Understanding Perceived Short-Term Outcomes from a ProfessionalRehabilitation Cultural Experience to Cuba

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Summer 2017

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Background: An opportunity to visit Cuba, to learn about the medical, psychiatric, religious, arts, music, and sociopolitical culture of Cuba was offered to the predominantly U.S.-based professional rehabilitation community in January of 2016. This short-term study-travel experience for adult professionals,as offered by the Rehabilitation Institute of Memphis University and the American Board of Vocational Evaluators (ABVE), was designed to provide participants with an introduction to social justice practices and issues in Cuba, particularly with respect to children and adults with disabilities.Purpose: The purpose of this study was to pilot a survey created by the researchers on knowledge and attitudinal change of rehabilitation professionals participating in international travel and determine benefits of the trip for participants in the areas of skills, knowledge and cultural competence. The survey was designed to investigate the benefits and effectiveness of this program for its participants and to establisha foundation for future research in the minimally explored area of 7-14 day, short-term cultural tourism for adult professionals.Methods: The sample for this pilot study included 27 professionals who participated in a one-week educational experience to Havana, Cuba in 2016. Participants were asked to voluntarily complete a pre-and post-visit survey that included both Likert-scale and open-ended questions on skills,knowledge, expectations, and benefits of international professional travel during the trip.Results: On average, participant strongly agreed (means distributed between 4.71-4.81) that professional international travel improves multicultural awareness and competencies; provides a fuller understanding of people, their viewpoints, values, and concerns; broadens awareness of the experiences of others; and, assists one in becoming more culturally competent practitioners. Participant perceptions of educational opportunities for people with disabilities in Cuba and the benefits to Cuba from an exchange of ideas between the U.S. and Cuba were significantly higher between the pre-and post-visit survey; as well, the decrease in perceptions of employment opportunities of people with disabilities in both Cuba and the U.S. proved statistically significant.Participants noted the greatest need was physical accessibility in Cuba (although ranked the lowest for theU.S.) and mental health services in the U.S. (ranked 9th for Cuba in conjunction with medical services at 10th). Discussion: Participants felt before and after the experience that professional international travel does improve skills in the areas of cultural awareness and competence, and pre-travel knowledge did change in a few rehabilitation-related areas. Participants stated the travel experience raised their awareness of multicultural issues in their personal and professional interactions with clients, colleagues and acquaintances of different cultural backgrounds. The experience seemed to raise participant awareness about political issues and how these issues impact day-to-day life in Cuba. Recommendations for future research are also discussed.

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