Counseling methods vary wildly between Verona and San Diego
Fair Verona, an ancient town renowned as the fictional setting of tragic teenage love, is approximately 6,141 miles from the University of San Diego.
Though half a world apart, common ground is blossoming: USD is helping to launch Italy’s first master’s level degree in school counseling. Last November, the University of Verona hosted an international conference titled, “School Counseling: Italian and American Experience in Com-parison.” There, School of Leadership and Education Scien-ces (SOLES) faculty joined with consultants and faculty from six other American universities in presenting foundational work to help develop the new program.
There’s great need for guidance, as Italy has no established school counseling programs. “I compare the process there to martial arts training here in the United States,” says SOLES Assistant Professor Ian Martin. “There’s often a ‘master’ or wise person who attracts apprentices. They train, and then move on to their own practice. But things are starting to change, especially with this emerging program.” The first Italian students will begin their studies this fall.
While Verona appears little changed from the time of Romeo and Juliet, the city of 700,000 has all the issues of modern life: a weak economy, changing social roles, growth of immigrant populations, increased need for social services and so on. Now, Italian education and psychology leaders are looking to the success of American school counseling programs in order to help students and their families respond to these shifting stresses within the context of Italian society.
Lonnie Rowell, Ian Martin, and Erica Nash represented USD at the conference, presenting lectures on best practices for elementary school counselors, professional development and action research. The event featured 20 practitioners and professors and more than 150 participants. Nine second-year SOLES students also attended, gaining insight into international counseling practices.
“Nothing compares to being in a different culture,” said Meghan Keller, a student in the school counseling specialization program. “This is my fourth international trip with SOLES. Each time the lessons tie directly back to my coursework. Counselors work in multicultural schools. I help kids adjust to culture. My experience of being the ‘other’ is so important to understanding their world.”
Of course, opportunities like this aren’t accidental; they happen by design. In 2005, SOLES made an unprecedented commitment to internationalization by requiring students to take part in an international component, which began with the 2008 entering class. “As we develop school leaders, that multicultural, multilingual world view is vital,” says Rowell, USD’s counseling program director. “Most schools in the San Diego area have about 22 languages spoken in their populations. Training must include a global-centric view.”
“International travel gives you a different context,” says leadership studies student Irma Venegas. “You learn not to put people in boxes, but to see them as individuals, to see them as who they really are. You open new lenses, look at knowledge in a new way and realize that what happens in other countries affects us here. Coming home, you interact differently with that experience in your mind.”
For the students in Verona, the trip began in Vienna, Austria, where they attended the Collaborative Action Research Network Conference. “Asking questions to better understand the presentations made me think more critically, which led to internal reflection. I had to learn by asking the right questions,” recalls counseling student Mica Nereu.
This kind of insight is exactly what Rowell hopes every student will achieve, and emphasizes that international, multicultural learning is particularly important for counseling students. “We need more reflection in our society, in our work. In the United States we tend toward outside observation and action; this inner reflection is just as important. Our students pursue jobs in international settings as well as national. They work in a changing world, yet the problems they confront remain much the same.”