De-colonizing study abroad: social workers confronting racism, sexism and poverty in Guatemala

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The danger of U.S. or Global North study abroad programs is that students confirm and reinforce colonial notions of culture that privilege Western perspectives. If such experiences are not carefully framed from a human rights perspective, there is a risk that study abroad trips lead to ‘voluntourism.’ This case study of our social work course to Guatemala challenges traditional notions of study abroad, addresses notions of colonialism, and is an example of a human rights approach to a study abroad experience. This paper provides the context and process used by the instructors in the development and implementation of the course. By connecting what students experience in this class to broader issues of race, gender, and history as well as connecting to their own professional development, students experienced an educational program that integrated issues of oppression across national borders, and their understanding of the importance of sustained relationships in the international context. Recommendations and challenges are discussed for those interested in developing such a course.


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Social Work Education