International Social Work Courses and Internships

Preparation for Global Social Work Practice

A growing number of social workers are choosing to live, learn and work abroad in nongovernmental organizations and service agencies. Whether you aspire to work abroad, study social work abroad or build your cultural competence to work with diverse populations in the U.S., the international social work courses and internships at Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) are a great place to start.

We approach international coursework in long-term partnership with communities, adjusting our course content to address what communities need most. Guided by the principles of human rights and global justice and with an emphasis on community impact, our international immersion courses and internships will help you understand the impact of global forces on the vulnerable populations we serve, both at home and abroad. You’ll gain critical skills such as problem solving, a deepening of empathy, and understanding of and respect for other cultures. Most important, you’ll build relationships with and provide support to communities that experience significant hardship.

35,000 Over the last 10 years, GSSW students spent over 35,000 hours learning and making a difference abroad.

International Social Work Courses

  • Bosnia

    Bosnia in Transition: The Social Work Response focuses on human services responses to the Bosnian War and genocide. Students learn firsthand about resilience, the dynamics of genocide, ongoing efforts to establish and maintain peace, and challenges posed by PTSD, economic hardships, a culture of genocide denial and thousands of unidentified missing persons.

    As one GSSW student said, “Hearing survivor stories of loss and resilience was emotional, heartbreaking and oddly uplifting. This was because of one common theme across the country: hope.”

  • Kenya

    Social Work in Kenya: Context, Empowerment and Sustainability emphasizes wildlife and biodiversity protection, sustainable development and community empowerment. GSSW partners with Africa Network for Animal Welfare, which allows students to build rich relationships with Kenyan citizens and tribal communities while promoting conservation and animal welfare. Students gain a global perspective on the connection between the health of people, animals and the environment. This One Health framework gives students a deeper understanding of vector points related to poverty, gender equality and social development in East Africa.

    “A community’s capacity to advocate for itself and for environmental health is an important measure of social justice, and the empowerment of local people is at the heart of GSSW’s immersion service learning courses,” says course instructor and clinical professor Philip Tedeschi.

  • Mexico

    In partnership with the University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Social Work and Latin American Cultures, An Intensive Practice and Spanish Immersion explores human rights issues in Chiapas, one of the poorest areas in Mexico. Students meet with communities that are resisting local mining efforts and learn about alternatives to capitalist development projects. Students also speak with human rights nongovernmental organizations and service providers to understand the needs on the ground as well as the circumstances and economic policies that lead to migration to the U.S.

    “It was one of those courses where the learning doesn’t end after the trip. I am going to be thinking about it and processing the information as I continue to move through the world,” says MSW student Sam Espinoza.

    Watch a video about this course.

  • South Africa

    Social Work and Social Justice in South Africa exposes students to community-development challenges as well as environmental and social justice issues in a South African context. Students work directly with South African social workers to empower each other, exchange ideas and build coping skills.

    “Sometimes we have to leave our familiar surroundings and immerse ourselves in a place far away that is different enough to make our eyes and ears and heart open wide to see, hear and feel what is going on in our own communities back home,” says course instructor and associate professor Karen Bensen. “Learning about social justice issues in post-Apartheid South Africa and connecting deeply with South African social workers helps us learn about ourselves and racism in our own communities.”

In the course Social Work in Kenya: Context, Empowerment and Sustainability, “We saw specific examples of how complex social issues are intertwined with environmental challenges and how we can and should develop interventions and policy that improve the health of people, animals and the environment.

Courtney Brown, MSW ’15, Alumni

International Social Work Internships

  • Bosnia

    Students work alongside community members, partnering with local and international organizations seeking to address local and regional issues, including prosecution of war crimes, protection of human rights and cultural–historical national heritage, advancing women’s rights, legal aid and more. Visit the student blog to learn more about the experience.

  • Kenya

    Our internships focus on the education and development of women and girls, accessing their potential and addressing gender inequalities within the slums of Kibera. Students engage in grassroots leadership directed at poverty alleviation through social work empowerment and strength-based practices, where communities can become their own agents of sustainable change and successfully address problems such as poverty in their entirety. Internships also focus on broader environmental and biodiversity issues, the humane treatment of all animals and the pressures facing communities in Kenya.


Looking for an international social work master’s degree program?

We have that, too. Students in our Sustainable Development & Global Practice MSW concentration are prepared to partner effectively with families, communities, nongovernmental organizations and institutions.

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Key Faculty

Ann Petrila

Ann T. Petrila

Professor of the Practice, Coordinator of Global Initiatives, Director of Global Practice Bosnia

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Philip Tedeschi

Philip Tedeschi

Clinical Professor

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Karen J. Bensen

Karen J. Bensen

Clinical Associate Professor of Social Work, Coordinator of Dual Degrees

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