Bridging cultures: Taking social work to the world
By Megan Sexton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-1421
Karla Hoppmann Buru has always wanted to bring people together.
Growing up in Columbia, she found herself drawn to volunteer work, spending time repairing houses with Home Works and collecting food for Harvest Hope Food Bank. But it was her decision to join the Peace Corps after her graduation from the University of South Carolina and her assignment in the Jiu Valley of Romania that showed her the path she would follow.
Buru, now a graduate student in USC’s College of Social Work and Arnold School of Public Health, was in Romania from 2007 to 2009. She did everything from organize summer camps and teach English classes to coordinate national and international volunteers.
“Almost immediately, I fell in love with the Romanian people and the culture,” Buru said. “That experience changed my life and I knew that it was just the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Romania and its people.” She describes the people as “having an amazing sense of hospitality that seems to come from true generosity toward others, as well as perseverance in the face of adversity.”
In Romania, Buru had the chance to see how people from different countries worked together. She saw that if goals were to be met and resources used for the greatest good, there was a need for cross-cultural understanding.
She has been working to fill that need since October 2011, back in Romania on a Fulbright grant, helping bridge cultures and foster collaborations in social work and public health. She is interviewing employees and volunteers who have recently worked in the region. She hopes to gain insight and learn to set up models for future collaborations.
As a part of her Fulbright research, she co-organized a conference, “International Social Work: Working Together for Success.” The conference was sponsored by the University of Petroşani in partnership with USC’s College of Social Work and the Eastern European Sub Regional Association of Schools of Social Work.
“It is important to provide students, professors, international volunteers and practitioners the opportunity to share ideas and learn from one another,” she said. “It is crucial to facilitate cultural exchange and promote mutual understanding.”
USC College of Social Work Dean Anna Scheyett believes international programs are an important part of the college’s mission.
“Sometimes, I am asked why we participate in international activities. I have two answers. First, social injustice and threats to well-being don’t just occur in the United States. As social workers, if we can help, we should become involved irrespective of borders. Second, the exchange of knowledge and experience among social workers from different countries is enriching, enlightening and often gives us greater insight into ourselves,” Scheyett said.
Buru said it was important to her that she centered her work in the Jiu Valley, a coal mining region in the southwestern part of Romania that she says is often overlooked.
“I wanted to provide a new opportunity to the local students and practitioners. For example, a Romanian social work student mentioned to me that this was the first time she ever had the chance to attend an international conference and learn about social work practices from other places,” she said. “Hopefully, this experience taught her something she would not have learned otherwise, something that will help her better serve the needs of her community in the future.”
Buru’s next trip will be back to the Columbia in the fall, where she has a year of classwork before earning her Master of Social Work degree in the Macro: Organizations and Communities concentration. She started the MSW and Master of Public Health dual-degree program at USC in fall 2009 and completed the Arnold School of Public Health portion of the degree in health promotion, education and behavior in May.
Buru isn’t certain of her next job, but knows it will involve helping people and uniting communities.
“I would like to continue researching and educating people on cross-cultural collaborations,” she said. “I want to help organizations and individuals involved in international social work and public health practices to improve their services.”
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