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05-04-2015

v molisa allA contingent from the College of Social Work recently visited Vietnam with a noble purpose: to share information about social work education. Dean Anna Scheyett, Dr. Aidyn Iachini, Dr. Huong Nguyen, and Dr. Melissa Reitmeier spent time in Hanoi and Ninh Binh, presenting at conferences and meeting with government and university officials.

The CoSW delegation presented at two conferences while abroad: one on the topic of vocational rehabilitation for people with disabilities and another on school social work. The latter was co-hosted by the UofSC CoSW and Hanoi National University of Education.

The group met with officials from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) to discuss ways to improve social work education in Vietnam, chiefly by emphasizing field work. “Social work is in its pioneer stage” in Vietnam, explains Dr. Reitmeier, and social work programs there are especially interested in building their capacity for field education. “Field education is a challenge for them,” notes Dean Scheyett, because they don’t have a current model or previous generation to work from. Social work programs in Vietnam are rare, so the CoSW’s commitment to helping create social work programs at Vietnamese universities will have a huge impact.Hanoi National University of Education, the country’s flagship university for training K-12 school teachers, is working with our CoSW to develop BSW curricula in school social work, a brand new concept in Vietnam. The CoSW is also working to develop a PhD program with Vietnam National University; it will be the first social work PhD program in the country.

Though the CoSW has had a relationship with Vietnam, this was the first time that others from the University of South Carolina were actively involved, says Dr. Nguyen. Also visiting Vietnam were Dr. P. Allen Miller, Vice Provost and Director of International Affairs; Dr. Robert Cox, Director of the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies; Dr. Rich Harrill, Acting Director of the School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management; and Dr. Michael Walsh of the School of Medicine. This large interdisciplinary group is hoping to offer new opportunities for research and cultural exchange for UofSC students and faculty. While in Vietnam, UofSC faculty and administrators “were talking about potentially applying for funding for projects like teaching English to teachers, providing services to people with disabilities, building eco-tourism, conducting comparative studies in political science” and more, says Dr. Nguyen.

These collaborations will benefit CoSW students directly. MSW students can look forward to international field placements in Vietnam starting as early as summer 2016. Students will stay in Vietnam for the entire summer and rotate through placements at a center for autistic children, a Buddhist temple, and a mental health hospital. This international experience will offer a unique understanding of social work as a field, but as Dr. Reitmeier notes, it also indicates “a real commitment to becoming culturally competent practitioners.”

This recent trip was Dr. Iachini’s first time in Vietnam, and she claims “it was a life-changing experience” that will certainly influence her teaching. Dr. Iachini credits her colleague Dr. Nguyen for the success of the trip. Dr. Nguyen “is transforming social work in Vietnam,” says Dr. Iachini. “Her ability to mobilize and connect people is amazing.”

By building strong connections within the CoSW, UofSC is getting in on the ground floor of an emergent field in Vietnam. Claims Dr. Nguyen, “This is a historic moment for social work in Vietnam—they are starting out, and we are trying to collaborate and be as helpful as we can.”

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