MSW OPEN HOUSE

Oct
11

Project Management for Social Workers
Oct
24

Prospects for Breakthroughs in Behavioral Science: Is there a role for Genomics?
Oct
24

Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope
Nov
15

Repeal, Replace & Retract: Implications of Obamacare Reforms for Social Work Practice

09.11.2017

Penney“Because our profession is committed to social justice and equity for all people, exposure to different cultures and people groups is a remarkable and powerful opportunity for learning, reflection, and growth for social work students, faculty and practitioners,” says CoSW professor Patrice Penney. As the field of social work moves toward more global approaches, the CoSW is expanding its existing international opportunities and relationships. Students and faculty are no strangers to working and learning abroad; our commitment to global social work is but one way in which the CoSW is pushing the envelope in order to produce quality research and career-ready graduates.

Study abroad opportunities for CoSW students include trips to Aruba, Bolivia, India, and Vietnam. The Bolivia program is a new addition to the roster, taking off as an alternative spring break in 2018. (Interested students should contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..) Sudie Nallo, Clinical Assistant Professor and International Field Placement Developer, has been involved with these opportunities from the beginning, when the CoSW reached out to the M.S. University of Baroda in India. These study abroad programs serve various purposes, according to Nallo. They provide students with dynamic cultural competency training and allow CoSW faculty to engage with community partners.

These partnerships are the result of the work by USC and CoSW leadership. Without the support of the dean’s and the provost’s offices, Nallo these programs likely wouldn’t be possible. Of USC’s supportive efforts, Nallo notes, “I would absolutely say that how these relationships are developed first comes from senior administration,” Then, those same administrators lead the charge by “encouraging and supporting faculty members to develop programs.”

vietnam templeAn exposure to global social work is important for all students, says Huong Nguyen, a CoSW faculty member and the Global Carolina Regional Director for Vietnam and Southeast Asia. The “problems they tackle and the clients they serve will embody a global world or be affected by an increasingly globalized world. We know, for example, that in South Carolina alone, the percentage of foreign-born share of South Carolina's population increased from 1.4% in 1990 to 4.8% in 2013 and will continue to grow. If our students are not exposed to global social work, they will not be able to relate to, therefore serving effectively clients who have global experiences or embody global values.”

Faculty enjoy seeing the excitement on their students’ faces as they experience something new abroad, but they also get to witness the transformation that takes place. “All of them came back from the trip as changed people, whether in a big way or small way,” explains Nguyen. “They think more broadly about their roles and contribution in this big world, and they think about the legacy they want to leave behind as a social worker. And sometimes, they just come back as more thoughtful and kind people after they saw how people with much less resources lived in other parts of the world.”

12615272 1315892338436165 8456195518925626490 oIn India, Nallo instituted a “buddy system,” in which USC students connect with Indian students with similar social service interests. “The peer engagement piece is so critical to what we do,” explains Nallo, because it enables students “to connect to another young adult from a different background and learn about themselves through that process.” It’s “through that commonality of wanting to help others” that students make these connections that transform them and their social work practice.

Faculty, too, have much to gain from experience abroad. Penney’s work prior to joining the CoSW took her all over Southern and East Africa and led her to found the Initiative for Children at Risk Africa, which provides “trauma-focused training for caregivers of orphaned and vulnerable children related to the children’s psychosocial needs around experiences of trauma and loss.” Penney notes that the relationships she built in Africa “have shaped my attitudes, my thinking, my commitments, and my way of life.” Nguyen’s research on Buddhism and mental health care took her to Buddhist temples in Vietnam, Thailand, and the U.S., where she immersed herself in the way of life there: “I woke up at 4am every day with the monks, followed their daily routines, ate vegetarian meals for months, slept on hardwood floors without air-conditioning through very hot summer months in Vietnam, and observed everything from exorcism sessions to deep meditation.”

These rich experiences play a key role in the classroom. Not only do students enjoy hearing about these firsthand experiences, says Nguyen, but one anecdote can provide a starting point for discussing many topics in social work from a global perspective. Penney also relies on stories as well as case studies to allow students to “hear the thoughts and feelings of Africans” and begin to build a relationship— “much better to be engaged in that learning through actually building relationships in other cultures—hence my excitement about the College of Social Work’s interest in continuing to develop international social work.”

IMG 4745In addition to multiple study abroad programs and international faculty engagements, the CoSW has begun to offer exciting international field placements. Student Doward T. Hunter is currently interning with the Bioko Island Malaria Control Project in Equatorial Guinea under the supervision of Carl Mass, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager for Marathon Oil. Hunter believes that incorporating social work [in international efforts] can improve social justice and global health,” because social workers “will not stop working once a hospital is open, or a declaration is signed ensuring rights; they will fight and continue to fight to bring more and more improvements.”

Maas adds that “international social work brings hope and opportunity to improve ones’ condition to those who are most likely to be ignored or repressed within their social, economic, and/or political context. Likewise, international social work bears a responsibility to not exacerbate or act as a foil to perpetrate historical or popular discrimination that results in limiting individuals and groups from meeting their potential.” In addition to bringing hope, global social work can also function as a “bridge between the concept of social justice and global health and the execution of those concepts on the ground,” explains Maas. “To be an international social worker is to bring the best of humanity to some of the least just and healthy areas on the planet.”

This lofty mission is at the heart of the CoSW’s increasingly global approach. As CoSW faculty and students continue to explore global perspectives here and abroad, more impactful connections and transformative moments lie ahead. Says Penney, “I have experienced first-hand how engaging with people in other contexts challenges my thinking, enlarges my perspectives, and deepens my compassion and desire for service. I look forward to the rich conversations and innovative ideas that may emerge from engaging with University of South Carolina students and faculty to explore and address social justice issues in different parts of the world, especially in the two-thirds world.”

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