experience to see how life works in poorer parts of the world. Now, part of the master’s I’m doing is the economic analysis of rules and regulations, how to alter them to be more efficient, and how to figure out how society distributes resources in the face of scarcity. I’m hoping to use it to further add on to the sustainable development theories we learned in GESI.

"From GESI I learned sustainable development workers encounter a lot of roadblocks, and not only because of government regulations or rules that give unfair advantages to a wealthy few. I didn’t realize people working in development encounter a lot of challenges all the time. Going there and doing the experience showed me that people have different realities and different lives.

"I don’t know any other programs that offer hands-on experience like GESI does, and that also offer the freedom we had in project creation and implementing what we and the community thought fit. This is not just textbook stuff; it can be applied to real life."

Hayeon Kim in the Dominican RepublicHayeon Kim traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2014 with GESI. She graduted from Weinberg College in 2017 with a degree in Asian American studies. This fall, she will pursue a master’s of science in migration studies at Oxford University.

"I’ve sought out collaboration since I did GESI because it showed me that collaboration is so important. GESI formed the way I approached the rest of college.

"GESI exposed myself to my own identities. I had always been interested in migration and I knew a little about race, but not very much. I went to the Dominican Republic and my first project site was right next to the Haitian border. In the first week of the project, I noticed a lot of anti-black racism. When I returned sophomore year, I started taking critical race theory courses.

"It’s important we have a program at Northwestern that teaches students about power dynamics and critiques international development in a way that’s productive, especially for students like me."

Development, Undergraduate Students