It has been 14 days filled with learning, cultural exchange, and fun. We started our adventures on Monday, July 4th by meeting each other, taking a walking tour of Zurich, and enjoying a welcome dinner. Since that time, we have visited a drop in center, met with the police, learned about asylum seekers, heard the voice of a person experiencing homelessness and walked his neighborhood, hung out at a older adult and youth center, and explored a youth detention center. Students have shared their knowledge and experiences with the Swiss and US social service systems. We have compared and contrasted how social work services are provided, what it means to be a person in need in each country, and the roles of social workers.
A theme that was present across our learning was the emphasis on social inclusion. Every agency and conversation we had about Swiss social welfare included this concept. As social workers in the US, we certainly try to help our clients integrate into society, but it is not a national philosophy or reflected in our policies. The value on social inclusion is probably influenced by our differences as an individualist culture compared to the collective tendencies of Swiss culture.
There is an ethic of care reflected in Swiss society and social work that allows for a true respect and dignity of all people. Thinking about how we use this ethic of care in our interactions with individuals is the first step in conceptualizing how policy change may take place. In order to have social change, there must be an emphasis on community. Until you know and care about your neighbor, it is impossible to act in solidarity with them for social change and equality.
In addition to our learning, we had a lot of fun. Meals together, watching the football world cup (sorry Germany did not win, Uwe), visits to the Alps and the Rhine Falls, and nights out filled our evenings and weekends. The program would not have been possible without the generosity and planning of our Swiss hosts. We appreciate the time spent arranging all of our visits, the social workers and agency staff who took time out of their days to share with us, our host families for making us part of Swiss family life, for Laura, Martial, and Selina for organizing nights out, to Jessica for hosting a party and showing off her flat, and to Ralf for all his driving. To Emanuela and Uwe, there are no better teaching partners – thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
We wish you continued conversation and learning. In your life you need to open three things: books, a parachute, and your hearts. May you continue to do all three.