MSW graduates from Korea visit UofSC

Many students walked across the stage to receive their master of social work this December and become University of South Carolina alumni, but for a few of them, it was their first time setting foot in South Carolina. These students completed the College of Social Work’s Korea-based MSW program, a unique program made possible via many partnerships with Korean universities. Sung Seek Moon, director of the MSW program in Korea for the past two years, coordinated the December visit to Carolina for university commencement and hooding.

The Korea-based MSW program began in 1994, initially meant to serve U.S. military personnel interested in pursuing social work studies. However, according to Moon, many Korean students wanted to study U.S.-based social work, which is typically more practice-driven. The program continued to grow and can now boast a total of 195 alumni, including 19 this year.

At the December College of Social Work hooding, two Korea-based MSW graduates were honored with awards: Seungha Cho won the academic excellence award, and Kang hee Kim was recognized for outstanding leadership. This was the first visit to the U.S. for both graduates, and they delighted in the campus tour, citing the historic Horseshoe as a special favorite. Nancy Brown ensured the graduates enjoyed a taste of South Carolina cuisine, including shrimp and grits and barbeque. Cho noted that SC barbeque, dripping with sauce, is quite different compared to Korean barbeque, which emphasizes salt and texture.

Beyond the chance to sample culinary traditions, the College of Social Work provided these students with something very special: MSW programs in Korean universities are typically very theory-driven and only require 120 hours in the field. Carolina’s program emphasizes the importance of internships in the process of becoming a professional social worker by requiring 900 hours of work in the field. Students Cho and Kim indicated that this opportunity to develop their social work practice was a key factor in deciding to enroll.

Both Kim and Cho chose USC’s MSW program because of the stellar faculty and the practice-based curriculum. Cho noted that learning from expert faculty was “very powerful.” “Their knowledge is beautiful,” she said. Kim loved how her classes were active, often using role-play exercises to help students grasp an idea. Cho agreed that practice and a focus on professionalism were highlights of the curriculum. Cho especially enjoyed Dr. Daniel Freedman’s class for his expertise in mental health (her field of specialization) and his helpful feedback to students.

The Korea-based MSW program offers night and weekend classes for working professionals, and most instruction is in-person with faculty who stay in Korea for the duration of each academic term. This set-up, said Moon, is “beneficial for USC faculty members” because it allows them the opportunity to experience the culture. There is “an emerging trend in immersed experiences,” said Moon, and faculty can have this valuable experience as they teach in Korea for six to eight weeks and connect and collaborate with Korean social work scholars. The MSW in Korea is not just for U.S. service members anymore, asserted Moon, or even just for Korean students — USC faculty researchers have quite a bit to gain as well.

Moon said that the Korean program is a “very unique opportunity” for both students and faculty because it offers a “common ground to expand USC’s global perspective” and work with Korean faculty and universities. He cited the exciting new Graduate Certificate in Drug and Addiction Studies led by Brown in concert with Namseoul University as one example of working with Korean leaders in social work on global issues.

Of the 10 graduates who made the trip, some were hesitant to come, largely due to the commitment and expense of traveling so far. But, Moon noted, after the university commencement and CoSW hooding ceremonies, many confessed to him that the visit was meaningful and has given them “unforgettable memories.” Participating in commencement here in Columbia has given the new graduates a sense of community and ownership of their degrees, and “they feel like members of the USC community.”

Both Kim and Cho hope to attain Ph.D.s in social work in the U.S. Kim is currently planning to perfect her English language skills before applying; Cho has already applied to doctoral programs, hoping to follow in the footsteps of her mother, who is a professor of social work in Korea.

Reflecting on her experience, Cho said it was a great opportunity for learning a different style of social work practice. “I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to USC for allowing us to have this program.”

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