Adding It All Up – A Reflection on Our School of Social Work Spain Education Abroad Experience

By Joshua Goldman

16 USF students, 1 USF graduate, 2 USF professors, 3 days in Barcelona, 8 days in Alicante, and 3 more days in Barcelona. It’s funny how so often we measure life numerically. For the graduate students in USF’s Master of Social Work Program, this study abroad in Spain counted as 6 elective credits. We can count the participants, days spent, and credits earned, yet how do we reconcile the experiences gained and the lessons learned? How much introspection will yield true understanding of the impact this study abroad played in our lives? This cannot be measured.
So what more can we measure? According to recent statistics, an estimated 28 million Americans still live without health insurance coverage. In Spain, all citizens are able to receive health services for free or minimal copays. Even immigrants can receive many of these services. How can it be that the wealthiest country in the world lags behind in such a basic necessity?
The answers aren’t so clear. And while Spain offers health and social services to its citizens as a right, there are still issues. It did not take long to hear stories of a someone’s loved one waiting 8 months for leg surgery, or addicts waiting 2 months to enter rehab when every single day presents temptations that may prevent any hope of recovery. Religious organizations and NGO’s help fill the gap the best they can, and oftentimes work with the government to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Yet issues surrounding funding remain, with any economic downturn presenting a serious challenge to maintaining the social welfare system.
After speaking with doctors, educators, social workers, priests, nuns, clinical psychologists, and administrators, a larger picture begins to come into focus. This picture tells the story of the human condition. Every person has their trials and tribulations, failures and successes, moments of love and of heartbreak. Both in Spain and in the US, there are professionals dedicating their lives to improving the lives and well being of others. In the US, social workers fill many roles, as case managers, therapists, advocates, and community organizers to name a few, and in many diverse settings. In Spain, social workers do not have quite the same amount of job flexibility, yet their motives remain pure.
Both countries still face a host of social problems. Vulnerable populations continue to struggle. Politician too often are quicker to defend their campaign backers and corporate interests than the constituents who elected them into power. After spending two weeks in Spain on this study abroad, I am hopeful. I am convinced that as long as there are people who care, fighting for the rights of all people to live long and prosper, then the world will be okay. Forget Democrats and Republicans, citizens and immigrants, Europeans and Americans. We are all people; we are the human race. Let’s work hard and care for each other, and together we can and will overcome all obstacles. I thank Dr. Carrion and Dr. Joshi, Cynthia and Armando (our guides in Spain), my fellow student travelers, USF, Barcelona and Alicante, all the agencies and professionals who gave us their time and energy, and all the people who engaged with us during this trip. This unforgettable experience was both educational and life-affirming. I encourage anyone reading this blog to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and travel.

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