Transatlantic professional exchange for social workers

12.03.2015 – Every year, ten temporary internships at institutions in the US are offered to social workers. Participating in the exchange, which GIZ has been organising since 2013, provides them with insights into new ways of working.

An internship in a new country and the chance to live with a host family: it may sound like a school exchange, but this is in fact something on offer to social workers. Ten placements every year provide trained social workers with the opportunity to spend three months in the US to gain a fresh perspective on their work. The programme is specifically designed for experienced professionals and managers, since it is thought that even experts who have been working for many years in a profession can benefit from new experiences through an exchange.

Since 2013, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has been working with an American partner organisation on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth to organise the exchanges for professionals working in social services for children and youth. GIZ not only supports the placement of interns, but also offers preparation seminars that cover the potential successes and challenges in their future work.

Ingrid Bethges is one of the social workers who spent three months gaining experience in the US. She applied to participate in the transatlantic professional exchange programme in order to break out of the routine in her everyday working life as a manager and to gain new insights into her area of work. She wound up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on a temporary placement with a non-profit organisation providing family support services. She is not the only person to benefit from the expert exchange, as the local professionals she is working with also find the exchange experience enriching. Ingrid’s mentor said ‘We talk a lot about the differences between the US and German systems. And that helps us as much as it helps her.’

Although it may cost managers a great deal of effort to switch back into a student role, all parties involved benefit from the time they spend working abroad. The exchange not only broadens the participants’ personal horizons, but also promotes new approaches to social work and new ideas for engaging in it.