CHHS Travels to India to Experience Culture and Education

Back in Dec. 2017, CHHS faculty, staff, students and an alumnus travelled to India to attend a conference at UNCW’s sister school, St. Joseph, in Bangalore.

The CHHS group was made up of 12 graduate students; alumnus Maria Donaty; School of Social Work Professor Art Frankel and Adjunct Faculty Ryan Estes; and CHHS Dean Charles Hardy and his wife, Becky.

While there, the group participated in the health conference, visited nearby rural areas, experienced the vibrant city life and saw historical wonders like the Taj Mahal. Each of the 12 graduate students was paired with a “buddy” from Saint Joseph, who helped immerse the CHHS group into the culture by showing them fabulous food and sights in Bangalore.

Professor Art Frankel has led a group of students to India for the past three years. Frankel, a self-proclaimed “Indiaphile,” has been traveling to India since his time in the Peace Corps, from 1966-68. His extensive knowledge and passion for the vibrant Indian culture is what inspires the groups he takes with him. The highlight for him is the joy of seeing people getting to know India, and seeing the magic of the country. “They all come home with this sense of wonder and connection with their buddies,” Frankel said. “That’s why I do it.”

The conference, held at Saint Joseph, was centered on food security and health. The 12 graduate students prepared posters and the faculty delivered presentations on the subject matter. Two of the main causes of disease in India are water and mosquitos, which is a problem for most third-world countries. The conference allowed students to be exposed to the medical hardships of India, as well as see the plans for change firsthand. India’s culture and way of life is impossible to understand without experiencing it firsthand and the conference was a wonderful avenue for exposure.

Adjunct Faculty Ryan Estes, who teaches graduate-level social work courses, was the assistant lead on the trip. He first heard about trip from the interns at his full-time job, and the stories sounded amazing, so he asked Art, who he had known for a long time, if he could go along.

“I was remarkably impressed by the educational system,” Estes said. “This school has significantly less resources than UNCW or likely even our most humble universities, but it does not stop them from putting forth talented young scholars and social workers.” 

St. Joseph is India’s number one school for social work. Many graduates go into the rural areas around Bangalore and other large cities to apply their knowledge and skills.

“These people have a passion for change, and there are a lot of things taking place in the rural areas,” Frankel said. “There are some remarkable students over there who have a whole different view of the social world. Here, it is more clinical; there, it is more activist.”

The trip allowed the students and alumnus to engage in a meaningful cultural experience and explore how the social work profession transcends cultural and physical boundaries.  

“The trip remains relevant and important,” Estes said, “because for many students, this is a life changing experience. You can see how the education transcends into practice. Often, we are limited by the world that we know, and this expands our understanding.”

Frankel hopes to continue the partnership with Saint Josephs by bringing students to India each year. The cultural experiences and educational opportunities cannot be duplicated in the U.S. Through the buddy program, students gain lifelong friends and connections across the globe. By looking at social work in other cultures, CHHS is able to gain a new outlook on different educational methods.