Methods: A qualitative study was conducted to examine the experiences of international social work students interning within the U.S. and to identify additional supports and cross-cultural strategies for enhancing their internship experiences. Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were conducted with six international MSW students who had completed at least one masters-level internship experience within the U.S.. Each of the respondents had a primary language other than English. An inductive content analysis approach was used to identify common themes within the transcribed interviews.
Results: Key findings that emerged include the following: international MSW students experienced racism from clients, supervisors, and other colleagues at their internships, and some feared Islamophobia and therefore did not openly practice their religion while attending practicum. They also experienced barriers in written and spoken communication, having particular difficulty with understanding slang terminology. Respondents also expressed feeling more open to asking questions at their internships within the U.S. than in their home country, where asking for help may be viewed more negatively due to cultural norms. Supervisors’ stereotypes of international students’ language abilities and skills of developing good relationships with their clients, limited more opportunities for them to explore their internship experience. When international students had a better relationship with their supervisor, other professionals/staff, co-interns, and clients, they had a better communication with them. It was challenging for international students to work for the legal system because it takes time for them to be familiar with the US policy and procedures. Overall, respondents felt that the newly developed internship orientation model was helpful in terms of increasing their awareness of internship expectations and some cultural norms. Additionally, respondents felt that much of the implicit curriculum would remain relevant upon returning to their home countries.
Conclusions and Implications: Overall, our findings support the need for better orienting field agencies to the unique needs and strengths of international MSW students, as well as the need to further assist our community agencies with enhancing their cultural awareness and creating their culturally competent environment.