Abstract: Cross-Cultural Exploration to Inform Best Practices for International Students in Field Education (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

551P Cross-Cultural Exploration to Inform Best Practices for International Students in Field Education

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kyung-Mee Choi, PhD, Associate Professor, University of St. Francis, Joliet, IL
Joyce Kraus, DSW, Assistant Professor, University of St. Francis, The, Joliet, IL
Laura Honegger, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, University of St. Francis, The, Joliet, IL
Background and Purpose: International social work students are generally expected to fit into the curriculum designed for domestic students, which is often rooted in western values and teaching styles. Further, while all social work students in field placements face challenges like adapting to the workplace culture, managing a daily work schedule, and adjusting to work experience evaluated by a supervisor, international students may experience additional challenges because of language, transportation barriers, and differences in culture. Since few guidelines and available literature exist detailing how best to prepare, place, and orient both student and supervisor, the researcher hopes to obtain a detailed model for guiding field directors through the placement process. This study has the following research questions: (1) What are the unique experiences and challenges encountered by international students within United States social work internship placements?; and (2) What improvements, additional supports, and cross-cultural strategies are recommended to increase the level of preparation of international social work students within their internship experiences within the United States?

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.