Authored by: Lisa Dugan
Photography by: Anastasia Shown
The technological advances of the last decade have brought images of international suffering into our living rooms and underscored our responsibility to address global challenges. SP2’s International Programs allow students to learn firsthand about the global dimensions of social work and study social welfare issues as well as the policies and practices that affect those issues throughout the world. In addition to providing a wide range of travel opportunities, the school also hosts international students who along with SP2’s own diverse student body, contribute measurably to the University’s goal of becoming a truly Global Campus.
In past years, the International Program has enabled students to participate in human rights work in Korea; study public education in Greenland; and conduct service and research on sicklecell disease in Ghana. One student who traveled to Cameroon to collect comprehensive baseline data to inform the possible construction of a water and sanitation system noted, “Thanks to my experiences living abroad, I have learned to respect people’s differences and to reserve judgment. Learning how to live in someone else’s culture is humbling and forces you to reevaluate how you live your own life. I will never again turn on the water in my kitchen without thinking, ‘I am so fortunate to have clean water flowing from a tap in my home.’”
As part of the SP2’s strategic plan, the MSW program is expanding its efforts to recruit more international students and develop programs to prepare students for the global social service
environment. For example, this past summer, Toorjo Ghose, Ph.D. taught a social work course in Calcutta, India. Applying postcolonial theory to social work interventions in international settings, the class focused on working and organizing with marginalized communities. During an eight week placement, students worked with a collaborative of sex workers and their children to develop and conduct research projects addressing issues such as gender violence, trafficking, stigma, children’s health and community organizing. The experience helped students develop their understanding of their role as international interventionists.
As part of this program, MSW candidates Catie Buttner, Kelsey Karsh, Abigail Reikow, & Minu Mathew worked with members of Amra Padatik (AP), a Calcutta-based organization comprised of and led by children of sex workers. Modeled after an adult sex worker collaborative called DMSC, the youth organization aims to support the needs of these young people, while decreasing discrimination and increasing tolerance. The SP2 team and the youth worked together to develop a research project to measure the efficacy and plausibility of AP’s mission statement and thereby measure how the organization influenced the quality of life for children of sex workers.
“My experience was nothing short of amazing,” said one of the participating students. “As a social worker, my time in India challenged me to think critically about my role in the social work profession and opened my eyes to a new world of possibility.” For this student, studying in a foreign culture served to highlight our common humanity and the similar challenges we face as a society. “So many of the barriers to advocacy sited by the sex workers in India, such as family obligations and financial difficulties mirrored the reasons frequently cited for lack of civic and political engagement in the U.S.,” she said.
In an effort to further the school’s commitment to global education, Ezekiel Dixon-Román, Ph.D. is helping to spearhead an effort to launch a Latino Social Service and Policy program to help students better understand the historical, social, political, economic dynamics and policies that affect the Latino diaspora. The program will include a spring elective course as well as a four-week summer abroad elective, “Cuba: Education, Culture, & Social Policy.” While in Cuba, students will learn about the history of the educational and social service initiatives that have evolved out of the Revolution of 1959 with a particular focus on the systemic complications, contradictions and influences on youth culture. They will also conduct a research project on Cuba’s social and educational policies and participate in the production of a documentary on Cuban youth cultures.
By enabling SP2 students to develop a global perspective and engage with complex problems through a multicultural lens, international programs such as these are helping to cultivate and inform social change leaders for the 21st century.