School of Social Work Associate Professor Ande Nesmith, MSW, PhD, LISW, was planning on doing research in the Czech Republic for three and a half months at the University of Ostrava in Ostrava and Masaryk University in Brno. However, after receiving a Fulbright Scholar grant, Nesmith was able to extend her stay to seven months. Here, she examined the Czech experience of young people leaving institutional care, such as foster care homes, all while developing long-term partnerships with Czech experts in the field of substitute family care. Because of this grant, Nesmith was able to expand her knowledge about post-communism social work practices by exploring the foster care system within the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Ostrava Faculty of Social Studies.
Fulbright is a U.S. Department of State program that offers competitive grants to students or professionals for research, teaching, or a combination of the two, in 125 different countries around the world. In addition, awardees are expected to serve as cultural ambassadors to the United States. “A long-standing area of my expertise is in child welfare, specifically the experiences and outcomes of youth leaving out-of-home care, and transitioning to adulthood,” Nesmith said. “I partnered primarily with researchers from the University of Ostrava, but added a researcher from Masaryk University and a doctoral student as well. My research had some quantitative data, but the heart of it was in-person interviews.”
Nesmith was interested in researching in the Czech Republic because of its unique history. “Social work as a profession was extremely limited here during communism,” she said. “After 1989, it got the opportunity to rebound and improve, but it is still unexplored within scientific research, as it is a new field. Even though we have advanced in the United States, we are still far from a good system of foster care for children. The role of international politics and the European Union influenced the Czech Republic differently than what we experience in the United States. I believe there is a lot we can learn from one another.”
The European Research Institute for Social Work, which consists of experts in social work and family law, is at the University of Ostrava, making it the perfect place for Nesmith to research. “All the people at the Faculty of Social Studies communicated with me naturally and enthusiastically. It was precisely what I wanted and needed in a research team: people who are zealous for their work.” Staying in Ostrava was far from the hustle and bustle of the big city, Prague, allowing her to live a more authentic, Czech experience. “This was only possible because of the generosity of the participants. They welcomed me and opened their doors to show me an honest representation of their work,” she said. “My experience in the Czech Republic was life-changing for me: professionally, socially, emotionally and culturally.”