Social work students in Estonia

Social work students get firsthand experience in international social work practices

Anne Harrison and Melissa Adams, two Walla Walla University master of social work (MSW) students, recently spent a month conducting field practicum work in the northern European country of Estonia. They worked in the city of Tartu with the Tartu City Government Social Work Department (TCGSWD) on a variety of social service projects. As the first WWU MSW students to complete practicum work in Estonia, Harrison and Adams paved the way for possible future practicum collaboration between the WWU School of Social Work and Tartu.

“This has been the test year,” said Helo Oidjarv, WWU assistant professor of social work and sociology. “This year will determine how we will move forward with the program.”

Oidjarv spearheaded this unique practicum opportunity during one of her annual visits to Tartu where she was born and grew up. She made contact with local social service agencies to explore if a connection between WWU and the city of Tartu was possible. The TCGSWD, which provides funding for most of the social work agencies in the city, offered to coordinate a program between the university and Tartu. “That’s led to where we are now,” says Oidjarv.

Harrison and Adams spent a month in Tartu this summer gaining a broad range of experience. Each day they moved from one area of social work to another. “We worked with hospital social workers, child protective services, the unemployment office, services to the elderly and disabled, domestic abuse, youth services, a food bank, the local Lutheran Church, and so on,” said Harrison.

“The main goal was for them to get a good idea of how the social welfare system functions in Estonia in a variety of areas in comparison to the social welfare system that is in place here in the United States,” said Oidjarv.

Each WWU student pursuing a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in social work completes field practicum work. For this internship portion of their study programs, they work with experienced social work professionals in social services agencies to integrate classroom knowledge, skills, values, and research with agency experiences. A wide variety of agency settings and well-qualified field instructors make it possible to individualize the practice interests of students even for international work, such as in Estonia.

Harrison says she felt like God led her to Estonia for a reason, specifically “to see the good things happening there,” she said. “While in Estonia, I saw poverty, but I also saw good-hearted people stepping in to help. It made my heart sing to see people so well cared for and loved. Overall, it was a great experience,” she said.

Despite language barriers and missing family back home, Harrison and Adams achieved what they set out to accomplish—to observe and learn and to help others throughout the process.

Posted Oct. 25, 2016

Two WWU social work students completed field practicum work in Estonia this summer, partially at Tartu University, where the campus is a mix of new construction and Soviet-era buildings
Melissa Adams and Anne Harrison
Melissa Adams and Anne Harrison, WWU Master of Social Work students, in Estonia