Service Learning & Cultural Immersion Programs

Ecuador Summer Immersion Program

Student-participants in this WJC summer immersion program will participate in a five-week intensive program abroad in coordination with Centro Ecuatoriano Norteamericano (CEN), El Instituto de Neurociencias/ Junta de Beneficencia, and La Fundación Dra.Cynthia Lucero located in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The program involves: a) intensive Spanish language instruction by level of proficiency, b) clinical work alongside local psychologists, and c) social and cultural activities organized by Centro Ecuatoriano and La Fundación Dra. Cynthia Lucero.  Students will live with host families contracted by El Centro Ecuatoriano for the summer immersion program.  Students will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of clinical situations within the different departments at El Instituto: Substance Abuse, Rehabilitation Center, Assisted living (severe mental illness), Admissions, General Psychiatry Unit, and Psychodiagnostic and Psychometrics (testing and evaluations). There may be opportunities to collaborate at a school for youth with special needs. The general goal of the program is to provide a better understanding of health care systems, and of the provision of social and health services, as well as some of the unique cultural dynamics in serving individuals and families in Latino countries.

CC560 - LMH Immersion II Seminar
CC563 - LMH Summer Immersion II

This specialized seminar is provided along with the summer immersion program of the Latino Mental Health Program with the primary objective of providing pre-immersion and in-country support to students participating in an LMH immersion. The seminar consists of 2-3 meetings prior to the students departing to their destination. Students are introduced to theories to encourage students to think critically about cross-cultural issues, Ecuadorian history and contextual issues, self-care and specific clinical issues pertaining to the host country. In this course students will learn research-based concepts that intend to increase the likelihood of having a positive and fruitful immersion experience (e.g. affect-based trust, participatory collaboration, intersubjective practice, witnessing, cultural intelligence). In addition, the class meets through Skype or other electronic video communication with the instructor conferencing in small groups at least twice throughout the student's stay in the Latin American country to discuss clinical, social, language and cultural issues arising during the immersion program. If the instructor has scheduled travel to the students' international site, in-country debriefings wiGHaitill also be scheduled. The instructor convenes the group to meet one last time after they have returned to the U.S. to debrief the immersion experience.

Students will:

  1. Identify country specific clinical practice issues in mental health.
  2. Compare and contrast differences in professional regulations, ethics and native clinical practices;
  3. List at least one cultural practices of the host country that shapes mental health care differently from the U.S.'s culture of care;
  4. Utilize supervision, consultation and peer supervision as resources for increased efficiency in clinical practice and self-care.
  5. Identify three approaches to deal with unexpected cultural and clinical situations in which the students' and host country professionals' cultural models may conflict;
  6. List at least three social and contextual issues of the host country.


Paola Michelle Contreras, PsyD
Core Faculty
Counseling Department

Mari Carmen Bennasar, PsyD
Director, Latino Mental Health Program
Counseling Department

Guyana Service Learning and Cultural Immersion

Course: Guyana Service Learning & Cultural Immersion

This course is designed to increase cultural fluency and global competency by exploring the multi-ethnic Amerindian, Indo- and Afro-Caribbean cultures in Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America. Students will have opportunities to examine ethnocentric beliefs and to gain the skills to provide culturally informed mental health care to a growing multicultural population in the United States. Students will take part in didactic activities to learn about Guyana's rich history, cultural belief systems and practices, social services, sociopolitical dynamics, and religious traditions. Additionally, students will travel to Guyana for a 10-day service learning experience where they will gain a deeper appreciation of the impact of cultural traditions on the mental health of Guyanese people. While in Guyana, students will engage in service learning activities and multidisciplinary collaborations with grassroots organizations, schools, and social services agencies. We will also participate in cultural excursions and visit historical sites in Guyana.

William James College's Guyanese Partners:


Natalie Cort
Core Faculty, Clinical Psychology Department

Haiti Service Learning and Immersion Program

The Haiti Service Learning and Cultural Immersion Program is designed to provide students with increased knowledge, skills, and experience in working with Haitian and Haitian-American individuals and families. It will assist students in developing competence in relationship building, assessment, and intervention; and becoming more skilled as practitioners to serve Haitian communities in Boston and in Haiti. Students will take part in didactic activities to learn about the history of Haiti, cultural belief systems and practices, and their impact on help-seeking behaviors among Haitian immigrants. Additionally, students will travel for a week-long service learning and summer immersion experience in Haiti where they will gain a deeper appreciation of the language, customs, and cultural traditions and practices of Haitian society. Students will engage in service learning activities and multidisciplinary collaborations with schools, grassroots organizations, and health care and social services agencies in Haiti. They will also participate in cultural excursions, and visit historical sites and other points of interest in the host community.

Course: CC564 - Haiti Service Learning & Cultural Immersion Experience

This course is designed to provide students with an enriched immersion experience and exposure to Haitian culture. The course focuses on increasing students' sensitivity to diversity and difference, promoting learning and sharing of cross-cultural experiences, enhancing competence in building effective therapeutic relationships with culturally diverse populations, understanding the bridge between psychological theory and its application to multicultural groups, increasing awareness of ethics and standards appropriate to professional practice with ethnically diverse populations, and expanding the global perspectives of students in the field of mental health.

Students will:

  1. List the phases of Haitian migration to the U.S. and explain how migration influences the mental health and psychosocial adaptation of Haitian immigrants.
  2. Differentiate between the social-political forces, and cultural and psychological factors that affect the mental health needs of Haitian communities in the U.S. and in Haiti.
  3. Discuss the cultural traditions, belief systems, values, and practices of Haitian society and their impact on help-seeking behaviors among Haitians and Haitian Americans.
  4. Demonstrate knowledge of theories and research related to cultural competency, and multicultural service learning and immersion experiences.
  5. Describe empirically-based psychological interventions with Haitian individuals, families and communities.


Gemima St. Louis, PhD
Co-Director, Center for Multicultural & Global Mental Health
Director, African and Caribbean Mental Health Concentration
Clinical Psychology Department

Jill Bloom, PhD
Co-Director, Center for Multicultural & Global Mental Health
Director, Global Mental Health Concentration
Clinical Psychology Department

Kenya Immersion Experience

The Kenya Immersion Experience is a dynamic and experiential learning opportunity. Students become part of a working team creating positive change in a school and community in rural Kenya. Specifically, students implement a positive educational curriculum in a primary school. The goal of this course is to provide students with an experience of life in a rural Kenyan community and to form relationships that facilitate community learning, resilience, and well-being.  They collaborate with a Kenyan and international NGO's to facilitate community dialogue and organization around educational and healthcare issues. This immersion experience is also part of an ongoing research project investigating the relationship between strength based education, resilience, hope and physical well-being in children 9-14 years old. It is a community development project with ample opportunities for interaction with families, Kenyan government officials, and development organizations. Issues concerning collaborative governance, justice, global poverty, and grant writing will be explored. A selective interview process is required.

Course: TR604 - Collective Trauma & Community Healing

This course explores collective trauma and community interventions and provides a deep understanding of the humanitarian needs of individuals, families, organizations and communities in Eastern Africa (Kenya), living under conditions of continuous traumatic stress. It will widen the lens from which we view trauma theory and treatment, to include an emphasis on resilience, positive deviance, and strength based approaches to treatment. The immersion experience is designed to offer students an opportunity to do field work and collaborate with counselors and community service providers from a Kenyan Non-Government Organization (NGO). Current programs include: drug and alcohol abuse prevention, peace building, relief and disaster management, youth and family programs, educational outreach, and programs to promote access to healthcare for marginalized groups of the Kenyan population.

Participants in this course will:

  1. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the impact of continuous trauma on communities.
  2. Students will apply resilience and strength based approaches in the treatment of collective trauma and community healing.
  3. Students will discuss and critique the literature on trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder, continuous traumatic stress, resilience, and the cultivation of strengths.
  4. Students will differentiate between theories and interventions emerging from individualistic versus collectivist and tribal social networks.
  5. Students will be able to list the social networks and cultural resources that impact the cultivation of individual and community resilience, with a special emphasis on the school setting.
  6. Students will demonstrate knowledge of the cultural and political context of Kenya and be aware of fundamental safety and travel guidelines.


Claire Fialkov, PhD
Core Faculty, Clinical Psychology Department

David Haddad, EdD
Director, Behavioral Health Initiative
Counseling Department

Read more about our immersion programs in our International Service Learning Programs 2017 Annual Report.

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