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Human Centered Design... Change Agents for People

respectingdiversity01-11-2014

USC’s College of Social Work is putting itself on the map—in Vietnam and India, specifically. The College of Social Work (COSW) already boasts a thriving MSW program in Korea, and now a series of exchanges has increased the College’s international presence and created new opportunities for faculty and students. Recently, the College hosted Dr. M.N. Parmar and Dr. Bhavna Mehta from the Maharaja Sayajirao (M.S.) University of Baroda in Gujrarat, India. Their visit was supported by a grant from the Provost’s Visiting Scholars program.

The M.S. University Faculty of Social Work is ranked third in all of India. Dr. Parmar explained that his visit to USC had 3 foci: research, extension, and academics. Dr. Mehta expressed hope for research collaborations and learning about social work intervention programs here, noting that “collaboration will pave a way for making social work learning global for students and faculty” at both universities. While at USC, Dr. Mehta and Dr. Parmar met with the Vice President of Research, College of Education faculty, the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies, the Study Abroad Office, and College of Social Work community partners. Each professor also gave lectures on their research to an audience of COSW faculty and students.

 

Dr. Mehta and Dr. Parmar’s visit is a continuation of a blossoming relationship with India. Last February, the COSW and the M. S. University co-sponsored the International Conference on Women and Millennium Development Goals. Sudie Nallo was one COSW faculty member who presented research, and she is eager to continue working with scholars in India. Professor Nallo says, “This is a great opportunity for resource sharing and collaboration and an amazing opportunity for internationalization of our academic and field programs.” She notes that “the timing is great—we are becoming more engaged internationally,” citing the Korea-based MSW program and the new Maymester in Vietnam.

The Maymester in Vietnam was coordinated last year by COSW professor Huong Nguyen. A group of 11 students and 2 professors made the trip, and she hopes for even more participants this year. Students have called the program “life-changing,” and Dr. Nguyen believes that viewing social work through an international lens teaches valuable lessons in cultural competence and in the foundations of the field.

Studying abroad “makes students more mindful when they work with people from other cultures,” claims Dr. Nguyen. While cultural competence can be taught in a classroom, only immersion in another culture can truly drive the lesson home. Students are exposed to social work via a different political, social, and economic system. USC students in Vietnam can “learn how key concepts in social work are constructed and not universal across all cultures.” She adds, “what’s considered true and best practice now is different” in other cultures, and in time those best practices will change here, too.

Dr. Nguyen hopes her students take all of these lessons to heart, but she especially hopes they understand the “huge lasting impact” even the smallest action can make. BSW student Haley Landreth says, “Vietnam was an incredible journey for me,” and claims that the country is “the absolute perfect place to visit for social work.” Emily Flores, a graduate student, also valued her Vietnam experience. “Traveling to Vietnam reinforced the notion that there are people who are working on the same issues all around the world,” she says. “Although many are facing similar challenges, our approaches vary, and we stand to gain a valuable perspective from those who practice social work in other cultures and contexts.”

These international collaborations are exciting, but they are also vital for adapting to a changing world. As Dr. Parmar explains, social work research must be international and interdisciplinary. “The problems of the human being can’t be solved with one field,” he argues, so collaborating across multiple borders is a necessity. Flores agrees, saying, “Innovation is possible if we are able to collaborate and openly share ideas. Just as they are attempting to develop a social work infrastructure in Vietnam and seeking outside advice on how to best do that, we can benefit from new ideas and perspectives in the practice of social work.” Everyone is to gain from cultural exchange—scholars, social workers, and the people they serve. It’s not just our differences that make international relationships fruitful; Dr. Mehta sees many similarities between Gujarat and South Carolina. “Boundaries are blurring,” she notes, and we can all learn from each other.

Expanding the College’s international presence by facilitating the exchange of ideas between India, South Carolina, and Vietnam is but one way the College of Social Work is looking to the future.

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