Contact My SSW Intranet Report Sexual Misconduct

Main menu

Beyond Borders: Faculty Increase Cultural Sensitivity through International Research and Teaching

Faculty do not limit their research and travels to the United States. In addition to the many faculty who present at international conferences, several work with colleagues internationally on research projects and travel to teach or serve. The following four are only examples of cutting-edge work by U-M SSW faculty and colleagues.

Learning cultural humility in Thailand

As a young child, Berit Ingersoll-Dayton lived in Thailand for seven years while her father conducted anthropological fieldwork. When the opportunity came to become involved with research in Thailand in the early 1990s, Ingersoll-Dayton did not hesitate. Now a gerontology scholar and professor of social work, she travels to Thailand once a year to conduct research.

In a study begun almost ten years ago, Ingersoll-Dayton and her Thai colleagues sought to develop a measure of psychological well-being for Thai elders. They ran into a roadblock. In attempting to translate well-being questions related to self-mastery and control from an American measure of psychological well-being, her English-speaking Thai colleagues could not find equivalent words or concepts. Their solution was to develop a new measure of psychological well-being that was culturally relevant to older Thai people. This measure included questions about acceptance (a Buddhist concept) as well as intergenerational family harmony and interdependence.

“I am hoping to contribute to research on Thai elders and in return am gaining and learning a great deal,” says Ingersoll-Dayton. “One thing I’ve learned through my work in Thailand is cultural humility. Researchers and practitioners talk about having cultural sensitivity, but we must also be humble and realize that, however much we try, it’s difficult to be completely culturally sensitive.”

On Ingersoll-Dayton’s most recent trip in February, she attended the oral defense of a Thai doctoral student, Kattika Thanakwang, at Mahidol University. King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand had given Thanakwang a grant to conduct her dissertation research and to work with an international faculty member.

From September 2007 to January 2008, Thanakwang wrote her dissertation at the U-M SSW under IngersollDayton’s supervision. “The School’s Office of Global Affairs was wonderful in helping to get her settled in and supported,” says Ingersoll-Dayton. The two plan to do future research projects together.

More than multidisciplinary research in Chile

In 2007 Professor Jorge Delva received a $2.8 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to conduct a five-year study of drug use among Chilean teens. The study is in collaboration with Dr. Marcela Castillo of the Institute for the Study of Nutrition and Food Technology at the University of Chile. Last year Delva took three trips to Chile related to the research.

Delva’s study builds on research by another collaborative project between U-M and the University of Chile. Betsy Lozoff, professor in the U-M Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, and Castillo are studying the effects of iron deficiency on children’s brain development and functioning.

The same individuals whom Lozoff has studied since infancy are now participating in the drug use study. More than 1,200 Chilean youth ages 12–16 and one of their caregivers are assessed in person.

“This project is more than multidisciplinary,” says Delva. “It falls in the category of interdisciplinarity,” in which researchers who work in completely different fields come together to tackle a particular problem. Delva and Lozoff have found several connections between the two disciplines; for example, iron deficiency affects the brain chemicals that are also associated with increased risk for substance abuse.

Delva, a native of Chile, is involved in several other initiatives. He collaborates with the Organization of American States and has taught courses and workshops on drug use epidemiology in several Latin American countries. Delva is able to provide mentoring and training to junior researchers through his study. One, Ninive Sanchez (’07), received funding from the National Institutes of Health to do a field placement in Chile last summer (see Ongoing Winter/Spring 2007). She developed a survey to study neighborhood influences on drug involvement, which she administered in Santiago. She also completed structured observations of the neighborhoods on foot.

Now project coordinator for Delva’s study, Sanchez is interested in pursuing a doctoral education. “Encouraging bright MSW graduates to pursue doctoral education is one of my most important mentoring and training goals,” says Delva.

Delva has also invited doctoral student Pilar Horner to join his project. Horner’s parents moved to the United States from Chile in the late 1960s, and she completed a Fulbright scholarship in Chile in 1998. Horner went to Chile this March to meet with Castillo and discuss a multi-method study proposal on neighborhood effects in Chile. Building upon his current study in Chile, Delva and Horner plan to submit an application to NIH for a postdoctoral fellowship for her.

A harmonious society in China

When Paula Allen-Meares returned to China in March after traveling there with a U-M delegation last year, she focused her presentation on a concept dear to the heart of Chinese people: harmony.

This time she was part of an international delegation of women leaders who met with hundreds of Chinese women leaders and visited four cities in China through Stellar International Networks.

Laurie McDonald Jonsson (’74), president and founder of Stellar International Networks, initiated the delegation (see Ongoing Winter/Spring 2006). The delegates included U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State as well as leaders in the areas of business, health care, law, and nonprofit organizations.

In cooperation with the All China Women’s Federation and the American Chambers of Commerce in Beijing and Shanghai, the delegates explored the issues of energy, cancer, investment, economic development, and the migration from rural to urban China. They considered what is driving China’s booming economy, sought to brighten the lives of migrant children, and made connections and friendships.

Allen-Meares presented in Beijing, China, at the China Women’s Federation on how social work can contribute to a harmonious society. Social problems exacerbated by a large urban population include poverty, a large aging population, and HIV/AIDS. But, she shared, industrial and occupational social work can assist China in its emerging economy, and social work can support women who are entering the workforce.

“It was indeed a trip I’ll never forget!” Allen-Meares says. Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri also traveled to China this spring. For a month she taught social work education—specifically, organization and social policy development—to social and health science faculty at Peking University.

The training was initiated through a collaboration between Polytechnic University of Hong Kong and Peking University in Beijing. Sarri was in attendance in 1994 when the collaboration began.

Sarri first went to China in 1978 and has returned every few years. With the government supportive of social work, the field is growing in China, though social work is viewed from the perspective of the communal society rather than the U.S. individualistic society. “You can’t do social work the same in China as in the United States,” cautions Sarri.

Accepting an invitation to Ethiopia

Since the 1970s, Sarri has done a significant amount of international traveling for research and teaching, including to Australia, the Philippines, and Russia. She continues to work on a joint research project on family violence in South Korea. In addition, she has kept up on her projects at U-M on social policy, juvenile criminal justice, and child welfare.

In the summer of 2007, Sarri traveled to Ethiopia for the first time. While director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Social Science, Sarri met Seyoum Selassie (PhD ’76), a doctoral student from Ethiopia. After he graduated, he asked her repeatedly to come to Ethiopia, “but for years I worked with Asian and Latin American countries instead,” she says.

Although Sarri was in touch with Selassie about her trip to Ethiopia, he passed away from emphysema before she arrived. For two months she taught classes in a newly developed doctoral program at the School of Social Work at Addis Ababa University. She also visited human services agencies, an urban garden agency, a women’s pottery cooperative, and a prison for violent crime committers.

Sarri summarizes the feelings of the Social Work researchers working internationally: “I feel now that I have friends all over the globe, and it gives me a greater perspective about the world.”

—Tanya C. Hart Emley is editor of Ongoing.

Contact Us Press escape to close