Social work is one of the most important academic and professional fields because it promotes community development, responsibility, social justice, empowerment, and the wellbeing of all people. It is truly an all-encompassing discipline that extends into policy, education, health care, psychology, and more. Every country has its own structures and challenges when it comes to the treatment and regulation of its citizens. By studying social work abroad, students will be exposed to different approaches to the major themes across society, and gain valuable hands-on experience that they can apply to their own career and specialization.
Most social work study abroad programs are available in Europe, Brazil, Chile, India, and Africa.
Europe. As one of the most socially developed regions in the world, students who study social work abroad in Europe will have the opportunity to study numerous models all over the continent. Many social work study abroad programs travel to multiple countries in Europe, including Spain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Greece, or Turkey. These are all great locations to focus on subfields of social work such as healthcare, psychology, or child and adolescent development.
Brazil. While this country has seen a lot of improvement over the last few decades, Brazil still struggles with issues of poverty, welfare, and social injustice. Social work students will have the chance to work within a multiethnic environment, including indigenous peoples and those of European or African descent, and see first-hand the impact of economic and ecological factors affecting different populations while studying social work in Brazil. Some more common challenges in Brazil include social policy, sustainability, marginalization, and inequality.
Chile. Like Brazil, this South American country is a fitting place to explore the dynamics of social work in action. Social work study abroad programs in Chile often focus on the rhetoric of human rights, including international law, humanitarian intervention, peace-building, and gender equity. Students who study social work abroad in Chile can also investigate themes of cultural identity and community development.
India. Much of India’s cultural history and social policies are rooted in a caste system, and heavily affected by the environment. This is an ideal location for investigating the relationships among community, healthcare, and globalization. Women, children, and tribal populations tend to be marginalized and vulnerable to the power systems in place. Students will have access to case studies on the economy of health, malnutrition, and grassroots approaches to health care while studying social work abroad in India.
Africa. It’s not surprising that the most common type of social work study abroad programs found in Africa deal with health care concerns: treatment, diagnosis, access, training, and resources. Whether studying social work abroad in South Africa, Madagascar, or Ghana, students will explore these challenges through a service learning approach, in the context of civic and global responsibilities.
Benefits & Challenges
Experience. There is no substitute for hands-on experience in the field, which is of course possible through studying social work abroad. Participation in a social work study abroad program looks great on a resume, and shows a high level of engagement, understanding, and commitment to the field. Plus, it provides students with knowledge of the field and a more developed framework for tackling challenging issues in their home country.
Resilience. There is no question that studying social work abroad, especially in developing countries, exposes students to sometimes harsh and unfair conditions, like poverty, disease, and injustice. Facing these mental and emotional obstacles builds one’s resilience and resolve to help improve the lives of others. The decision to study social work abroad, or begin a career in the field, is not necessarily an easy choice; it takes heart and bravery to challenge the status quo, as well as our own individual assumptions and cultural programming.