Making the leap: Practising social work on the other side of the planet

Nathan Murphy talks about his decision to leave Merseyside to join the social services on the Falkland Islands

After speaking to representatives on their stand at the Social Work Show, Nathan Murphy was offered an interview with the Falkland Islands Government to take up a role 8,000 miles away in their social services team. COMPASS spoke to Nathan to find out what it’s like to practise in an unusual environment and what advice he would give to anyone considering a location leap.

“I was looking for a bit of a career break and I was considering a number of different options. When this option came up it just was fascinating. When I went to the COMPASS event and met with the Head of Social Services, the picture that she painted was really intriguing. She showed me a picture of the aircraft ‘the islander’ that we use when we go on remote visits – the idea of travelling to a social work visit in a six-seater aeroplane was absolutely fascinating to me.

The interview process was not like any other I’d done. I think when you’re going to work here, you quickly accept that your mindset has to change. You have to be far more flexible in your thinking because the resources that a large local authority in the UK would have simply aren’t available. So you go to your interview and they say: “Listen, we’re going to have the questions mailed over to your iPad as I do the interview 8,000 miles away” and you just have to go with it. It was unusual but I thought, well, that’s part of the interview because what they need to know is: Do you have that flexibility of thinking? Are you able to problem-solve your way through with different resources in a different context?

One of the main differences between social work on the Falkland Islands and social work anywhere else is that it’s much more varied. We are a small team, in a relatively small place, serving a tiny population – but with the requirements of a nation. The Falkland Islands run very much with all the functions of a small country with its own hospitals, education services and social services that elsewhere might be individual specialist services.

One of the main cultural differences is that it’s far less of a commercialised society. People’s pursuits and interests tend to be more community-based. They tend to be more focused on being outdoors, or being out ‘in camp’ as we call it here. In the Falklands, activities in camp are what we would describe in the UK as being in the countryside; so camp activities can include off-roading, fishing, hiking, walking and observing nature. All those types of activities form a central part of culture here.

I’ve been back to the UK once in the year since I’ve been out here, and of course you miss your family and friends. You can’t just nip home. The internet here has hugely improved – even in the time that I’ve been here – so you can remain in contact with family members via Whatsapp and Skype etc. You don’t miss things as much as you might think, given how remote we are.

What I’d say to someone thinking of working in a different country is that it will challenge you in a way that develops not just your practice, but you as a person. It is certainly worth doing and you won’t regret the life experiences that it opens up to you. There is plenty of time in the rest of your career to be a social worker in the place that you’re from, so why not broaden your perspective and work somewhere else?

This article was originally published in COMPASS, the annual guide to social work and social care.

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