Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, Professor and Associate Dean for Research at the School of Social Work, who accompanies the students, sees the trip as an opportunity to learn ways of managing mental health care within a developing country context. "Students invariably realize that we are more similar than we are dissimilar, and that human problems are roughly the same everywhere," he says. "People in less-developed contexts can do things worthy of emulation – it’s not like we have all the answers. The goal of a global education like this is to expose students to alternative views, to expand their horizons, to make them global citizens, and to give them the competencies to serve their communities in a more nuanced way."
Coursework and field visits are overseen by professors from Rutgers alongside experts from the Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health/Tata Institute of Social Sciences (BALM-TISS). Rutgers MSW students, including a few selected students from outside the School of Social Work, meet with students in India, and travel to various centers to see how different programs manage mental health challenges.
Linnea Luzzo '18, who went the first year of the program, found the collaboration with students studying at BALM (the Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health) to be one of the most fulfilling aspects of the trip. "I was impressed with the organization’s creative approaches to social problems, specifically at the intersection of homelessness, mental illness, and poverty. For example, BALM has created a campus that is mutually-beneficial for clients and social work students. The students have the opportunity to learn about social work practice in the classroom and then walk down the hall to actually use what they learned by spending time with the clients. At the same time, the clients who live there gain a sense of belonging and inclusion through regular social interaction with the students."
This intersection of students and clients sharing the same space, sitting at the dinner table together, would be unheard of in the States. "Students inevitably comment about the whole ethos of The Banyan---social inclusion, respect for clients, kindness and gentleness with which they are treated – the whole concept of boundaries can be very different, but in a therapeutically appropriate way," Raghavan says.
Kenneth Palmisano '18, an MSW student focusing on addiction and mental health therapy, remembers the juxtaposition between one area that was mostly a rural landscape and a jarring image of technology. "We walked past a village farmer on a wooden cart drawn by two oxen, like a scene out of the late 19th century… except that he was talking on his cell phone. You realize that, as a global society, we are more alike than we are different."
Throughout their two week stay, students experienced a variety of scenarios and experiences. One day, they were at a surfing school dedicated to teaching local kids surfing as a way to get them off the streets. Another day, they visited a six month program for community health workers to train them to identify and help people with mental health issues. They visited a mausoleum of a companion of the Prophet Muhammed and a temple, both of which are known as healing sites for mental disorders, in order to see how mental health workers integrate care with the individual's religious belief, perhaps by having the medicine blessed by a priest. At an urban shared housing project in Chennai, they saw apartments that were part of Home Again, a model for care for those with long-term needs as well as those living with moderate to severe disabilities. These apartments are inclusive and promote participation and access to community living options. In a rural health care center in Kovalam, they saw clinics with medical care in the front, where an American internist volunteers each winter, and beds in the back for those without shelter. They also spent time at Adaikalam, an emergency care center and licensed psychiatric nursing home that provides initial care for those in need including clothing, food, shelter, and a place to bathe. It also offers longer term support including in-patient care, access to groups, counseling, and case management-based help.
What has stayed with Christina Bruce '17, who is focusing on clinical social work with an emphasis in violence against women and children, was a moment with an outreach worker at a local homeless shelter. They encountered a homeless man suffering from severe and persistent mental illness. For many years, the man has refused shelter, food, or mental healthcare. While they were visiting, the man became angry and refused to speak with the worker. Bruce wasn't sure why he was so upset, but the worker explained. "She said, 'The man was hurt and insulted because I had not visited with him in many weeks.' I asked the worker how she avoids burn out when working with such a vulnerable and at times volatile population. She said, 'I cannot get burned out. My clients are my family.' This was one example of the striking differences between practicing social work in a collectivist culture rather than the individualistic culture. We have much to learn from one another."
For more information on this program or other study abroad opportunities, please visit globaleducation.rutgers.edu.