Boston College School of Social Work’s MSW Global Practice concentration has, to date, brought students to five different continents to work in refugee camps, child abuse centers, women’s empowerment programs, and a wide range of other social service agencies. As this semester comes to a close, we check in with three of our intrepid global concentrators to get a sense of why they decided to pursue international opportunities and to learn more about how their experiences abroad are helping shape their visions for their future careers.

The students are:

  • Cindy Franco, who worked with Buckner International in Lima, Peru. Buckner is a Christian non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on strengthening families.
  • Melissa Hallisey, who was placed with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Rome, Italy, with their International Office’s Human Resources (HR) Department. JRS is an international Catholic organization with a mission to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
  • Mary Schletzbaum, whose placement was with the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The Centre is a Cambodian NGO that strives to attain sustainable and positive peace in Asia.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, everyone. It would be great to begin with a sense of some of your responsibilities at your placement.

Cindy Franco: One of the main focuses for me during this field placement was balancing the work I was doing on the ground in Lima with the work I did with a Dallas Missions Team who provided monitoring and evaluation work for Buckner. Case management and assisting with workshops was a focal point of the work I did in Lima. I worked closely with families and with a multidisciplinary team to focus on different aspects of families. Overall, it was about giving families the skills and support they need to thrive and build healthier relationships. With the Dallas Missions Team, I was able to gain insight into the difficulties of working globally and working with multiple teams.

Melissa Hallisey: The challenges and threats to humanitarian workers are abundant, and various organizations—JRS being only one—are now beginning to understand their duty to care for these staff members. JRS understands that when staff are better prepared for and equipped to cope with challenging environments or situations, the service outputs are also improved, meaning that our beneficiaries are receiving the best care possible. As an HR intern, my role was to bring a social work perspective into developing an HR policy on staff care and well-being. Staff care ranges from safety and security to psychosocial supports; therefore, a core piece of my work was to embed social work principles and values into all aspects of JRS’ staff care plan.

Mary Schletzbaum: My responsibilities were split between two operational and programming activities at CPCS. The first was assisting with the monitoring and evaluation of programs alongside the Grants and Partnerships Officer. My specific responsibilities included writing reports, assisting with program design, and developing tools CPCS uses for monitoring program activities. The second of my responsibilities was providing support for the Applied Conflict Transformation Studies (ACTS) masters and doctoral programs. I assisted the deputy director and executive director with developing the curriculum for these programs and helped with designing and developing methods for tracking assignments.

group of women standing with their children

Cindy (center, blue shirt) is pictured with mothers from one of the groups that she co-facilitated in Lima, Peru.

What was your typical day like?

Cindy: I would say there was not really a typical day. Part of the excitement of this work was that I never knew what to expect each day. My day started with the commute to work. Working in an underserved area meant that if I was not assisting in the various workshops, my day consisted of meeting with beneficiaries and their families all while keeping track of my caseload.

Melissa: My typical day started with my walk to the office, which included weaving through small, typical Italian side streets. Once I arrived at the office, which is next to the Vatican, I began reading emails and preparing a list of tasks for the day. I would then sit with my supervisor for a few minutes to review what was done the previous day and what was planned for the current day. Since the HR team only consists of four people (one of whom works remotely), we often had brief check-ins throughout the day as things arose.

By 10:30, it was time for a coffee break. The entire International Office would head to the staff room for a cup of coffee and a cookie. Most people also ate together in the staff room during lunch breaks. During the coffee break, if there were visitors, we would have introductions, followed by any organizational updates. After I was caffeinated, I would head back to my desk to work on the staff care policy draft.

For the policy draft, much of my work consisted of researching international standards, stakeholder documents, and other publications that are related to well-being and the humanitarian field. Since I was in the International Office, I also spent a lot of time Skyping other JRS country offices and JRS partners.

Mary: My workday typically started at 7:30 a.m. when I began getting an update on the day’s news. I started this at home by listening to news podcasts, and carried it into the office where I read through the latest headlines. This was critical for staying up to-date with the current political climate in which CPCS’s programs operate. This was probably the only consistent part of my day since being at CPCS.

After getting news updates, some days I would be called into meetings regarding the ACTS program or I would be asked to take notes during the director’s meetings. Depending on the day and status of current reports, I might use the morning time to work on reports and writing proposals.

One week, when the PhD Seminar was in session, I helped facilitate the morning and afternoon sessions for the students. This included giving a presentation of the overview of their program and taking notes throughout the session. A different week, I helped document morning and afternoon sessions of a Listening Workshop as part of one of CPCS’ peace-building programs in the Philippines. This included running an analysis of the feedback given during the workshop and drawing out themes for the workshop participants to review and assess.

Sometimes I attended meetings with donors to review our program proposals or participated in meetings with the grants and partnerships officer and deputy director to piece together logic models for a new program.

group of people working at a table

Mary and her colleagues at CPCS are analyzing data gathered from a workshop.

Did you intend on pursuing international field education when you first came to BCSSW? Did you have specific goals in international social work at that time?

Mary: Yes, I chose BCSSW specifically because of its unique global practice program. I have a background in global studies and have lived and worked outside of the U.S., and I knew that my professional and academic interests lie in the context of international relations. When I first came to BC, I was unsure if I wanted to work with refugees, immigrants in the U.S., or some other population in the global sphere. While this much was unclear, I was sure that I wanted to gain the skills necessary to improve feedback loops between international non-government organizations and donors, and between international non-government organizations and their beneficiaries.

Melissa: When applying to graduate school, I debated whether to pursue a degree in international development or a degree in global social work. Ultimately, I chose global social work because I was drawn to its intersections of human rights, systems-focused thinking, and social change. Looking back, I thought I understood what global social work meant but I have found that it is much broader than I had originally imagined; for me, this is an added bonus.

Before beginning my degree, I did not have specific goals in international social work because I knew I had a lot of learning to do before I began planning. However, I have always had the goal of pushing myself to seek out challenges and to find a career that broadens my worldview.

Cindy: Focusing on international social work has long been a goal of mine. While completing my undergraduate degree, I began to formulate my goals and they mostly always aligned with working on a global platform. This was particularly formed during my study abroad experience in South Africa. As great as the trip was, there were also aspects that I was not comfortable with, and I started thinking about the larger scale changes that need to be made on a macro scale.

How have your goals changed since arriving at BCSSW? How has this placement helped to inform your plans for after graduation?  

Melissa: Since studying at BC, I have created more focused goals for my career. As many graduating students will probably say, my first goal is to find a job that aligns with my values.

Mary: My goals have become more clearly defined since coming to BC. I came with a very broad interest in all things social justice and have been able to home in on a specific area that aligns with my skills, experience, and passion. My placement has, so far, been instrumental in affirming my commitment to peace-building and conflict transformative work, and it is providing opportunities for me to develop tangible skills that I expect to continue to use after graduation. As of now, my post-graduation plans are centered on working with an organization that focuses on international peace-building and conflict transformation, based either in or outside of the U.S.

Cindy: My goals have not changed too much since arriving at BC. My experience has informed the work I want to do as well as how I carry myself in this field. My goals still align with having a global focus and working with immigrant communities. This field placement has helped inform in what capacity I will work. Working on a macro level would help inform policies that would have large scale changes, however, in order to impact lives one must be able to work with families in different capacities. Mezzo work is the ideal place for me to be working and making those types of influences. Seeing how many people are affected by poverty and how it impacts other aspects of their lives makes me see the importance of practitioners at every level and the need to work together.

city scape of Lima, Peru

The community in Lima, Peru, where Cindy and the Buckner International team worked.