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Field Education Office Professional Development Workshop

BSW Cording & MSW Hooding


A new study abroad program recently returned from India, and the 15 students and 2 faculty involved will treasure the experience for a lifetime. Dr. Melissa Reitmeier, Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of Field Education, calls it “a life-changing experience on so many levels” and “an intellectual opportunity.”

The program is the result of an ongoing cultural exchange between Maharaja Sayajirao (M.S.) University of Baroda in Gujrarat, India, and the College of Social Work under the leadership of Dean Anna Scheyett. Last year, Professors Bhavna Mehta and M. N. Parmar visited USC thanks to a Provost’s Visiting Scholars grant. During their visit, they expressed interest in developing field placements, and a study abroad program was offered as a first step. Clinical Assistant Professor and program leader Sudie Nallo was able to visit India previously on grant from the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies, and she hopes that USC’s relationship with the M. S. University continues beyond these grants. “I hope these students will be ambassadors” and enable an ongoing relationship, she says. Reitmeier joined Nallo as an additional faculty member to supervise the students and to assess what global field and service learning opportunities for social work practice might exist. She was also there to identify and encourage collaborations between faculty with similar research interests.

india1According to Nallo and Reitmeier, India offers social work students a new perspective, not only on how to solve social problems but what constitute social problems in the first place. India’s population is so huge, explains Reitmeier, that the size of the population results in an approach to solving social problems that is at times “more progressive and innovative even than ours.”

Each morning, students attended lectures at the M. S. University and then went on observations in the afternoons. Students were able to draw fruitful comparisons between the cultural and social problems addressed in the lectures and what they are learning back home. For example, one lecture dealt with the topic of domestic violence, and students noted that both India and South Carolina have high rates of domestic violence and were able to view an issue with which they have some familiarity through a different lens. Nallo says she “implored students not to see India as different, and challenged them to see similarities.”

india2Students were able to observe social work in a variety of contexts, including a hospital, a vocational school, an ashram, and the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). At SEWA, students toured both the factory and the store run by the women. At the Muni Seva Ashram, students visited a day care, a nursing school, an obstetric/gynecological clinic, and a home for the elderly. Students also visited Gandhi’s home and the Akshardham, a grand Hindu temple.

The trip made an indelible impact on everyone. Allison Volk, a second-year MSW student, says visiting rural villages and seeing the passion of the social work practitioners “made me want to be more pro-active and fight for things” when necessary. Student Briannea Hastie agrees, noting that, comparatively, “we have so many privileges and resources” here in the United States that we should not hesitate when faced with barriers.

Reitmeier’s favorite part of the trip was seeing students’ personal and professional growth: “It really was a life-changing experience in terms of having the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture but within the same profession—we’re all working toward the same thing.” Donna Dixon, also a second-year MSW student, agrees that “we all kind of approach social issues the same way,” and for her this realization was incredibly inspiring. “We’re not alone” in wanting to change the world, she says. “They’re working, too.”

Plans are already underway to offer the program next winter, while the first cohort eagerly anticipates a reunion soon.

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