Social work goes international
A group of German exchange students visited Temple recently to learn how the discipline of social work is practiced here
It was still dark when a group of students from the FHE University of Applied Sciences boarded the mini-van with their Temple University School of Social Administration hosts, headed for the Philadelphia Police Department’s bi-weekly COMSTAT meeting.
The students, in town this October from Erfurt, Germany, were interested in seeing the police hold their biweekly discussion of crime statistics. The professor accompanying them, Helmut Janssen, had spent time in law enforcement.
Because of how social services are structured in Germany, it’s important that social workers know about a wide range of things that could have an impact on the people they help, said Link Martin, assistant dean of the School of Social Administration and director of Temple University Harrisburg.
“The social work educational program in Germany is different than ours,” he said. “They have professors from more diverse backgrounds, including criminal justice and criminal law. So they wanted information on our criminal justice system.”
The students, Janssen and their Temple University hosts then sat down for an early-morning meeting with Patricia Giorgio Fox, First Deputy Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, who went over who-did-what-to-whom in the city’s various neighborhoods during the past month. Each of them received sheets to follow along.
From there, it was a trip to 30th Street Station to buy train tickets for a trip to Washington, D.C., and a visit to Philadelphia’s Youth Study Center to talk to the young people there and the Temple University School of Social Administration alumni who work with them.
The students appreciated the chance to see the United States and its systems in person.
“We often listen in classes about international social work,” said Christin Hacker, one of the students on the trip. “We just know what we have to work with and what we’re studying. I wanted to know about social work in America.”
This group of students from FHE University of Applied Sciences was the first of many such groups that will visit Temple University as part of an exchange program, Martin said. There are also plans for a group of students from Temple students to visit Germany later this year.
This visit took about five months to plan, Martin said. An agreement to do the exchange was signed last spring and while in New York last year, Janssen met with School of Social Administration officials to flesh things out.
The students selected for the trip had to have a basic knowledge of English, and had to have taken international experience seminars, Janssen said.
In addition to learning about how the United States’ social work practicum differs from Germany’s, Janssen wanted the students to learn about America and its residents firsthand, he said.
“I wanted them to have an intercultural experience; to see how people live and how they are here,” he said.
Although some of the students, like Katrin Lienert, had actually spent some time in America, it was the first time abroad for many of them. Because of this, many of the learning experiences have come from Americans themselves.
There are things Americans do that aren’t commonly seen in German society, Hacker said.
“Americans are very open,” she said. “They come and say hello and ask questions. People are more closed in Germany.”
But while the students spent much of their time learning about American social work practice, there were also chances for the students to have some fun. In addition to the trip to Washington, D.C., the students toured Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind the Walls” exhibit, visited Philadelphia’s historic sites and traveled to New York City.
- Denise Clay