maanantai 25. toukokuuta 2015

Transnational social work, self-criticism and learning new perspectives


The main theme of the day was immigration and its effects on culture. The first lecture, “Transnational social work and transcultural perspectives”, was provided by Juri Killian from the University of Kassel, Germany. Killian analyzed the meaning of identity and the importance of understanding the dynamicity of cultures. Killian’s lecture raised many questions among students. An interesting point was how social surroundings, after all, play an important role in affecting people becoming radical. We, as social workers, must reconsider if there is room for demonization and ponder how we can truly relate to social change.

The German students held a presentation about unaccompanied refugee minors (URM) in Germany. The students discussed the reasons why there are URM’s ( = people who are under 18 years of age, who are outside their country of origin and who are separated from both of their parents or their previous legal caregiver) and how they are taken care of in the various states of Germany. Furthermore, the students told us what kind of projects there are in Germany for the URM’s, for example regarding their living situation, education and language. Because of their geographical position, some states are more concerned with refugee situations without enough resources to deal with the issue. Are we lucky in Finland while our country isn’t the first place for example for the African boat refugees to go to? Can we just decide to close our borders from any inconvenient occasions? Another case to reflect is the gender issue among the URM’s. Because most of the URM’s are boys, what happens to the girls?

In the presentations of Serbia, Switzerland and Russia, the students considered the implementation of social work in their home country. We discovered similarities of doing and studying social work in different countries. However, it is not the similarities but the differences between the countries we should learn more about. One goal of the summer school was to review our system from other perspectives. Learning how social issues are confronted within other countries and comparing it to our way of operating with them, is a step towards it.

Professor Julie Cooper from the California State University discussed self-criticism in social work practice. Cooper asked if the self-criticism is always a negative issue or could it be constructive or helpful, especially when it comes to the contemporary social work practice. She has been working in the field of social work for 30 years which is, in our opinion, a long time considering the demanding and challenging nature of social work practice. She has found self-criticism, working with young students and openness for new ideas important for herself. While the world around us changes all the time, it is needed to modify our understanding about society and social issues, too. That is a valid thing to remember in our social work career.

The students from the USA gave a wide image of what the social work can be like in the USA. The insurance based health care system and investing in prisons instead of education gives a harsh image of the social politics and the society. It seems like there’s a huge and long lasting need for social workers. Even though the student panel focused on things that need to be paid attention to and brought the flaws of the society to light, the students somehow created a very positive atmosphere in the lecture room. What we learned from the USA students was that the realization of social work greatly differs between countries. Being Finns felt relieving because in the USA, for generating even a little progress in the society, social workers have to work extremely hard. Nevertheless, what connects us social workers across the world is the shared duty of keeping up hope for a better life and better tomorrow. Even if it sounds cliché.

Despite the hunger and too-much-caffeine-head-ache we managed, in the workshop groups, to compare the immigration policies and services of our countries. It was surprising to figure out that in some countries there’s no policy concerning social work’s role in migration at all even if it is a big issue. We found the Finnish number of asylum seekers ridiculously small compared with the other European countries or countries outside of the Europe.  It was such an interesting learning experience to be in a room with at least six different nationalities and to hear each of their opinion about migration and some aspects regarding cultural changes. The raising multiculturalism and how cultural diversity affects our societies are the questions to ponder in contemporary social work.

- Helena Rajalahti & Taru Le Flock, University of Lapland, Finland

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