Indiana State University Newsroom

Students experience social work practices in Vietnam and Korea

April 23, 2015

Fourteen Indiana State University social work students used FaceTime and Line social apps to stay abreast of each other's daily journeys in real-time during a 10-day exploration of international social services in Korea and Vietnam.

It was an opportunity that exposed both groups of social work majors in Diane VanCleave's 400-level international studies course to social care, family and child welfare issues within a social work framework when they visited Korea and Vietnam, March 12-22.

The students, who had the option to choose which country to visit, were accompanied by VanCleave, assistant professor of social work, Robyn Lugar, associate professor of social work, and Paul DuongTran, professor of social work. The international course was the first from Indiana State to travel to two countries with different students.

It was also the first international trip for junior Lakisha Johnson of Terre Haute, whose perspective of privilege has changed and she's eager to continue relationships she built with Vietnamese students.

"Before this, I would have looked at chopsticks and thought, ‘I need a fork'. By day two, though, it became second nature to use them," Johnson said. "When we went to the second university and had a social between the lectures I pulled out a package of graham crackers from my purse and gave the Vietnamese students a taste of American snacks. The students were open to trying them and thanked me."

VanCleave accompanied students to Korea, said it was important for students to learn how to practically relate, learn and understand another culture.

"It was interesting to see students who had some high anxiety about traveling abroad to eventually hear them say, ‘I want to live here'," she said. "We do a pre- and post-process when we go to social service agencies. It was fun to watch the high amount of excitement (the students) had about what they were experiencing and discussions about what we are and aren't doing back here with social services."

Chris McGrew, director of the Center for Global Engagement, said this was a unique experience that was worth the hard work faculty put into devising the trip and the $1,000 per student scholarships provided by the university.

"With virtually no resources, they created this three-country comparison piece and what an amazing opportunity it was," he said. "They compared these two very different countries to what's going on in the U.S., so the students can say Vietnam is high-low income country and they're doing some amazing thing and explore why that is, and when they saw the things Korea is doing they hopefully challenged stereotypes."

Both trips gave students exposure to foreign universities, faculty and students in Hanil University and Theological Seminary in Junju, Korea and Hue University, Open University and the University of Da Nang in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, students presented at the American Center, U.S. Embassy and Mission in Ho Chi Minh City. They also visited Hoi An - an UNESCO-designated village, and visited SOS Village, Hope Center and University of Hue Medical Hospital. In South Korea, students were able to tour the sights and sounds of Seoul.

One of five students who visited Korea, Nick Penington, a senior undergraduate from Indianapolis who is working with VanCleave on research comparing international perspectives of social services and where they lack.

"I'm really interested in international social work and seeing how it all intersects and the differences thereare," Penington said. "In the U.S. we're good with our social services, but we went to some of the most impoverished South Korean provinces and their social services excelled past some of the services we have here because their focus is about taking care of their community. The cultural norm there is to respect elders and help people who need it without really asking for anything in return."

In an essay, students will reflect on their observations of gender roles and society's concept of work. DuongTran said the structure of the Vietnam trip gave students personal interaction with natives, which allowed them to learn through observation about social behaviors and traditions from traveling to three major cities and visiting three universities. In comparison, he said the Korea trip offered students more exposure to higher education when students lived in student housing in Hanil.

Lugar went with nine students to Vietnam and credits faculty travel grants from the Center for Global Engagement with expanding travel opportunities to students who may otherwise not be able to go abroad.

"A week like we had makes every other week worth doing. We did more in that week to change perspectives than we can comparatively do in the classroom - no matter how many videos or speakers come in," she said. "When we get students out of this country and show them what it's like, it makes them appreciate their blessings and gives them a different view of who we are as a nation."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or

Story Highlights

Fourteen Indiana State University social work students used FaceTime and Line social apps to stay abreast of each other’s daily journeys in real-time during a 10-day exploration of international social services in Korea and Vietnam.

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