Cross-Cultural Experience

Roots of Social and Economic Justice

Course Information:
Roots of Social and Economic Justice (Syllabus), S W 460K, Spring 2005

Faculty Information:
Ruth Rubio, MSSW, Clinical Professor of Social Work

I took an intensive five-week course about the Roots of Social and Economic Justice: An international perspective in London, England in the summer of 2005. We were taught by Ruth Rubio, a University of Texas Social Work Professor. To prepare for the intensive course abroad, we had six mandatory meetings during the spring semester.

Critical Reflection
I am reminded frequently in my classes how distinct Social Work is. As a Social Worker and minister I knew that my beliefs and morals would be challenged in many different ways. I wanted to explore the world in hopes of understand what it means to be different. As an American I realize our community is shielded. Yes, we see diversity everyday in our classes but not at the extent of what I was able to see in London, England. I was excited and willing to take the jump into a new place and believe it was the best connecting experience I have at my time here.

Before we left we attended six mandatory meetings. It was suppose to help us adjust to the idea of going abroad. Keep us on schedule to get passports and documents. I felt these meetings were not used well though. We were supposed to contact agencies and places we wanted to visit while we were there for are social justice issue groups. (The social justice issue group was a small group that focused on one social justice issue of common interest.) The problem with this preparation was most students had never been to London, let alone out of the country. We couldn't use time management skills to help better organize us because we didn't know where things were. We didn't know how far away agencies were from home stays.

My group identified social service agencies and community resources that focused around HIV/AIDS and women's issues. At times I felt discouraged by this project. Between the 7 group members, we had emailed and called over 100 different AIDS/HIV, Gay/Lesbian organizations and women's health organizations. Not only costing us time, but money for every call we made. Many of agencies turned us down because they didn't have time or were under staffed. We also noticed a pattern happening among BSWs, MSWs and PhD students. The PhD student didn't have trouble going into an agency and asking questions because of his qualifications, but everyone else for the most part was turned away. One day, my group decided that we had been discouraged long enough and we broke class protocol. We didn't email or call. We walked into an agency and asked the first person that could help us. After all this time, we finally were able to sit down and speak with an agency. It was the Mary Stopes Clinic. The executive PR took us out for coffee and answered all of our questions for over two hours. I learned a lot about who Mary Stopes was. She was a British paleontologist and social reformer who opened England's first birth control clinic (1924) in London and later promoted family planning in the Far East. Mary Stopes Clinic provides sexual and reproductive health information and services to 4.3 million people worldwide in 39 countries! It is also consider the second largest family planning agency in the world. I was amazed by all the work this clinic did. My group members and I joke at times now, saying "We might have done it the wrong way, but we still hit the jackpot." It was both an enlightening and amazing experience. The executive PR took his time to talk with us, and I doubt that if we had emailed or called we would have ever had this opportunity.

The second course requirement was a 10-hour exploration (or volunteer) experience. Four other students and I had a special opportunity to participate in a full-day workshop with National Coalition Building Institute. NCBI is a community-based leadership training for today's world of diversity and activism. It focuses on prejudice reduction, conflict resolution, violence prevention, organizational development, and social justice. We did activities around racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, Semitism and ableism. We focused on how these communities could bridge differences to work together. I think what I learned most from it was how Americans are perceived internationally and how to work on those issues.

Another way we learned a lot was by field trips and lectures. I think to explain how much I learned in this environment I have to explain the atmosphere in facts: London is the home of 37 distinct immigrant groups, each consisting of more than 10,000 people. This is a city where some 300 known languages and dialects are spoken. Social Care originated in London, in the late 1800. One of the sites we visited was the historic Toynbee Hall, the first settlement home and a site that could be considered the birthplace of social work. Established in 1873, Toynbee Hall's current aim is to build bridges between different backgrounds and cultures and bridging the large gaps of rich and poor.

An addition, I think I learned most were when I experienced London with my peers in a non-lecturing environment. I wanted to learn more about London culture and what it means to have an "English or London identity." I think the very real multiculturalism is evident on every street (and many restaurant places) and is a key reason why I loved this city. I was able to attend an annual event called Out of Africa while I was there. It was a week long festival that celebrated the food, entertainment and life's of Africans. This gave me the chance to experience something outside of my own culture, not only being white but also being an American in London and I came to realize how much I loved African music. I don't know if I would have gotten the chance to experience that in the U.S.

On the weekends, I attended different worship services and churches. I am really interested in going into ministry and I found it inspiring and motivating to attend services, especially those not of my own denomination. I also experienced London through its' entertainment, going to Broadway shows and football (in the U.S. it is known as soccer) games and spending time in the SOHO district. All these opportunities to experience London allowed me to meet other people. Those friendships and companions I made abroad will allow me to keep learning about international issues and keep me updated on issues first hand even though I have left London.

London gave me a lot of opportunities to learn about social workers and I might never had the opportunity to experience in such a vast, vibrant and multicultural city. It is the essence of political and cultural life. My professor's favorite saying was, "We are not confined by four walls but by where the tube, double deckers and our feet can take us." I experienced London through exploration and it was a once in a life-time opportunity.