Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

A Preliminary Look at International Students in MSW Field Placements at Nonurban U.S. Campuses

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

A Preliminary Look at International Students in MSW Field Placements at Nonurban U.S. Campuses

Article excerpt

THERE HAS BEEN AN increased emphasis in social work education on the importance of incorporating an international context (Panos, Pettys, Cox, & Jones-Hart, 2004). Despite the growing awareness of the importance of a global perspective in social work education, as evidenced by Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accreditation standards (CSWE, 2008), the number of international students in MSW programs in the United States is quite small. For example, CSWE reported that 405 foreign students were enrolled full-time in American MSW programs in 2002-2003, accounting for only 1.8% of all

MSW students (Lennon, 2005). Rai (2002) reported that 447 master's and doctoral social work students attended 73 different programs over a 2-year period and found only two U.S. schools that enrolled more than 10 students. Thus, most MSW programs appear to have limited experience in dealing with a consistent number of students from other nations.

The authors are colleagues who advise and coordinate in the field practicum sequence at a midsized public university located in a primarily rural state. In the past 4 years, our program enrolled four MSW students from three different countries, representing 2.5% of all students enrolled. Although these students were few in number and often did well in their coursework, faculty members became concerned about the number of issues raised regarding these students' experiences in their field placements. Several barriers seemed to affect their success. For example, it was difficult to find agencies that were a cultural or linguistic match for a particular student, given the lack of agencies in the state that served a diverse consumer population and were also accessible by public transportation. It was also a challenge to manage some of the complexities that students faced when they arrived from other countries and were quickly asked to begin seeing clients in a different, unfamiliar culture. As a result, the authors became interested in how other MSW programs in nonurban areas serve their international students and what strategies are used to assist those students in their field placements.

Literature Review

The literature on international students yields information on many related topics, but there is little research on the success or failure of MSW students from other countries who do field internships in American graduate schools. Literature does exist on the international social work practices of the approximately 1.5 million professional social workers around the world (CSWE, 2005; Norman & Hintze, 2005). Examining variations in social work internationally does point to the differing viewpoints international students might bring as to what constitutes "social work." For example, Norman and Hintze (2005) note the disagreement among international social workers on the meaning of terms such as "clinical practice" and "case management" and the need, in many countries, for social workers to focus primarily on "meeting physical needs, accessing resources, social development and community organization" (p. 566). Additionally, Skolnik, Wayne, and Raskin (1999) reported that only 39% of degrees granted in other nations that are equivalent to the MSW even include a field practicum.

The benefits of cross-national experiential learning to social work programs are addressed by several authors. Lindsey (2005) states that the benefits of international exposure include "increased commitment to peace and international cooperation; greater interest in transnational affairs; greater emphasis on international understanding; and greater empathy of the viewpoints of other nations" (p. 231). Boyle, Nackerud, and Kilpatrick (1999) describe an exchange between an American and a Mexican program and the benefits of such a program to the exchange students, to the community agencies that offered the internships, and to the native-born students enrolled. However, despite the benefits, supporting international students can create challenges. …

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