Social work has always been a way to improve the quality of life and well-being of people, but what if that community takes you far away from home? International social workers move all over the world to protect against social injustices, violations of civil liberties, human rights violations, crisis intervention and problems from poverty. This field is also one of the most complex as it combines several disciplines such as sociology, law, medicine, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, politics and economics. When you work as an international social worker, there are even more issues that you face going to different parts of the world and working within several cultures. That’s why resourcefulness, humility, communication, and tenacity are very important qualities to anyone who wants to work in international social work. This guide goes over the basics of international social work, how to get a job in this field and overcoming some of the challenges that these humanitarians face.

What is International Social Work

Social work as a context is actually a very broad term. Domestic social work will often take you down several avenues, whether you are working with children, homeless, adults, families or handicapped. The goal is still the same. Social workers want to improve the quality of life for individuals, communities, groups, minorities or the impoverished. The difference is in the way that you go about it. For instance, you can’t replace a way of doing something as better. Instead it must be equal, and you must contribute as a gentle mentor and innovator. International social workers take what they learn from domestic social work and combine it with foreign studies and language to offer their services abroad. While language is a major part of being able to work internationally, social workers have to learn a lot about the culture and understand the complex issues that people face every day.

Attributes of International Social Workers

Most international social workers have to do extensive research about where they want to work. They are resourceful people with a knack for understanding people of different cultures and beliefs. This ultimately takes a lot of humility and determination especially when you are coming into a community that may not appreciate your presence. Being personable, generous and possessing a genuine willingness to learn are key in making connections with people. Most international social workers start out as domestic social workers who work for five years in a community, then they branch out into international social work. These people also have lived with different cultures and classes. Community organization, fundraising and grant writing are also extremely important skills to helping grassroots organizations in other countries.

Job Environment for International Social Workers

The market for international social work is very competitive. When you work on a global scale, you compete with people from all over the globe for one position, which is why it’s important that you understand the necessary experience, skills, resources and cultures involved in a position before applying. Prospective employers want to hire the best person for the job, and they will look at previous experience, cultural knowledge and innovative projects. When you work as a social worker, you must be prepared to handle anything. You may live in another class or spend time living with villagers in a remote part of the world. That’s why it is so essential to be humble and resourceful because as much as a community needs you, you also need them. You’ll need plenty of skills to become an international social worker. You never know where you may have to travel or what you may have to do in order to help a community.

Many international social workers start out as volunteers because it gives you more of a chance to learn skills and gain cultural experience for a larger, paid role in the future. Currently paid international humanitarian positions are limited because unemployment is very high in other countries. That’s why volunteers can get their foot in the door and also gain worldly experience for multiple causes.

Organizations Which Employ International Social Workers

There are a variety of international organizations. Some of these are government-related, and others are private grassroots organizations. Many times people earn positions through national embassies, which are found in capital cities. Each of these embassies should have a list of programs and organizations in their country that work with different communities. A few popular organizations exist for international social workers. These include the Council for International Education and Exchange (CIEE), International Rescue Committee (IRC), International Justice Mission (IJM), Save the Children, the Institute for International Education (IIE) and the International Society for the Intercultural Training and Research. The United Nations also has a lot of resources for those who want to get into international social work. They list all of their openings online at the United Nations Careers network. In addition, a variety of colleges and other institutions have programs that get you started in international social work quite early. Professors with international backgrounds or study abroad advisers can provide more literature on how to join a program to go overseas as an international social worker.

International social work is definitely for those who are inspired by other cultures and want to learn more as much as they want to help. However the road to becoming a successful international humanitarian takes a lot of time working within other cultures and getting used to the feeling of being out-of-place but not out of touch. While many jobs will test your experience and knowledge, if you have a passion to help communities get organized and provide resources, then you will be a great asset no matter where you go. Anyone considering a professional career as an international social worker must do a lot of research and consider all of the factors before making a choice to leave their home. It’s often a culture shock to enter a different world. By volunteering and working with grassroots organizations around the world, you’ll gain more comfort and ability to prepare yourself for much bigger roles down the road.

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