Back to Current Spotlight

I've been in the Department of Social Work since the early 70's, beginning as a student in the social work program, then as a faculty member, after a brief time at UNC-CH to get my MSW. While I was initially hired to teach in the field placement program, I quickly began taking on other duties. I developed our introductory course, SW 201, and intrestingly enough I am back teaching that course this year in my new roles as BSW Program Director and Associate Department Head.

My husband, Tim Wallace, introduced me to the idea of study abroad. As he developed and implemented his programs in Hungary, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, I would visit at the end of the program and spend a few weeks touring and relaxing with him. By the time I got ready to develop my own program, I had developed some good ideas and strategies of what works and how to assure success.

  • My Program
  • Advice for Students
  • Advice for Faculty Directors

Where do you lead a program?

My program is in the Lake Atitlan area of Guatemala. I am based in Panajachel, along with some of the students; and the rest of the students live in communities around the lake--San Marcos, San Juan, San Pedro, Santa Catarina, Solola, San Andres, and Santiago.

How long have you run your study abroad program?

I just completed the fifth year of my program, and I feel like I am getting better and better at figuring out how to make it meaningful for the students. I keep tweaking it a bit every year based on feedback from the participants.

What makes your study abroad program unique?

My program has a heavy service learning component. Typically, students spend mornings in a service learning placement experience and afternoons working 1:1 with a Spanish language teacher. We have some great social agencies that we have connected with, and they are all excited to have a student working with them for 5 weeks. Some of the agencies we use (or will use) include Mayan Families, Mayan Hands, Friendship Bridge, a community library, several habilitation agencies for children and adults with handicapping conditions, several women's weaving cooperatives, the national hospital, several orphanages, and even the public schools--some of the students teach basic ESL lessons to elementary and middle school children.

What stands out as your favorite memory from the study abroad programs that you have directed?

In my first program, one student spend the first day in her homestay crying in her room. She was absolutely overwhelmed, called her mother several times, called me several times, but decided to tough it out. When she got to language school the next day, she called to tell me that the teacher was using kindergarten flash cards to teach her. She had never taken a Spanish class! We worked through this situation, and within a week she was hopping on the back of the pick-up truck to go to and from class with no fear that she would get lost. In another week she could walk down the street and get her needs met--whether it was buying food, shopping for souvenirs, or bargaining for the best price. At the end of the program, she returned to her home school, immediately took the language placement test, and demonstrated competence at the level that was required by her school. She worked hard and it showed! She was an amazing young woman.

If you could give prospective students one piece of advice about
study abroad, what would it be?

I would like to encourage them to spend times with their homestay families. Even though students have trouble communicating with them in the beginning, the members of the family are the best teachers for students to learn about life in Guatemala, about the culture of the area, and about the tremendous resilience of the people. They develop an understanding of why people come to the US to work and they develop an understanding of how to be an effective social worker with Spanish-speaking clients.

What are you looking for from the students who apply to your program?

I am looking for students who are open to new experiences, who are flexible and open to new a variety of learning opportunities, and students who are committed to doing the work they need to do to improve their language skills.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Faculty Director?

I am always amazed at how quickly the students develop their language skills. One of my goals is to provide more Spanish-speaking social workers, and my program provides classes, work experiences, and homestay experiences for students to use to work on their skills 24/7.

If you could give new Faculty Directors of study abroad programs one piece of advice about leading a program, what would it be?

I would say that you need to expect the unexpected--be prepared to think on your feet and problem solve in a way that empowers the students. I also think that every student gets what s/he wants out of the program--it may be exactly what I hoped it would be or it may be something else that the particular student was looking for. As long as we can work together throughout the program, my job is to help them maximize their experience.

What marketing tips would you suggest to your fellow Faculty Directors to encourage more NC State students to study abroad?

I find that my most effective marketing tool is to use a listserv that goes to faculty in undergraduate social work programs across the country. My program is geared to social work students, and I have enlisted faculty in promoting my program in my own department; but my biggest market is outside the university. The diversity of schools represented in my program strengthens it.