Fulbright Initiative

Preparing Students to Practice in an Interconnected World

Research suggests that global and intercultural learning can help students develop a greater sense of agency and enable them to engage in efforts toward social change, key components of the preparation for social work practice. Although the concept of global competence is not new, it is new to social work in the United States. Global competence, according to Andreas Schleicher from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is about having the tools to “combine knowledge about the world with critical reasoning,” to “understand and appreciate the perspectives and world views of others,” and to “interact with individuals from different traditions, different cultures.” These are the tools needed, he says, in the work of bringing about change at the community and global levels. Schleicher, who oversees OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment, and students from around the world expand on this idea in the short video below. 

What is Global Competence?
Video (4:02) produced by the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

In collaboration with the Katherine A. Kendall Institute for International Social Work Education, the Diversity Center has developed a curricular resource to help educators build students’ global competence, of which an essential component is intercultural competence. Interculturality fosters the ability to dialogue and form equitable and respectful relationships with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds, both on a professional and personal level. This evidence-based teaching resource uses literature from around the world to bring international content to the social work curriculum and that is designed to be integrated into existing courses. The resource maps to the CSWE Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards, which require an understanding of the global interconnections of oppression for competency in advancing human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice (Competency 3).

Teaching Resources

To access quality international literature, the Diversity Center has teamed up with Words Without Borders Campus, known as WWB Campus, an organization that makes contemporary international literature in translation and related multimedia learning resources accessible to students and educators. The resources include author and translator bios and representations of the socio-geographic-political and cultural context of the stories. WWB Campus curates short-form literature, including memoirs and other narrative nonfiction and fiction. The readings vary in length and take 10–40 minutes to read. We are compiling a list of readings with particular relevance to social work and adding resources with direct applications to practice. Together, the WWB and the Diversity Center resources inform treatment, service delivery, program planning, community partnerships, advocacy, policy, and other areas of social work practice across a broad range of fields. See Using This Resource for teaching suggestions.

  Teaching Webinars


The following prerecorded webinars provide an introduction on how to use this resource. The content is designed to be integrated into existing courses. The webinars are conducted by Diversity Center Director Yolanda Padilla, MSSW, PhD; Nadia Kalman, MA, MEd, editor and curriculum designer at Words Without Borders Campus; and Natasha Quynh Nhu Bui La Frinere-Sandoval, MSW, doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work, who is serving as graduate research assistant on the project. 

This video begins with the importance of teaching social work students to understand global connections. It introduces the use of literature to teach about global issues in conjunction with multimedia resources with direct applications to practice. Finally, it shows how to use of the resource and provides a teaching unit. We originally presented this workshop at the 2021 Global Well-Being and Social Change Conference. 

This video is another version of the above webinar but focuses more on the pedagogy related to the use of literature. It also expands the step-by-step teaching unit. We originally presented this workshop at the 2021 European Conference on Social Work Education.


International Readings and Social Work Multimedia Resources 

See the detailed table with reading descriptions and social work themes for each of the readings below. We will continue to add readings from around the world.

Country and Genre  Title of Reading Author
Iran in Nonfiction A Year Among the Boat People Amir Ahmadi Arian
Mexico in Fiction The Gringo Champion Aura Xilonen
Iran in Nonfiction How To Be a Woman in Tehran Habibe Jafarian
Iran in Nonfiction Hunger Salar Abdoh
Russia in Nonfiction Slaves of Moscow Victoria Lomasko
Syria in Nonfiction After the Last Border Jessica Goudeau
Russia in Fiction A Dream in Polar Fog Yuri Rytkheu
Iran in Nonfiction A Guide to Being the Perfect Political Refugee Mana Neyestani
Russia in Fiction Pears from Gudauty Ludmila Ulitskaya 
Korea in Nonfiction Grass Keum Suk Gendry-Kim
Iran in Nonfiction For the Love of the Books Habibe Jafarian
Russia in Nonfiction On the Moscow Metro and Being Gay Dmitry Kuzmin
Ukraine in Nonfiction  Memories of Chernobyl Mohamed Makhzangi
Mexico in Nonfiction Violence and Drug-Trafficking in Mexico Juan Villoro
Korea in Fiction Tree of Kisses Kim Bi
China in Nonfiction The Story of a Homosexual: An Interview Liao Yiwu

Instructional Materials 

Pedagogy: Reading and Students' Global Intercultural Competence 

Relative to expository accounts (facts, theories, analyses) alone, literature offers a uniquely effective pedagogical tool to meaningfully connect social work students to the lives of others. The Programme for International Student Assessment, a worldwide study of the OECD, measures students' ability to use reading to meet real-life challenges. Are Students Ready to Thrive in an Interconnected World? reports on the findings from their 2018 study of 27 countries. See the textbox below for a synopsis from the report of the findings. In addition to research findings, the report outlines the concept of global competence in terms of four components: knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values. The full report is available for download free of charge.

     Reading and Students' Global and Intercultural Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes

Existing research shows that reading is a powerful strategy to improve out-group attitudes including tolerance, perspective taking, and empathy toward marginalised groups such as immigrants and refugees (Bal & Veltkamp, 2013). Those findings are supported by experimental and non experimental evidence (Vezzali et al., 2014). Results from the PISA 2018 survey also support these findings. Students who enjoy reading and who perform well on the reading test report more positive attitudes and dispositions and a heightened awareness about global and intercultural issues. The examined indices are awareness of global issues; self-efficacy regarding global issues; interest in learning about other cultures; respect toward people from other cultures; positive attitudes toward immigrants; perspective taking; cognitive adaptability; awareness of intercultural communication; and agency regarding global issues. (PISA 2018 Results, Box VI.7.1., p. 184)