Good to know: Romania’s social struggles provide fodder for new Saint Rose travel study course

After his first visit to Romania, Saint Rose social work professor Richard Pulice wasn’t sure that there would be a benefit to taking students there. “I said, ‘what can we possibly do?”’ he recalled recently.

In Bucharest, the capital city, there were nearly no beds for the homeless, no nursing homes or mental health system, let alone many jobs. Government corruption was as common as the broken roads, bridges and hospitals.

“Back when they lived under Communism, at least everyone had work. Everyone had a place to live,” said the professor, the College’s social work chair. “But it’s been almost 25 years since Communism fell. We’re not saying we want to go to back to it, but now we’re seeing thousands and thousands of people in homelessness, including families.”

This semester, he will introduce a course, International Social Work (SWK) 380, covering the roots of and response to homelessness in the United States, Romania and the Netherlands. Students will study the social, political and economic issues of each country with an eye toward seeing whether any strategies used here might work there.

The College of Saint Rose social work department is expanding its horizons as students travel to Romania to observe the widespread homelessness in a country with few social programs.

The College of Saint Rose social work department is expanding its horizons as students travel to Romania to observe the widespread homelessness in a country with few social programs.

And after reflecting on his experience in Romania, Pulice decided that bringing students there would, in fact, be valuable for both them and perhaps people in that struggling country. “We will look at the small successes we can build on,” he said.

The class will culminate May 12 to 23 with a study trip that originates in Bucharest, representing the first time the social work program has traveled to Eastern Europe. Pulice hopes to build the ties there that Saint Rose has established across the Netherlands, where Saint Rose undergraduate and graduate students visit at least once a year and take part in projects related to mental illness and substance abuse. After five days in Romania, students will travel to the Netherlands for five days.

In that country, care of the elderly, response to homelessness, addiction and mental illness are often considered among the most advanced in the world, given their person-first approach.

But in Romania, the educational value is in devising strategies where none exist.

“Currently in the U.S. we have ways of finding people housing and jobs and we don’t want people on the streets,” said the professor, who has devoted his career to studying social welfare systems worldwide. “In Albany County on a cold night in December we have enough room to house 400 to 500 people. In Bucharest alone, a city of several million people, they have about room for about 300 people.”

The Romanian government fell in 1989 when protesters overthrew its Communist leader, Nicolae Ceausescu. Pulice said that non-profit organizations once filled the void by providing social welfare programs. However, when the grants ran out, so too did many of the services. The World Bank now considers Romania the poorest nation in the European Union.

Saint Rose students will divide their time between observing and working with programs in several sites. Among these is a van operated by samu social, a French organization that provides emergency aid to the homeless. The goal is to view problems on that scale and devise small steps to ease them. No more than 10 students will take part.

“I’ve done courses with 24 students and we arrive and meet a bus,” he noted. “With this group we’ll be taking public transportation so students can experience how these countries look to the people who live there.”

For information on the international social work trips contact Pulice at pulicer@strose.edu.

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