Over the past 12 years, the speech-language pathology program at Teachers College Columbia University (TC) has become known for its bilingual/multicultural program focus. To strengthen the program, the authors sought to offer an international experience incorporating clinical experiences with a strong academic seminar in a Spanish-speaking country. After an exploratory trip to Bolivia, the authors identified La Paz, Bolivia, as the place for their first international program.
Developing International Programs at TC
Department Chair John Saxman structured the Bolivia program to fit within TC’s particular academic and fiscal constraints. Students register for a two-credit academic seminar and a one-credit practicum, all of which meet graduation requirements. TC provided generous budgets for innovative programs when the project began in 2006; these offset the additional travel costs for the clinical supervisors and for its faculty—Cate Crowley, the Bolivia program’s director, and Miriam Baigorri, its clinical director.
This structure continues to work. June 2011 marks the 6th year of the TC speech-language pathology Bolivia program. In 2008, Crowley and Baigorri began a similar program in Ghana that takes place during intercession. Each year, 16 TC speech-language pathology graduate students go to Bolivia and 16 to Ghana with the director, clinical director, and two additional clinical supervisors who are certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
Committed faculty are the key to TC’s international speech-language pathology programs. Because TC does not have an office to coordinate the international programs, the director and clinical director are responsible for every detail, including where to stay, which students to bring, all budgetary matters, and emergency preparations. Of course, these are in addition to teaching a quality seminar and making sure the clinical experiences are excellent. (For more specifics on identifying and meeting these responsibilities, see Crowley & Baigorri, 2011.).
Benefits to Faculty, the Program, and Students
While the responsibilities are great, and at times overwhelming, they are offset by the benefits.
Benefits to the Faculty and Clinical Supervisors
The personal and professional benefits to the faculty are very gratifying. Through these programs, the faculty members acquire an extraordinarily rich understanding of cultural and linguistic diversity that deepens with each successive visit. The sustainability of the work is evident in how the clinical sites incorporate, maintain, and sometimes even expand what the TC team introduces. The faculty also continue the work with their in-country colleagues, preparing policy papers, establishing inclusion programs, supporting ongoing telepractice, and developing country-wide workshops to disseminate information about communication disorders.
Benefits to the TC Speech-Language Pathology Program
Applications to the TC speech-language pathology program have more than doubled since the Bolivia and Ghana programs began. Many accepted students indicate that they came to TC because of the international opportunities. Diversity in the TC speech-language pathology program has significantly increased so that now over 30% of current students identify as Latino/Latina, and over 60% are bilingual. The program has benefited from significant publicity about the Bolivia and Ghana programs, including nine articles and several television appearances. Each year at the ASHA Convention, students and faculty present on the international work. In addition, Karen Froud, another TC speech-language pathology faculty member, now directs an annual program in Cambodia that further enhances student opportunities.
Benefits to the Students
One student who recently returned from the 2011 Ghana trip wrote, “I can honestly say that this was by far one of the best experiences of my LIFE! I learned so much about myself and the impact I can have as a future speech-language pathologist not only in the U.S. but internationally as well.” It is perhaps most satisfying when alumni indicate how these experiences continue to influence their work. One student who went on the first trip to Ghana recently wrote,
My clinical experiences during the inaugural trip to Ghana continue to influence my current practice in that I learned to focus on the reality of my patients’ day-to-day life. My treatment incorporates tasks and materials that are not specific to the clinic setting but that are accessible to the patient and necessary to bridge the gap between impaired communication and functional expression, whether in a rural African market or an urban American supermarket.
Another student who participated in the first Bolivia trip also recently wrote, “The 5 weeks I spent working and living in Bolivia continue to inform my decisions, compassion, and abilities as a working speech-language pathologist.” These comments confirm research indicating that even short study-abroad trips do have lasting effects on students (Fischer, 2009).
The international programs now attract some funding support. A 2010 Wyncote Foundation gift offsets student costs, supports professional development retreats, and provides significant curriculum materials. Since 2008, the Downey Family Foundation has made annual gifts for the work at Camino—a school for the deaf in La Paz—for ongoing aural habilitation telepractice and an inclusion initiative. Each year Widex, Hal-Hen, Northeastern Technologies, and Microsonic donate to Camino. The Central Coast Children’s Foundation provides augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) educational materials and devices, and has sent a gifted special education teacher in Ghana to international AAC conferences.
Developing International Speech-Language Pathology Programs
There are three steps we advise following when considering whether to start up an international speech-language pathology program:
- Join ASHA’s Special Interest Group 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders. It is where to connect with experienced faculty.
- Ask to accompany an established program on a trip. Faculty from several other universities have joined the TC speech-language pathology program’s Bolivia and Ghana trips.
- The bottom line—go for it! The benefits far outweigh the negatives for the faculty, the program, and the students.
Crowley, C., & Baigorri, M. (2011, May). Effective approaches to international work: Substance and sustainability for speech-language pathology student groups. Perspectives on Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders, 1, 27–35.
Fischer, K. (2009, February 20). Short study-abroad trips can have lasting effect, research suggests. The Chronicle of Higher Education, http://chronicle.com/article/Short-Study-Abroad-Trips-Can/1541.