We did something new, and, man, was it impactful! Bilinguistics has been offering ASHA CEUs with a focus on cultural and linguistic diversity for over 20 years now. We’ve offered live courses at conventions, in school districts, and at education service centers. We’ve offered live webinars, online courses on demand, and even downloadable papers for CEUs. But we recently did something really different. We didn’t just talk about cultural and linguistic diversity—we lived it for a full week on one of our international speech therapy trips with 65 of our new closest friends!

study abroad for SLPs

How these International Speech Therapy Trips Got Started

Here’s how it all started. Chad Allen, President and Founder of Therapy Abroad, called me up out of the blue. He told me that his company has been working internationally providing speech-language pathology services and designing trips for students studying speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy for a number of years and he was interested in offering professional development opportunities for SLPs and other therapists too. Why should students have all the fun?

Chad and his team at Therapy Abroad do an incredible job of setting up events that allow their participants to dive into the culture surrounding them. The thing they don’t do is professional development courses and CEUs. That’s why the Bilinguistics-Therapy Abroad team approach makes so much sense. They develop international partnerships and manage safety & logistics, we do content. This way, we can continue to create more international trips for SLPs.

Where Do We Draw the Line for What Activities are Worthy of ASHA CEUs?

When I set out to create an international speech therapy trip and register it for ASHA CEUs, I spent a lot of time really thinking about what elements of the trip were “CEU worthy.” It’s pretty hard to draw a line, really. There’s the obvious sitting-in-a-conference-room experience versus being out in the community. Drawing the line between the two didn’t really make sense to me. I mean, with all of the current focus on cultural competence and cultural humility, I feel like we should go beyond the classroom to develop those skills.

study abroad for SLPs

Responsibilities for SLPs working with Individuals from CLD Backgrounds

Let’s look at some of the things ASHA says about SLPs’ responsibilities working with individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

From the ASHA Code of Ethics (2016):

“We are obligated to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services regardless of our own background.”

ASHA on Cultural Competence in 2020

“Developing cultural competence is a dynamic and complex process requiring ongoing self-assessment and continuous expansion of one’s cultural knowledge. It evolves over time, beginning with an understanding of one’s own culture, continuing through interactions with individuals from various cultures, and extending through one’s own lifelong learning.” 

“Cultural competence is increasingly important to eliminate long-standing disparities in the health status of people based on racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.”

And defining Cultural Humility

“A dynamic and lifelong process focusing on self-reflections and personal critique, acknowledging one’s own biases.”

Okay, so where do we draw the line on a study abroad trip for SLPs?

Of course we include the 12 hours of professional development coursework on: 

What about the lectures conducted by Belizean professionals?

  • A physician describing the public health initiatives that are the focus of the Belize Ministry of Health.
  • A cultural linguist describing the many different languages present in Belize and the way that are often combined in communication.
  • Or how about a teacher describing how she supports other teachers to work with individuals with disabilities.
  • Or the Special Education Director of the country of Belize talking about their initiatives related to inclusion and high needs students?

Those should be included, don’t you think?

Learning about culture on a study abroad for SLPs

What about a trip to the Mayan Women’s Collective to learn about the ancient Mayan customs they keep alive today, including using the 700-year-old metate to work corn into masa to make tortillas and tamales?

Or the trip through the gardens to learn about the medicinal use of plants to cure ear infections and stomach cramps?

Or the visit to the Mayan Temple Cahal Pech that dates back to 1032 BC, where we learned about sports games played by the Mayan population and their practice of human sacrifice?

Or the visit to the iguana rescue farm where we learned about the efforts to increase the iguana population, which has been drastically reduced because they are hunted throughout Central America?

Iguanas! Study abroad for SLPs

Or the bus rides through town where our bus driver, Eddie, shared tidbits about the people of Belize and their rich history?

Or the Garifuna community sharing their dance and music and telling us the meaning behind it?

Okay, you get the point. We learned a lot about languages and cultures and ways of life that are different than the ones we live every day. In the end, we only need 30 hours of CEUs every three years so that’s what we got. A study abroad for SLPs worth 30 hours of ASHA CEUs. But the truth is, we got a whole lot more than that. We all left this international speech therapy trip richer in experiences than when we arrived. We made new friends, connected with Belizean professionals, ate new foods, and grew professionally a whole lot.

Here’s what the SLPs had to say about this amazing professional development trip.

It was a career rejuvenation trip! It was great being around like-minded colleagues from all over the country that are passionate about supporting linguistic diversity and multiculturalism in underserved communities to foster equitable opportunities.

Often times being a school-based SLP can feel isolating. You’re not a teacher but you’re helping with students and a lot of times you’re overlooked and no one really understands what you do. And when it comes to treating in areas with diversity it’s just lacking. I am thrilled to take this new information into my new job and create an environment of cultural competence and diversity from the start. It was a deeeeep breath of fresh air to be in a room with people with a common goal and similar passions. And getting to learn about another culture in the process was the cherry on top. I have already texted other therapy friends (I was nice enough to include OT/PT) and told them to look into Therapy Abroad for future trips! I’m already ready for the next one!

I am elated to have spent a week with people who seek to ensure that everyone has access to a “seat at the table,” who are able to verbally recognize their inherent societal privileges, and who amplify the voice and experiences of people who are less represented. I feel this belief was reaffirmed every day of this trip, in a variety of ways, and with sincerity. My favorite aspect of this experience is definitely the reminder of how much life can be lived in a week.

The trip was well organized (meals, transportation, lectures, and activities). Therapy abroad staff always made sure that your needs were met. We always had water available which was important because Belize is extremely humid in the summer. Belize is a safe place to travel and it’s a great place to experience cultural diversity. The locals are super friendly and they make you feel like family. This trip was a unique experience that I’ll carry in heart. I am looking forward to joining another trip to a different country. Thank you, Chad, for making this possible.

I have been traveling to speech and language conferences for over 20 years, from the big ASHA conference to small local conferences. I have traveled abroad for some too. None of them compare to this experience from a holistic perspective. This was the best gathering of speech-therapists, considering there were 48 or 49 in attendance. It was almost as if the group was handpicked and put together. Everyone loved being around another, even though most of us were meeting for the first time. Unlike the conferences in the states, I never ate alone a single time!!! People would just invite themselves to the table if you were there, and the table would always grow. Priceless. The country was beautiful. The citizens were precious. Our staff from top to bottom–even the drivers—were outstanding. A lot of useful information was shared and learned. The highlight of it all was getting to fellowship and share experiences with SPED teachers and officials. There were so many differences between the two countries, yet the one thing in common was a shared heartbeat for wanting to help children who have communication needs. They have so little as a country. As an individual, I have a lot…just a wealth of accumulated resources. The proper thing for me to do would be to give away some or much of what I have. I would still be okay and they would be better. My understanding and knowledge of practicing and delivering services to people from culturally and linguistically different backgrounds has only improved. So with that, I will be helping the people in Belize, I will begin to provide seminars for parents and whosoever in the community, and I am going to make my practice the premier provider of services for culturally and linguistically diverse people.

This was a one of a kind professional development excursion!

Visiting Belize with Therapy Abroad and Bilinguistics was such a rewarding experience to learn more about evaluating and treating bilingual students and having the opportunity to speak to and collaborate with local teachers. They were eager to learn how to support their students when they don’t have the same advantages and opportunities that we do in the US. This experience was amazing.

This was such an eye-opening experience! The culture and courses were perfect for the setting. Visiting Barton Creek, the San Antonio women’s collective and talking with other educational professionals at the University of Belize awoke a passion that I forgot I had. I would do it again in a heartbeat and even go back to San Ignacio! I can’t wait to talk to my colleagues at the university I teach at to try to bring this experience to students

Participating in this program is a life changing experience. You return a different person. You are more knowledgeable; you are humbled; you are grateful; you have gained more friends…. you are a better person. Thank you, Therapy Abroad, for allowing me to learn in a way that I will never forget.

 I had high expectations of the conference, and they were surpassed.

Thank you to all of the amazing SLPs and their family and friends who trusted us to put an amazing international speech therapy trip together for them. 

Thank you to the Therapy Abroad team–Chad Allen, Katie Kirland, Justin Ford, and Jaime Vega for thinking of every possible detail to make this trip a success.

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