Indiana State University Newsroom

Cross-cultural experience impacts social work, nursing students

April 26, 2013

Toilet seats are a rarity and there will likely be a charge to use the restroom. Despite its location in a hot, humid area, the hospital has no air conditioning. Emergency room beds have no pillows and a stray dog might pass through.

"It was definitely a culture shock," said Katie Lugar, a sophomore social work major from Terre Haute, as she described working in a Guatemalan hospital.

Lugar was part of a group of 16 nursing and social work students from Indiana State University who travelled internationally over spring break. Half of the students went to Guatemala and the other half to South Korea as part of an international social work course supported by the university's Office of International Programs and Services.Lugar said she jumped on the chance to experience a new culture.

"For such a small program, we're making a big dent in the number of social work students who study abroad," said Robyn Lugar, bachelor of social work program director and associate professor.

Although the students travelled to different locations, they learned equally the importance of hand motions in communicating.

"It's like charades," said Megan Acree, a junior social work major from Brazil, smiling.On a more serious note, students described an eye-opening week as they talked about their experiences.

"I wanted to know what it was like to be a minority for the first time," said Acree. She said that experiencing the language barrier caused her to view those who speak another language with more compassion, "understanding what it's like to be in their shoes". Robyn Lugar said that one of the greatest memories from the South Korean trip was not the classes they visited or the structured organizations they toured, but rather getting to know the people.

"(The classes) were wonderful, but there was a night when we all went bowling. It didn't matter where anyone was from. The students cheered for each other, even if it was just four pins down. It was just a great bonding experience," she said. Lesli Heath of Champaign, Ill. recalled this as one of her favorite memories as well.

"It was fun that we didn't know each other and couldn't even speak to each other that well, but acted like we were best friends," she said.

ISU students who travelled to Guatalemala spent extended time with local people as well, living with host families-who didn't speak English-in the village of El Triunfo.

The students visited schools, daycares and hospitals, where they administered shots, IVs, and assessed patient needs.

Abbie Wooten, a nursing major from Paris, Ill., noted the large amount of clinical experience the opportunity afforded her. One day, in a 90 minute period, she gave shots to 70 babies. "That's more than I've given in all my time in the United States," she said. Working in the hospital, she said three babies might be in the same room at a time, with the door open and no privacy. In addition, nurses would assess patients, who would then go purchase medication from a local store before returning to be treated.

It was the first time many of the students had experienced this type of need. Katie Lugar noted that although many of the kids lacked shoes or toys, they were happy and respectful.

"They are so happy even though they have so little," said Lugar of the people she met. Gaining a clearer international picture was something the students who travelled to South Korea experienced as well.

"Not just in South Korea, but from a global perspective, we can learn from each other," said Sarah Hanlon, a junior social work major from Greencastle. After seeing programs in South Korea, Hanlon, who has wanted to work with kids her whole life, is now considering working with the elderly.

"I no longer think putting the elderly in a nursing home is acceptable," agreed Breannen Zehr of Newburgh, noting the places she saw with constant activities and older adults who truly wanted to live there.

Seeing what could be inspired junior James Heisserer to think about creating an agency implementing the emphasis on education he experienced in South Korea. "Heisserer Helping Hands" would teach the value of education for youth.

"Youth here don't see the importance of it. Some schools think Ds are fine, as long as you're passing. I want to change that," he said.

The trip appeared to impact the students' perspective, goals, and attitudes. Even a few weeks later, students were eager to share their experiences abroad.

Robyn Lugar said is excited about the changes she saw take place in her students during the trip.

"A week can really make a difference," she said.


Photo: - The Jeonbuk Society Welfare Association and Foster Support Center was among the stops for Indiana State University social work and nursing students during a study abroad trip to South Korea.

Contact: Robyn Lugar, associate professor and program director of the Bachelor of Social Work Program, at 812-237-7650 or

Writer: Bethany Donat, media relations assistant, ISU Office of Communications and Marketing,