Monday, April 30, 2012

UNAM Social Work Exchange

The second week of April, the Social Work students of CGE had the great opportunity of taking part in an exchange with the students from the Escuala Nacional de Trabajo Social (ENTS). This school is the smallest in all of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), having about 3,000 alumni. However, it is practically the same size as the private schools in Minnesota we come from (Augsburg, St. Olaf, and St. Kate's), but different in that it is completely dedicated to social work. 

During our time at ENTS we had the chance to see how social work is done is Mexico through speaking with professors, spending time with students in their practicums, attending classes, and taking a tour. We learned that attending ENTS is completely free for all Mexican citizens besides the 30-cent charge for the piece of paper used for registration each year.  The school puts a great emphasis on the importance of research in social work, which was somewhat a new idea for me. 

The students have three different internships throughout their undergraduate schooling, and each begins with doing a diagnosis of the problem the population they are working with is facing.  Not until extensive research is complete and a plan of action is developed can the students begin to work one-on-one with the people. Another area of difference in the practicum is that the UNAM students work in groups as opposed to what we’re used to - working alone at different agencies. These groups of interns work as a team and provide support to one another. They divide the work and specialize in the topics they’re most interested in. 

The bachelor's level social work program at the UMAN is extremely intensive. The students are required to take up to 7 courses each semester in topics similar to ours, but much more extensive. All of the subjects they study purely surround social work topics. A student must know upon acceptance that they want to graduate with a degree in Social Work; while in the US we begin with general courses in order to give students the opportunity to explore different fields. I think each method produces different results. In my opinion, bachelor level college graduates in the United States know a little about a lot of different things, and the ENTS students receive an education more similar to a masters level degree in the US, knowing a lot about one specific thing: social work. In many ways, I think they are more prepared to be professionals with the completion of their degree, but something that was emphasized during our stay was that one system is not any better than the other, they are only different. Now that we have learned about the profession of social work from the Mexicans perspective, what unique things can we share about ourselves in the second half of this exchange?

By Natalie Koness


  1. Hello Natalie and all! It's such fun to see you and the students from UNAM enjoying the exchange of perspectives and insights about social work in each country. I loved the tree of social work poster -- it would be cool to see it at Augsburg College if we could negotiate an agreement for it to rotate among the CGE partner programs? Thanks for the detailed summary of the approach to social work education at ENTS -- makes me yearn more than ever for a chance to talk with colleagues there....


  2. Stephanie VillarrealMay 7, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    Having the UNAM students come to Cuernavaca was a great experience because it allowed for me to see a different perspective on the social work education, but also value my profession more. Coming from St. Olaf and seeing the UNAM's curriculum made me realize that there were some major differences but in the end their is no right way to go about social work. However, I knew that we all had the same idea of trying to help others. Getting to know the students on a personal level was great and allowed for us to interact and form friendships. They were all great and allowed me to appreciate their stories and opinions. As group we were able to compare U.S and Mexico's social work but also realize that we are all agents of change. I really loved that they shared their UNAM song and it was a great way to end the exchange. Being able to spend time with them allowed me to value my profession and understand how valuable social workers are in the world. Overall it was a great experience and I really hope to stay in contact with future agents of change. They were very inspirational and I hope that one day they have the opportunity to come to the United States and see what social work is like.

  3. I completely agree with Natalie’s description of the UNAM curriculum as being “extremely intensive.” I felt really overwhelmed when we sat in on the community practice class at ENTS. All of the UNAM students were so knowledgeable about so many aspects of social work! They very eloquently explained what their understanding of community social work in Mexico was and then asked us to describe how it is in the United States. Most of us have not yet taken a community practice class, so we looked around at one another, embarrassed and not knowing what to say. I left that class feeling like I wasn’t a very good social work student. However, later that night over dinner, my classmates and I decided to really think about what we would say the next time we were asked a similar question. It was surprising to realize how much we really have learned! Talking about our curriculum in the United States in comparison to the one in Mexico was a great way for me to learn more about what I have learned and how that is both different and similar (not better or worse) to what Mexican social work students learn.

  4. Stephanie NelsonMay 7, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    The exchange with the UNAM students was definitely one of the most valuable experiences for me. I definitely agree with you that the curriculum has many differences from ours. While, as you said, this made me feel as though our program could be doing many things differently, it also made me appreciate the way we learn. One of the students I talked with pointed out how unprepared she feels to work alone, even in her last semester of school. I really value the way Augsburg eases us into our roles as professionals, slowly giving us more independence and responsibility. Something I personally and our system may lack in, as you pointed out, is research. I see that this is very valuable and so plan to do more of this in my future work. I took a lot from this exchange in general and am very glad we got to be part of this discussion.

  5. Nancy RodenborgMay 9, 2012 at 7:49 PM


    I appreciate your thoughtful observations about the differences between Mexico and US social work systems. I think US education in general tends toward broader coverage of many topics vs. narrow coverage of fewer topics but at a deeper level. Yes - I agree that the systems may just be "different" and not better/worse. However, I personally would welcome opportunity for more depth with fewer requirements to cover multiple topics. Hope you have a wonderful last few weeks of class!


  6. During our time at ENTS we had the chance to see how social work is done is Mexico through speaking with professors, online degree in social work