When I saw the invitation to apply for the virtual study abroad internship, I was incredibly excited! As an adult learner with responsibilities that keep me close to home, I thought that studying abroad was something that I could never do, so when I saw this opportunity, I decided that I must apply. I set the South African Diplomacy, Conflict Resolution, and International Relations site as my goal because I wanted to learn more about Africa, the subjects covered, and about the world in broader scope than I have previously experienced.
For me, being an undergraduate researcher means discovering and learning new thought processes, building knowledge though experiments both successful and unsuccessful, and experiencing personal growth and change. I am happy to say that I experienced all these things during the six-week internship. I went in with the idea that I didn’t have a very broad worldview, and that I needed to learn more about how the upper-level socioeconomic systems function in the world in order to be a more competent public policy social worker. The question that I asked myself was “How can I understand local policies that affect my practice if I do not first understand the dynamics of the world stage that are affecting those policies on a macro scale?”. I walked away with a deeper understanding of policies that affect the world, of how leaders interact with each other to maintain balance, and how the systems that we have today were shaped by the past.
I started this internship with no framework in diplomacy, conflict resolution, and international relations as these subjects aren’t deeply touched on in the social work pathway. I wanted to learn more, and I wanted to at least have a baseline understanding of the dynamics on the world stage. I feel that I learned how to adopt a view of world policies with a more open mind and less Western-centric approach, and that is important to me as a social worker because one of our ethical codes is to value other cultures and norms and we can not value what we do not understand. I learned how to really listen to the announcements and press releases of world leaders and disseminate the meanings through research. I developed my research skills on current events and writing op ed’s through the internship tasks with the Institute of Global Dialogue (IGD) that we were given. I also did a vast amount of historical research to gain an understanding of theories such as neoliberalism, globalization, and realism that shape world politics today. The things that I learned are important to my future career as a social worker because I now have a basis to understand how the big picture actions of world leader and their policies intersect with the state and local level policies that impact my clients daily. This internship has come with many benefits as I move into my senior year. I gained greater collaboration skills, I learned how to research current events, and I learned that I could step outside of my field of study to understand how other fields of study interact with social work.
My internship impacts my undergraduate experience because I have new skills to bring to the table in my senior year. I will be working on a group research project and now I already have the collaboration skills required to be successful in that class. I am ahead of the game! I will also be taking a class that is centered on public policy social work, so the skill of learning to research current events that I gained gives me a secure footing in this before I even start. Stepping outside of my field of study was daunting and a little scary, but I saw the importance of this early on. This will help me when I advance to graduate school because although I will be in the same general field, I will have to choose a focus which is very close to learning a whole new field of study. I can’t say that I walked away from this internship as an expert in diplomacy, conflict resolution, and international relations, but I can say that I now have enough of an understanding to be able to engage in and follow conversations of the people that are experts and I personally see this as an invaluable tool to add to my education.
The value of an internship such as this is so great that it is difficult to put into concise words. First, I got to meet, and work with people that had a completely different outlook on education, I got to experience how educators operate in a new setting, and I experienced a deep amount of personal growth. The people that I worked with were amazing and it was so pleasant to work with people that were really invested in their work. The researchers for IGD are so passionate about their work that it was infectious, and I developed a passion for research that I would have never previously discovered. Working on the assignments designed by the program leaders was also a valuable experience because I was able to prove to myself that I could work with people that have a very different set of expectations than what I am accustomed to. I personally feel more confident now in my own capacity to learn about and understand subjects that I had no knowledge of and this was a vast area of personal growth and change that will help me be a better student, and a more competent professional in the future.
Overall, I feel like I accomplished so much in a short time during this internship. I discovered a whole new country because I knew next to nothing about South Africa going in. Learning about apartheid and the way that the colonialization of the past impacts the people of South Africa today was eye opening and humbling. I worked on the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) research project and I went from thinking of BRICS as a sort of gang that is seeking power to understanding that the countries involved are working together to share knowledge and develop their economies in order to have a bigger voice in the policies that impact their people. I also learned to value and respect other countries choices by looking at those choices with a less Westernized lens. I gained a broader world view, working with new people, learning new ideas and concepts, and personal growth and change. I am happy to say that I feel like my time and the scholarship money was time well spent.
Kerry Webb (BSW Social Work) participated in the summer 2022 URaCE and Office of Study Abroad virtual research internship abroad to South Africa through SIT Study Abroad. Kerry had the following to say about the virtual internship abroad experience, “Study abroad helped me gain a deeper understanding of how to value and recognize other countries systems and decisions.”
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