UWM School & College Realignment: The Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, School of Education and School of Information Studies will be housed under the new College of Community Engagement and Professions on July 1, 2023. Learn more.
Panoramic aerial view of Salzburg, Austria

The Helen Bader School of Social Welfare proudly offers opportunities for students to learn about social welfare issues from an international perspective.

Students can choose from programs in Austria, Costa Rica and South Africa. All programs are open to students in any major.

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Costa Rica

The Costa Rica study abroad course immerses students in the language and culture of Central America. Students learn conversational Spanish and culturally competent practice — skills that prepare social work students to serve Latino clients in Wisconsin.

Spanish for Social Workers

Students will study with social work students and practitioners from across the U.S. during this two-week course, Spanish for Social Workers, which was developed in consultation with the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

The course consists of classroom study, lectures by social work scholars, and visits to nearby social service agencies, as well as exquisite nature preserves and ecological tourist sites. The intensive language course accommodates each student’s current language skill level, ranging from beginner through advanced.

Evenings are free for study and socializing in the Central Plaza (where most young people meet). Grecia has a thriving local central mercado, various restaurants, bars and coffee houses.

Costa Rica is hot and humid, which determines many of the local customs from the way homes and communities are laid out to how people dress (modest, loose clothing). You will eat a lot of local shaved ice.

Host Families

  • The Academia curriculum includes students living with host families during our visit.
  • All host families live within walking distance of the school.
  • Families provide students with a private room for study and sleep, laundry service, breakfast and supper.
  • Family-style meals allow you opportunities to engage in conversation, ask questions, and clarify understanding, all in Spanish, since your host family is unlikely to understand English.
  • About 30 social work students are housed throughout Grecia.

Students must attend all language class sessions and participate in all conferences and site visits. A final paper is due after returning home.

Spanish Classes

  • Spanish classes are conducted in Spanish, and limited to two to four students at similar levels per teacher.
  • Instruction takes place five days per week from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
  • Spanish is spoken throughout the day during all planned activities.
  • Three different workbooks, specifically developed for this course, are provided.
  • Breaks are taken in mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
  • Lunch is on your own and class resumes at 1:30 p.m.


Four lectures address various current topics:

  • Costa Rica: An overview of the country and culture
  • Latino and Norteamericano cultures: Similarities and differences
  • Social work in Costa Rica: Who does what, how and where?
  • Increasing effectiveness with Latino clients

On four afternoons there are choices of cultural and recreational activities (salsa dancing, cooking, and optional sightseeing, river rafting, zip-line tours, etc.) The weekend offers some optional excursions, national parks and beaches, at an extra cost of $25-$200.

Field Trips

On two afternoons, field trips to two different social service agencies will allow us to engage informally with clients and practitioners while observing program activities. Site visits may include:

  • Child welfare organizations
  • Residential care sites
  • Domestic violence shelters
  • Schools
  • Addiction treatment centers
  • Commodities distribution
  • International relief organizations

Current Social Problems

You may hear about:

  • Poverty
  • Drug trafficking
  • Illegal immigration
  • Sex trafficking
  • International food shortages
  • Global debt crisis
  • Sustainable environments
  • The impact of eco-tourism

The cost is estimated to be $3,900-$4,950 and includes tuition, lodging, airfare, most meals and ground transportation.

Please contact Jennifer Taylor-McBride, or visit the Center for International Education.

Jennifer Taylor-McBride
Clinical Assistant Professor and Social Work Field Liaison

Group photo of students during their study abroad trip to Costa Rica
  • Dates:
    January 3-18, 2023
  • Credit:
    3 credits in Social Work or Criminal Justice (undergraduate or graduate)
  • Instructor:
    Jennifer Taylor-McBride
    Clinical Assistant Professor
  • Visiting University:
    Academia Centro Americana de Espanol


The University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria Summer Course in Social Work and Criminal Justice is a two-week intensive course of study in comparative public policy. This course is relevant to students in social work, criminal justice, history, political science, psychology, peace studies and other related disciplines.

Comparative Public Policy and Practice: Social Work & Criminal Justice Program

This two-week summer course for students focuses on Austria’s public policies. Topics relate to social work practice, criminal justice, services to children and families, treatment of addictions, immigrant families and social justice. Within each of these areas, students compare an aspect of the Austrian system to a similar concept in the U.S.

Students are housed in a hotel in Linz near the university and on a direct transportation line to the city center. The accommodations consist of a double sleeping room with a bed and desk for each student and a private bathroom.

The Austria course includes attendance at an international conference where there will be opportunities to interact with students and faculty from several countries. The second week consists of seminars, agency visits and historical tours of sites with significant impact on current public policies.


  • Lectures are in English. Translators will be available at all site visits to facilitate interaction with participants.
  • Students will attend lectures by foreign professionals and will visit agencies where they can interact with staff and users of services.
  • Lectures may include European social policy, issues of immigration and crime, historical background on the Nazi era, and responses to family violence and substance abuse.

Site Visits

Site visits may include:

  • Immigration centers and refugee camps
  • Violence prevention centers
  • Residential substance abuse facilities
  • Mauthausen, a former Nazi concentration death camp
  • Local police departments
  • Garsten prison
  • Residential center for youth involved in the criminal justice system

The two weeks are full, but there is time built-in for additional travel. There is one unscheduled weekend where students can take advantage of day trips to Vienna, Salzburg or the area around Linz. Adventurous students may decide to visit an adjoining country such as Germany, Hungary or the Czech Republic.

Assignments and Grading

  • Attendance at mandatory orientation meetings including a pre-departure orientation program hosted by the Center for International Education (CIE).
  • Attendance at all lectures and site visits. At each of the visits, students generally attend a presentation after which they will have an opportunity to interact either with service users or staff.
  • Students are graded on their participation in these lectures and site visits as well as on their final written assignment. The program instructor will attend the lectures and site visits and be responsible for course grading. The final assignment is graded based on the adequacy of the research and a comparative analysis.
  • A syllabus will be available before departure. The final project is due in August.

A rough estimate based on previous years is between $2,400-$3,000 and includes tuition, lodging, international conference registration, lectures, agency visits, ground transportation and some meals.

Airfare is not included, but many students have been able to get low airfare by researching deals and booking early. Students can apply for and use financial aid for the program. Scholarships and grants are available for qualified undergraduate and graduate students. Apply early and submit by posted deadlines!

Please contact Rebecca Headley Konkel, or visit the Center for International Education.

Rebecca Headley Konkel
Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice & Criminology

A group photo of students during their study abroad trip in Austria
  • Dates:
    June 10-June 24, 2023
  • Online Information Session:
    Jan. 30, 12:00 to 12:30 p.m.
    Feb. 2, 5:30 to 6:00 p.m.
    Check your student email for the Teams link, or contact Dr. Konkel or Amy Kirby.
  • Credit:
    3 credits in Social Work or Criminal Justice (undergraduate or graduate)
  • Instructor:
    Rebecca Headley Konkel
    Assistant Professor
  • Visiting University:
    University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria

South Africa

Coursework will be taught by faculty in South Africa and includes: South African welfare policy, role of community in social development, cultural practices in health care, mental health and substance abuse in South Africa and the U.S. and South African social policy.

The course will include field visits to Cape Town townships, substance abuse centers, and health care and community development organizations. Cultural and historical centers in Cape Town will be included, such as the District Six Museum, the Iziko Slave Lodge and Robben Island. The estimated cost is $2,900-$3,200.

Exterior of an administrative building in South Africa
  • Dates:
    On Hold
  • Credit:
    3 credits in Social Work or Criminal Justice (undergraduate or graduate)
  • Instructors:
    Melinda S. Kavanaugh