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Go to India with the School of Social Work

The School of Social Work is extending its international reach.Come December, students and faculty plan to participate in the first study abroad trip to India, and if all goes well, MSW students will be vying in 2012 for a new field assignment within the same country. Both programs offer opportunities to learn more about the world’s largest democracy, including its system of social work and the social and economic challenges that the country faces because of severe poverty, said Rebecca Brigham, the School’s director of field education.“India has a fascinating history and culture,” Brigham said. “We plan for the students who participate in the study abroad trip to learn about the beauty of India’s culture and people as well as the country’s political and economic systems, especially its strategies to address poverty and other social challenges.”Ultimately, School leaders hope that the study abroad trip will assist the School in forging  new relationships with India’s universities and non-governmental organizations and in developing other mutual projects, including field placements, international research, and student and faculty exchange opportunities.Although the School has led numerous trips abroad over the years, including to China, Cuba and South Africa, interest in India has grown, in part, because of MSW student Darshan Mundada, a Rotary World Peace Fellow from Pune, and founder of India’s Friends’ Society, a community service, social awareness and eco-conservation organization. Mundada, who is among a growing group of MSW students interested in international social work, helped School leaders organize an exploratory trip to his native country earlier this year.Mundada is eager for the School to strengthen its global connection and hopes that the study abroad and field placement programs will help students and faculty gain a more “holistic perspective” on the social work model.“The social work system in India is unique because of its societal structure,” he said. “Family and community are at the center of the model, so the approach focuses more on group, family and community, rather than on the individual. Social work is also defined more broadly in India than it is in the United States. Any work that is done without motives of personal gain becomes social work (compared to) specific human-services related work.”Dates for the study abroad trip have been set, with participants leaving Dec. 26 and returning Jan. 8. The trip was purposely scheduled during a time of year when temperatures are much cooler and more manageable abroad, Brigham said. Itinerary details are still being developed, but travelers can expect the trip to resemble many of the School’s other study abroad experiences, with host universities offering workshops and lectures on the participant country’s culture, traditions, and needs. Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Pune University and Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Government and World Peace Center have expressed potential interest in hosting students and faculty, Brigham said.However, unlike previous trips, students in India may have the chance to work more directly with some of the country’s NGOs. During the exploratory trip, Brigham and School clinical instructor Dan Hudgins visited five NGOs, including the Residential School for Blind Girls and Maher, a residence that serves traumatized women and children. Hudgins said he was impressed with the organizations and noted that “India has a longer tradition of social work practice as a profession compared to most developing countries.”“They are doing some very exciting and innovative things,” he said. “I think there is something we can learn from the role of social work within the country and the challenges that they face.”Hopefully, a first-hand experience with India’s NGOs will also teach students more about the services and resources that are available to people in need, Brigham said.Plans for a field placement program in India are still being developed, but Brigham said a number of agencies in the country have been willing to offer an annual internship to an MSW student. The first match is planned for 2012, with one selected student spending about 17 weeks in their field placement, she said. Mundada has raised enough funding to support the first field placement, but Brigham said much more will be needed to assist other students.Although the School centers much of its research and teaching around social issues that impact North Carolina’s residents, with today’s world economy, Brigham said students should also view social work through a broader lens.“One of the goals of our program is to ensure that social work students are able to look at social problems through a local, state, national and international lens,” she said. “It is a part of our educational and professional duty to ensure that students have an international perspective.” By Susan White See also: Trip information page