International District Helps Those Working Abroad

NASW members who are thinking of moving abroad and taking their social work skills with them can maintain their U.S. social worker status and remain connected to membership through the NASW-NC Chapter International District.

The International District replaces the NASW International Chapter. Kathy Boyd, the North Carolina chapter’s executive director, said the International District has about 204 members who live abroad or who have lived abroad and are now back in the U.S.

“The International District can help members moving abroad with maintaining a social work license, work visa procedures, relocating and moving questions, and information on international conferences to maintain the CEs necessary for U.S. social work credentials,” Boyd said.

The district also helps connect overseas job seekers with an NASW International District “ambassador,” an active NASW member who lives and works in the general area where a member is looking to relocate.

“We have ambassadors in Europe, Israel, Guatemala and Australia, and we’re always looking to recruit more,” Boyd said. “The ambassadors help to provide a link for an NASW member living abroad, showing them the ropes of their new home, getting them acclimated, and providing support and guidance.”

According to NASW member Jayne Hart, who lives in Germany and is an NASW International District ambassador for the European region, ambassadors also help promote the social work profession, retain and recruit NASW members, and develop social and networking events.

“It takes a resilient person to want to make the move, but it’s such a rich, rewarding experience,” said Hart, a social work program manager with a U.S. military civilian contracting agency. “Depending on the country, the laws pertaining to taxes and licensure can get very complicated. It helps to be able to go to someone who has been through it.”

NASW member Jakob Bakst, a clinical social worker living in Jerusalem, serves as the Israeli NASW International District ambassador. He advises those thinking of moving abroad to have all of their social work-related paperwork in order and to make sure to get the necessary social work licenses in place as soon as the move is made.

“The first thing in Israel is to go to the welfare department and get a social work license,” Bakst said. “It also helps to have an idea of how the profession works. In Israel, a BSW is the determining degree and a license to practice social work is determined by the department of welfare.”

Although an exciting experience, there can be some initial drawbacks to moving abroad, especially to a place that has a more exotic landscape, according to NASW-NC International District-Guatemala ambassador Linda Williams, program director at the Department of Social Work at North Carolina State University. Williams heads to Guatemala every summer to oversee a study abroad program for NCSU social work students, and she said the cultural differences are one of the main adjustments.

“There are people in Guatemala who live very close to the edge of the poverty line, and how they spend money is different than in the U.S.,” Williams said. “Families will see spending money on education more important than, say, a door to the bathroom. It can be a big culture shock.”

But despite issues like losing passports and home sickness, Williams said all of the students she supervises say the experience of working in another country has a profound effect.

“Anyone who has come to Guatemala, they say it has been life-changing for them in a positive way,” she said.

Hart encourages those with a sense of adventure who are looking for travel opportunities to work abroad. NASW offers a job bank for international employment, she said, and the ambassadors are happy to forward job opportunities to interested social workers.

“It is really fabulous to live and work overseas,” she said. “Pay and benefits can be very good, especially with military opportunities, and it can be a great quality of life.”

Boyd also said it can be a thrill to work abroad, and the NASW-NC International District is there to support NASW members before and after they take the plunge.

“The world is getting smaller and social work is practiced everywhere,” she said. “NASW members are all around the world.”

Get more information on the NASW-NC International District.