University of South Florida

College of Behavioral and Community Sciences


Students reflect on School of Social Work’s 2023 Spain study abroad program

USF students visit the Alhambra

The study abroad group visits the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

Maya Angelou

When the spring semester came to a close, a group of excited Bulls began preparations for an immersive, two-week experience in Spain. Lead by USF School of Social Work faculty members Iraida Carrion, PhD, LCSW and Manisha Joshi, PhD, MPH, MSW, a combined cohort of nineteen undergraduate and graduate students from varying disciplines engaged in a comparative study of the sociocultural context of people’s health in Spain, as related to experiences and systems in the United States.

The group was provided opportunities to analyze the execution of social work services in Spain through their excursions to various agencies in the country. They visited the University of Alicante, which is distinguished as having the highest ranked social work program in the country, and El Valle International Education College, an international baccalaureate school serving students in primary and secondary grades. They also toured social work agencies such as the Red Cross, which emphasizes services to unhoused and immigrant populations, the Cottolengo del Padre Alegra Social Services Center, which serves elderly and disabled individuals, and the Association of Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus of Alicante, which engages in socialization and prevention education outreach for this target population. They also visited a local hospital that showcased pediatrics, oncology, and mental health and a community center that provided group activities and socialization for the elderly.

Additional educational opportunities were provided via attendance at the CITO Conference, an international collaboration with occupational therapy where Carrion, Joshi, and students Paul Muñoz and Megan Jarvis represented the University of South Florida in a conference presentation.

Cultural enrichment was highlighted by students' adoption into host families and immersive experiences, including flamenco dance performances and excursions to a castle, cathedrals, a bullfighting ring, caves converted into homes, a monastery, restaurants, beaches, night clubs, and the most famous landmark in Spain — the Alhambra. Students were encouraged to reflect on their experiences through intentional journaling and regular group meetings known as Circle of Reflection.Their experiences and breathtaking photos are included in this year’s blog.

The following are reflections provided by two of this year’s participants:

Rachel Valentine, BSW student: “Having the opportunity to visit different social work settings/organizations in Spain was an insightful and unique experience, especially as someone who has yet to pinpoint exactly what type of social worker they want to be. With visits to the University of Alicante School of Social Work and El Valle Bilingual School, I got to see why some social workers choose to become school social workers. With that said, the visit I noticed each one of us especially enjoyed was the one to the Spina Bifida Center. Not only did we learn a lot about Spina Bifida from the social workers in the center (e.g., I did not know there were three different types of Spina Bifida), but we also got an opportunity to ask them questions, and play wheelchair basketball with youth who were clients of the center. Additionally, we got an opportunity to practice maneuvering alternative mobility equipment available there. Overall, there was a new adventure every day, plenty of opportunities to practice speaking Spanish, and the visits were all very informative.”

Jamie Nelms, MSW student: “As a nontraditional student, living with host families was the part of this adventure that made me the most nervous. However, it was the element of this trip that I found the most impactful. The opportunity to learn about family systems, be immersed in the food and culture, and build lasting connections was invaluable. My host mom, Begoña, has not only become part of my evolving professional network, but what I am sure will be a lifelong friend. Experiencing the beautiful landscape of Spain and visiting the agencies with my classmates has aided in developing connections that I otherwise may not have had the opportunity to forge. Comparing social systems in Spain and in the United States has helped me to appreciate where our country is doing well and has bolstered the desire to advocate in areas where we can continue to progress. Overall, this was an amazing experience that I hope to one day share with my husband and children, as I am confident they will grow tired of hearing me talk about it.”

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The Mission of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences (CBCS) is to advance knowledge through interdisciplinary teaching, research, and service that improves the capacity of individuals, families, and diverse communities to promote productive, satisfying, healthy, and safe lives across the lifespan. CBCS envisions the college as a globally recognized leader that creates innovative solutions to complex conditions that affect the behavior and well-being of individuals, families, and diverse communities.