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International Field Experiences: Dennis Ho (MSW '16), Hong Kong

Dennis Ho (MSW '16, Health): Gaining insight into Hong Kong's approach to mental health intervention

Why were you interested in participating and investing in an international summer learning experience?

I really wanted to polish my Cantonese to prepare for working with the large population of Chinese Americans who speak Cantonese in San Francisco. I will be in medical settings, and there’s no doubt I will encounter people and families who speak Cantonese. Hong Kong was an environment where I could be immersed in the language while doing social work, and it was helpful to understand the kind of things I need to talk about in terms of bio-social-psycho assessments, working with clients and working with colleagues.

I feel like I have a more polished sense of how to converse with people in Cantonese. That was a great experience — seeing myself grow in that area and also to see what counseling looks like, the services that are provided, how resources are used and how mental health is intervened.

Please describe your internship experience in Hong Kong.

I worked at a faith-based NGO called Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service (BOKSS). Most NGOs in Hong Kong are faith-based, and a lot of the mental health resources are district-based. They’re called integrated community centers for mental wellness (ICCMW) and are government-sponsored, one-stop centers for mental health. There are 24 districts in Hong Kong, and each district has at least one. Baptist Oi Kwan is in the Wan Chai District. 

I served there for a little more than 10 weeks. We were required to count hours, and we did around 400.  Both and Jennifer Ng (MSW '16) and I had one client to work with for that 10-week period. My client didn't speak any English, and the social worker who worked with him handed him off to me. We met together with the client, who was handed off to me, and week to week we worked together. 

I really appreciate the support I received from the agency. The people who work there are very supportive, and it feels like a family. 

What were some of the differences between your field placements in Hong Kong and here in the Bay Area?

Although we weren’t attending university classes, we had to complete all the paperwork that is required for university students. For field education, there’s a lot of writing that’s involved. For instance, here in a domestic hospital I see clients and I’ll chart. But in Hong Kong, I would chart for the hospital but I would also do group summary recordings. Every interaction with a client or my group would mean writing two to three pages. That amount of writing was only half the work that students from Hong Kong do. the students do. They write recordings, progress notes, summaries and periodic notes.

I thought about the reasons why I was doing this paperwork, and, even if I wasn't enjoying it, I asked how could it help and allow me to learn?

The paperwork was something that I could bring to my supervisor each week. It made me think about theory and the evidence for actions or paths with a client or group.  That helped me think of praxis, and my supervisor, who is very clinically strong, gave helpful feedback, like, “You can probably say this with your client next session," or "This is phrased interestingly. What if we framed it this way next time?”  I felt like my growth in clinical skills definitely went up a lot through the summer experience.

What lessons can be learned from your experiences to help improve the processes for future summer program participants?

The hardest part was not knowing what to expect. We knew the Hong Kong program was a pilot for the School, and at the same time Hong Kong was also trying to figure out what would fit for us. But a big improvement would be if students are given a really solid list of expectations when they arrive or when they begin doing fieldwork there and an understading of what kind of supervision they will receive and the work they will be doing.

What were the costs associated with the Hong Kong program?

In addition to the airfare, my total costs with living and eating expenses was about $2,000, and that's without Berkeley's tuition costs of Berkeley. For me, the School funded the tuition for the  four credits. So if a student were to think about the total out-of-pocket costs for the Hong Kong program, it would be around $3500.

Has your summer experience informed your future plans?

I definitely have interest in going abroad to do social work. My fun idea would to be an international social worker who can just go and do different things in different countries. That's the fun dream.

My trajectory now is to continue to be in the Bay Area until my licensure. I will explore different opportunities, including international social work. It could be front-end work but I'm also interested in systems or supervisory work. People have also mentioned a PhD program as a possibility — but we'll see!