Comparative Views of Social Welfare

Comparative Views of Social Welfare. Examining social services in other country

allows social work students the opportunity to see how different values, traditions,

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Social Work Education 137

and history have resulted in a similar yet different social welfare system as is

generally understood in the United States. Exposure to another social welfare

system makes students aware that there are alternative and perhaps more effective

solutions to social problems. The inadequacies of US social welfare policies become

evident when the social welfare systems of countries with comparable levels of

economic development are examined (Lane et al., 2003). In less developed

countries students can learn about the development of social welfare institutions

within a context of rapid change and resource constraints.

(4) Global Responses and Local Responses. Learning about the relationship between

global and local conditions prepares practitioners to intervene or advocate at home

more effectively with transnational issues like adoption, trafficking in people and

drugs, immigration, and refugee resettlement (Healy, 1988). Students can also learn

about how the policies of the developed world have consequences for less

developed regions. Sensitizing students to these issues is the first step toward

advocacy for social and economic justice as a worldwide goal (Asamoah, 2003).

(5) Different Contexts and Social Work Practice. International programs present an

added opportunity for preparing US students for practice in their own country.

Social workers can expect to work with worldwide migrants who are often not

fluent in English. In working with these diverse populations social workers need an

understanding of their cultural and geographic roots, and as such they provide

social workers with knowledge and skills for working with diverse populations

(Hokenstad, 2003). Also, students learn that acceptable practice in one context may

not be transferable to another, and that ethical and effective practice requires a

thorough understanding of local values (Traub-Werner, 2000). They may also learn

that social work has evolved different practice strategies. Examining these strategies

provides students with new ways to approach practice. They may find that clinical

work or practice is less prevalent in many countries than it is in the US. These

countries may use community development or organization as intervention

strategies. These strategies are underutilized in the US by social workers. In

underdeveloped countries students can learn about working under conditions of

severe resource constraints, about the pressures of international migration, and

working with clients experiencing absolute deprivation (Forte, 1994). Reichert

(1998) suggests that an overseas component to the curriculum gives students a

chance to directly experience social work in another culture; students can gain

insight into the universal values held by their counterparts.

International content in social work programs includes: (1) specialized course-

work; (2) integrating international content into other courses; (3) providing

opportunities for study abroad; (4) recruiting foreign students to study in the

program; and (5) utilizing faculty from other countries to teach courses (Johnson,


This paper reports on the study abroad component of the international program at

San Diego State University (SDSU). Eight SDSU MSW students completed an

internship for course credit in social agencies in the Kingdom of Thailand in the

summer of 2002. Information describing student activities, learning, and perceptions

was drawn from student internship journals, process papers, learning plans, and the

field notes of SDSU faculty. Students were given guidelines for recording data. For

138 D. Engstrom & L. P. Jones

example, they were told to identify behaviors and concrete specifics that underpinned

any of their observations on Thai culture or Thai social work practice. The students

met regularly as a group, and individually with SDSU faculty to discuss their

recordings and ensure the quality of data and comparability with other students. A

qualitative analysis that was heuristic in nature was conducted with these documents

that involved identifying basic concepts and themes inductively from open-ended

responses. Quotes from student field logs were selectively used to highlight the

learning that occurred.

Context of Study

The study abroad component was completed in partnership with Thammasat

University located in Bangkok, Thailand. This university is the second oldest

institution of higher learning in the country and is oriented around the social sciences

and professional education. Its students, faculty, and graduates have been leaders in

advocating democratic change and in the creation of a civil society in Thailand.

The Faculty of Social Administration at Thammasat University runs the largest

social work program in South East Asia. The structure of its curriculum resembles the

model used in the United States that includes policy, research, direct practice, and

human behavior course work.

Thailand provides students and faculty with an excellent platform to understand

and grapple with the effects of globalization, urbanization, industrialization, and the

consequences of economic depression in a newly industrialized country.

Traditionally an agricultural producer, the focus of economic growth during the

1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s was on expanding Thailands manufacturing

capabilities. During the latter part of that period, Thailand had the fastest growing

economy in the world (Phongpaichit et al., 1996). Literally millions of Thais left the

countryside to find work in Bangkok and other regional manufacturing centers.

Urbanization and industrialization brought significant changes to Thai society from

the creation of widespread wage earners to political reforms to changes in family

structure and relations. The collapse of the Thai currency in late-1996 brought about

a sharp economic downturn, with which the country is still dealing. Since 1996,

Thailand has grappled with widespread unemployment, underemployment, increas-

ing poverty and homelessness, and other social problems created or exacerbated by

the economic depression (Montesano, 2001).

Several years before the economic crisis, Thailand fashioned a Social Security Act

that largely followed a Western model of social welfare programming but adapted to

the circumstances of Thailand. While the Thai Social Security Act has mitigated some

want and need, key provisions such as unemployment insurance have yet to be fully

implemented and thus the safety net remains incomplete (Siriphant & Engstrom,

1999). The economic crisis has severely strained the Thai social service system that is

separate from the countrys Social Security programs (Social Development in

Thailand, 2000). Non-governmental organizations, community agencies, and mutual

aid societies have attempted at the grassroots level to assist people and to broaden the

Social Work Education 139

array of services offered to the Thais. Additionally, many international relief and aid

organizations have offices in Bangkok and run projects in other parts of Thailand.

Implementation of the SDSU/Thammasat MSW Internship Program

Prior to departure, the SDSU students underwent an extensive orientation that

focused on language classes, meetings with Thai students at SDSU to learn more

about Thai culture, general material on living abroad, and readings on Thailand.

Additionally, the students developed a fund raising campaign to offset some of the

costs of the internship. Orientation and fund raising activities fostered strong group


The eight SDSU MSW students had one week of orientation in Bangkok. The

orientation consisted of presentations by Thammasat University faculty on Thai

culture, language, and social welfare services and approaches and tours of social

service agencies. Towards the end of the orientation week, the students met with their

respective Thai supervisors and Thammasat University Faculty of Social

Administration (FSA) liaisons to discuss the roles and responsibilities of the

internship and to begin the process of mapping out learning objectives. Securing

housing and learning the ins and outs of the Bangkok public transportation system,

including river taxis, were the other major tasks of the first week.

The length of the internship varied from five to seven weeks. The internship was a

five-day a week, 40 hour experience. FSA and SDSU faculty worked together prior to

the arrival of students to identify internships that had a supervisor with English

language skills and which corresponded with student interests. A financial

honorarium was given to supervisors to recognize and provide some measure of

reciprocity for their efforts. The internships used the same agencies and supervisors

that the FSA used for its student field placements. This meant that supervisors had an

understanding of how to structure internships to serve educational needs. All the

supervisors had considerable social work or human service work experience in

Thailand. The Thai supervisors were responsible for assigning tasks and

responsibilities for the SDSU interns and monitoring their performance. FSA and

SDSU faculty were available as consultants and trouble-shooters.

A close working relationship between SDSU and FSA developed over the nearly

year-long planning process before the beginning of the internships. That process was

facilitated by interest in developing student exchange programs and efforts to

programmatically link the two social work programs. Prior to the start of the

internship, SDSU had sponsored an FSA doctoral student for a five-month internship

and study trip. Several visits by SDSU faculty to Thailand and FSA faculty to the

United States provided the foundation for the internships. An SDSU faculty member

who had held visiting professorships at FSA was on-site for the entire duration and

served as a visiting professor at Thammasat University where he taught doctoral

classes and guest-lectured in a number of masters and bachelor-level social work

classes. A second SDSU faculty member traveled to Thailand for part of the program

and also provided a series of guest lectures. Over the course of the internship, a

140 D. Engstrom & L. P. Jones

memorandum of agreement between the two programs was developed and signed to

encourage subsequent exchanges. These activities were structured to make sure that

both programs benefited from the internships.

Once in their internships, the students met regularly with the SDSU faculty

member for supervision and to process and share their experiences. At the mid-point

of the internships, FSA and SDSU faculty met with the students and their supervisors

to review learning objectives and to monitor the quality of the internship. At the end

of the internships, all students presented a summary of their internship experience in

a half-day seminar with FSA faculty and internship supervisors. The seminar afforded

the social work faculty and supervisors the opportunity to see how US social work

students understood Thai social conditions and social interventions. For the students,

the seminar allowed an exchange of ideas to take place and to have Thai educators

reflect with them concerning their experiences. The seminar also provided the venue

for students to honor and thank their supervisors and liaisons by presenting them

with garlands made of jasmine flowers, a culturally appropriate form of acknowl-


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