Anne Schillig, International Coordinator, ZHAW University of Applied Sciences, Department Social Work, reports from the study exchange with the Wright State University (WSU) in Dayton, Ohio.

Since 2013, the department of Social Work has been organising a two-week exchange with Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio which takes place alternately in the USA and in Switzerland. It sheds light on the social welfare systems in both countries. 

Therefore, the participants visit different agencies that illustrate the respective social welfare system and discuss commonalities and differences of the American and Swiss concepts, stategic approaches and interventions. In addition, the students prepare presentations about selected social work topics from their cultural perspective.

This spring semester, the seminar took place in Dayton. Accompanied by two faculty members, five students of the ZHAW joined the course and seized the unique oppurtunity to gain experience with the social welfare system in the United States.

The first week started with presentations about the political system in the U.S. and Switzerland. The participants worked in teams with one student from each country so that a comparative discussion could be held. On Tuesday, the group visited two agencies. The first one was the «United Rehabilitation Services» (URS), a daycare facility for people with disabilities. The second one was «Daybreak Dayton», an emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youth.

Following the Wednesday morning presentations about substance use, we were invited to visit «Nova Behavorial Health», a shelter that assists individuals in making the changes necessary to achieve and sustain recovery from alcohol and other substance abuse.  

On Independence Day – the national holiday – we volunteered at «House of Bread», a non-profit community kitchen serving lunchtime meals to anyone in need seven days a week. That was an impressive experience as most of us had never volunteered in a similiar facility. We took the weekend off and spent it in Detroit (Michigan) which is a four hours drive from Dayton.

In the second week, students talked about child welfare, health care and juvenile justice in both countries. We visited «Care House», a child advocacy center, the «Dayton Children Hospital’s Outreach Center», a juvenile detention center and joined a city comissioners meeting. An outstanding experience was surely the murder trial we attended one afternoon.

It is obvious that all these experiences needed to be processed and so we regularly took the chance to debate them in class. During the wrap-up discussion students reflected on advantages and disadvantages of the country’s social welfare system.

In 2020, the seminar will take place in Zurich (during the summer holiday period). Bachelor as well as Master students are welcome. It is a great experience and a must for those who want to deepen their knowledge of social work issues on an international scale!