I spent thirteen weeks working in the North East Region Health Authority (Ocho Rios, Jamaica) in
the area of child and adolescent services. As I lived, worked, and played in Jamaica, I realized a lot about myself and even
more about the practice of social work in developing countries.
My first day on the job, I anticipated receiving information
about the organization as well as a policy and procedure guide. I received neither. Instead, anything that I wanted to know
I was expected to ask. This part was very difficult and frustrating for me. I was looking for structured direction and organization,
only to find what appeared to me, as an American, to be extreme “casualness”. Basically, I wanted to be told exactly
what I would be doing and how I would be doing it. After about two weeks of work, I realized that I was the one responsible
for what I was going to get out of the internship. So I was the one who had to be motivated.
I remember taking my first client. I was so frightened that I did not know what to say or where
to begin. I eventually carried a caseload and participated in giving educational talks in schools and health clinics. The
presentation that I gave was on violence and trauma in children and adolescents. Then I assisted in going out into the communities
and talking with parents and teachers. I helped in developing a resource guide for the three parishes, which included human
service agencies, addresses, and phone numbers. Home visits were also done and I tagged along, adding my “two cents”
whenever I could. I was also part of a psychiatric emergency mobile team, which provided education and training to hospital
employees, police, and various other community workers. On top of all of this, I was responsible for meeting with my field
instructor and handing in daily logs and various papers throughout my internship.
Jamaicans speak a language called Patois, a sort of island Creole. For the most part, there was
a lot of slang and it was spoken very fast. I realized that the Jamaicans were also having a hard time understanding what
I was trying to say. After a while though, I learned and used some of the Jamaican phrases and became more familiar with what
people were saying and how they were saying it. This was a barrier, however, and even in my work environment, I found that
Ms. Boswell or the parents would have to translate what I was trying to say to the children.
I think I learned much more than did other social work interns doing their practica in the US.
I got the experience of working with a whole new group of people and the unusual experience of being a minority. I believe
this has made me more accepting and open minded towards new traditions and different situations. I had to abandon many of
the attitudes of my American life in order to fit in with the Jamaican lifestyle. The feeling of complete isolation helped
me fully understand what no textbook could explain. It took the experience of being completely alone to make me more empathic
and understanding. An international practicum, a cultural immersion, was a great way to grow professionally and personally.