Occupational therapy and its relevance in social projects. relationships, learning and opportunities: collection of experiences of University of Alberta Mscot students in Bogotá, Colombia
Occupational therapists are equipped to promote wellbeing through occupation and to enable participation and meaningful engagement of people in their social and physical environments (WFOT, 2012). As such, the role of the occupational therapists is profoundly linked to the social, cultural and environmental characteristics of the contexts in which occupations take place. The central role that context plays in occupational performance creates an interesting dichotomy for the occupational therapist: on one hand, a profound understanding of cultural and social factors is required from the Occupational Therapy (OT) in order to develop a meaningful and successful collaboration with the person; on the other hand, the ability of the occupational therapists to recognize and explore the contextual factor of an occupation-person dyad transcends cultural and spatial barriers. As a result, occupational therapists are equipped to engage in international collaboration and practice, and as such face unique and enriching challenges. International fieldwork experiences have become a tool through which occupational therapists in training can develop the critical skills for understanding the impact of cultural and social factors on occupation. An OT student in an international fieldwork experience faces numerous challenges in leading a process that is both relevant and respectful to the characteristics of the local context: language, cultural perceptions of occupation and personhood, religious backgrounds, health care access, etc. These challenges stand out as ethical considerations that must be considered when navigating an international fieldwork experience (AOTA, 2009). For more than five years now, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine (FRM) of the University of Alberta (UoFA) and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at the Universidad del Rosario (UR), Bogota, Colombia, have sustained a productive and meaningful international collaboration. This collaboration includes a visit by Dr. Albert Cook, professor of the FRM and former dean, to the UR as the main guest speaker in the International Congress of Technologies for Disability Support (IBERDISCAP) in 2008. Furthermore, Dr. Cook was a speaker in the research seminar of the Assistive Technology Research Group of the Universidad del Rosario. Following Dr. Cook’s visit, Professors Liliana Álvarez and Adriana Ríos travelled to Edmonton and initiated collaboration with the FRM, resulting in the signing of an agreement between the FRM and the UR in 2009, agreement that has been maintained to this day. The main goal of this agreement is to increase academic and cultural cooperation between the UR and the UofA. Other activities have included the cooperation between Dr. Kim Adams (who has largely maintained interest and effort in supporting the capacity building of the UR rehabilitation programs in coordinating the provision of research placement opportunities for UR students at the UofA), an Assistive Technology course for clinicians and students led by Dr. Adams, and a research project that researched the use of basic cell phones to provide social interaction and health information access for people with disabilities in a low-income community in Colombia (led by Tim Barlott, OT, MSc, under the supervision of Dr. Adams). Since the beginning, the occupational therapy programs of the Universidad del Rosario and the University of Alberta have promoted this collaboration and have strived to engage in interactions that provide further development opportunities for students and staff. As part of this process, the international placement experience of UofA OT students was born under the leadership of: Claudia Rozo, OT program director at UR, placement and academic leadership of Elvis Castro and Angélica Monsalve, professors of the occupational therapy program at UR; and Dr. Lili Liu, OT department director at UofA, Cori Schmitz, Academic coordinator of clinical education at the UofA; and Tim Barlott and Liliana Álvarez leading the international and cross-cultural aspect of this collaboration.This publication summarizes and illustrates the process of international placement in community settings in Colombia, undertaken by occupational therapy students of the University of Alberta. It is our hope that this document can provide and document the ethical considerations of international fieldwork experience, the special characteristics of communities and the ways in which cultural and social competences are developed and help international students navigate the international setting. We also hope that this document will stimulate discussion among professional and academic communities about the importance and richness of international placement experiences and encourage staff and students to articulate their daily efforts with the global occupational therapy agenda.
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