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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2003
How Can I Do It? The Aspiring International Psychologist:
A Student Perspective

Shannon McCaslin, University of South Dakota

This is an exciting time in our profession, with unlimited possibilities for growth and expansion. People are connected to one another in a manner that could hardly have been imagined only a quarter of a century ago. As the globe becomes increasingly smaller through advances such as the Internet, our ability to exchange knowledge with people in many parts of the world is often instantaneous. International concerns will inevitably affect each of us directly, and even those who do not actively seek out international experiences cannot help but be touched by the global "interconnectedness" of our current world. These trends highlight the importance of gaining an awareness and understanding of how globalization affects the profession of psychology, and the need for integration of international material into the psychology curriculum (Marsella, 1998).

American psychology traditionally has been somewhat isolated, giving less recognition to advances outside of the United States (Rosenzweig, 1999). This is regrettable: although there are more than 160,000 psychologists in the United States, it is estimated that there are more than 500,000 psychologists working in practically all countries of the world (Rosenzweig, 1992). Further, it is not uncommon for American psychologists or psychology students to be aware of prominent international figures in their own research fields but to have limited knowledge regarding the research of their international counterparts (Denmark, 1998, as cited in Pawlik & d'Ydewalle, 1996). We now have easy global access to other psychologists living vast distances away, allowing us to discuss research and/or clinical interests with these international colleagues, and thus providing our field with exciting opportunities for growth and progress. Through such exchanges of knowledge, we are able to examine issues in a more comprehensive manner, learn from one another, contribute to our database of psychological knowledge at a much faster pace, and minimize professional ethnocentricity.

As students, we are in an optimal position to build a repertoire of experiences and knowledge that will continue to serve us as we begin and advance through our professional lives. International awareness is currently, and will continue to be, an essential element of becoming a knowledgeable student of psychology, whether one's interests lie in conducting research or in the practical application of knowledge with clients. A survey conducted in 1998 by the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS) demonstrated an increase in the numbers of psychology students worldwide in the last 10 years (Rosenzweig, 1999). As further testament to a growing interest in international connections among these students, there have been several internationally focused psychology student organizations recently formed, including the International Psychology Students' Organization (IPSO; see article on page 26), the student division of the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), and the student division of APA's Division 52 (International Psychology). By gaining international experience early on in their training and careers, psychology students can enter the profession with a more flexible and creative viewpoint, enabling them to work more effectively in this increasingly global community.

My purpose in this article is to encourage you, as students of psychology, to incorporate international study and work into your training. This will require extra initiative: you must search for available opportunities and seek out people who can provide guidance. Your motivation must be strong; regardless of how rewarding it is, international training will almost always take considerable effort and can be extremely challenging. Various factors often make the process even more difficultsuch as having to make considerable emotional, financial, and time sacrifices. However, despite all these obstacles, I believe that the rewards are worth the cost, and that there are several viable ways to blend traditional training with an international outlook.

Suggestions for Involvement
There are many ways you can expand your understanding of international psychologystudying the work of international psychologists, attending lectures and symposia on international issues and research in psychology, becoming involved in international organizations, and so onbut I would like to suggest at the outset that you should consider a formal educational experience abroad. Integrating cultural immersion and formal training in international psychology (through the curriculum) is key to developing the personal and professional skills necessary to successful international work. Investigators (Gmelch, 1997; Martin & Rohrlich, 1991; Stitsworth, 1989) have demonstrated that students traveling abroad grow significantly in their personal development. More than simply being exposed to another culture, these students are continuously challenged in their everyday routines (e.g., figuring out the various bus systems) and are required to adapt readily to change, and thus they develop self-confidence, self-reliance, adaptability, and flexibility--all essential qualities to possess while working abroad. In addition, students' attempts to resolve the discrepancy between what they have been taught formally and what they experience abroad leads them to a more extensive and mature understanding of life, culture, and self than can be acquired in didactic or formal cultural training. In other words, cultural immersion not only provides the student with cultural information, but also with the skills to incorporate and use this knowledge effectively.

Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, these types of immersion experiences are often quite costly and time-consuming, and additional barriers exist within the American psychology graduate school system. It is not easy to leave an intensive psychology training program for a significant period. Students may not relish the thought of spending an extra year (or several years) in graduate school or missing out on classes or research opportunities, and indeed, this is a valid concern. However, faculty members can ease this difficulty by encouraging students to take advantage of these opportunities, and by building flexibility into training programs to accommodate such experiences.

Training program faculty are often the most important element in guiding and encouraging interested students in their international interests. It has been noted that the perceptions, worldviews, and goals of the program faculty tend to determine the approach and goals of a particular training program (Leach & Carlton, 1997). Thus, students may be more likely to pursue this type of endeavor if they feel that they have the support of their professors. Moreover, faculty who are active in international work may have the capacity to alert students to funding or research opportunities. I was lucky to have found faculty mentors who have been active in international research and practice and who have encouraged me to pursue my interests in this area. However, I have spoken with other students who have been strongly discouraged by their mentors from pursuing such international interests. It is most helpful to have a balance: a mentor experienced in international research and/or practice who can guide the student, provide insightful feedback on what pursuits may be most realistic in the time frame of graduate training, and also provide support and encouragement.

Another consideration is that the cost of international travel and living is often incompatible with a graduate student's budget. Funding opportunities are available, but the student needs to be persistent, determined, and resourceful. Some avenues that can be taken include searching among large national funding agencies as well as smaller internal funding sources, some of which are provided at the end of this article. Additionally, students should take advantage of international conferences occurring on the North American continent, which may be much less expensive and yet provide similar opportunities to network with international colleagues.

Professional organizations provide an excellent forum for international activities as well as opportunities for student involvement. Through involvement in these organizations, students can learn more about international psychology, participate in international research projects, and prepare for leadership roles in these organizations, and in the process reinforce their global perspective on professionalism and scientific inquiry. For example, Division 52 provides an excellent and unique opportunity for students to be mentored in international psychology. Among other services, it provides an electronic mailing list to facilitate communication among students regarding international issues and opportunities in psychological training. Further, many prominent international psychologists and members of Division 52 have volunteered to be a part of the mailing list and serve as consultants for student questions.

Other international psychological organizations include the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), the International Council of Psychologists (ICP), the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP), and the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS). IAAP grants membership to graduate students in psychology; both ICP and IACCP offer membership to graduate and undergraduate psychology students. IUPsyS is made up of national psychological organizations that represent various countries (see the listing of organizational websites at the end of this article; also, refer to Davis, 2000, for an overview of all of these organizations). Involvement in these organizations can be a primary way of meeting and learning from established international psychologists as well as fellow students who are interested in international issues and concerns. In addition, some international organizations offer funding opportunities for students to present their work at both international and domestic conferences or to participate in international educational experiences.

Incorporating international studies and concerns within traditional psychology training provides you with more experiences and perspectives to draw upon as a therapist and researcher. Additionally, possessing a broader awareness of different cultures can decrease the barriers you may encounter when attempting to conduct future research in another society. There are often different "rules" for how you should approach a situation in a different culture. Without a sensitivity for cultural differences, psychologists may not be aware that they are being offensive or ineffective in their work. International experiences are both personally and professionally enriching, but you must approach these experiences with an openness to learn and to absorb as well as to share what you know with colleagues in the host university or country. Finally, when studying abroad, you should not minimize the importance of building personal relationships with others from the host culture; they are often the ones who will feel most comfortable challenging you to see things from another perspective, and friendships with these individuals also may develop into future research or practice collaborations.

Although it is becoming more common for international issues to be recognized within the normal graduate curriculum, nothing replaces ingenuity and creativity when attempting to integrate international issues into one's education. In addition, a solid base of research and training may naturally lead to increased international involvement. For example, it was pointed out by a prominent international psychologist (Fleishman, 1999) that his international opportunities and bonds with international colleagues stemmed from his scientific interests and the recognition garnered from these accomplishments (e.g., research and publications).

In summary, students who desire international training, experience, and perspective must pursue an educational model that is still evolving. The faculty of graduate training programs, interested graduate students (both here and abroad), and organizations such as Division 52, with its emphasis on graduate training and student mentorship, are all necessary collaborators in this evolving model, providing the increased support, flexibility, and encouragement necessary to train the international psychologists of the future.

Davis, J. M. (2000). Four international organizations in psychology: An overview. Eye on Psi Chi, 4, 33-37. (Available online at

Fleishman, E. A. (1999). Applied psychology: An international journey. American Psychologist, 54, 1008-1016.

Gmelch, G. (1997). Crossing cultures: Student travel and personal development. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 21, 475-490.

Leach, M. M, & Carlton, M. A. (1997). Toward defining a multicultural training philosophy. In D. B. Pope-Davis & H. K. L. Coleman (Eds.)., Multicultural counseling competencies: Assessment, education and training, and supervision (pp. 184-208). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Marsella, A. J. (1998). Toward a "global-community psychology": Meeting the needs of a changing world. American Psychologist, 53, 1282-1291.

Martin, J. N., & Rohrlich, B. (1991). The relationship between study abroad student expectations and selected student characteristics. Journal of College Student Development, 32, 39-49.

Pawlik, K., & d'Ydewalle, G. (1996). Psychology and the global commons: Perspectives of international psychology. American Psychologist, 51, 488-495.

Rosenzweig, M. R. (1992). Psychological science around the world. American Psychologist, 47, 718-722.

Rosenzweig, M. R. (1999). Continuity and change in the development of psychology around the world. American Psychologist, 54, 252-259.

Stitsworth, M. H. (1989). Personality changes associated with a sojourn in Japan. The Journal of Social Psychology, 129, 213-224.

Funding Resources

International Organizations

Shannon McCaslin was inducted into Psi Chi in 1995 at Michigan State University. She is presently a doctoral candidate at the University of South Dakota. She recently (July 2002) completed her APA-accredited predoctoral internship at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC), where she is currently employed as a research associate for the Center's PTSD Research Program, a cooperative effort of SFVAMC and the University of California, San Francisco. Her interest in international work began as a high school foreign exchange student in Mumbai, India, and continued on into her graduate studies. As a graduate student she spent a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark, as an international student at the University of Copenhagen and intern at the International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent Centre for Psychological Support. Her current primary interests are in the areas of posttraumatic stress disorder and international psychology. Shannon has served as cochair of the Student Committee of APA's Division 52 since 1999 and is a founding committee member of the International Psychology Students' Organization (IPSO).

Copyright 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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