KU music therapy, speech-language-hearing scholars provide interdisciplinary services in rural Bulgaria

LAWRENCE — A unique partnership between University of Kansas faculty members in speech-language pathology and music therapy provided KU students with a hybrid clinical and experiential study abroad program in Bulgaria and Greece during the intercession between the spring and summer semesters.

Based on their prior collaborative work to create an interprofessional practicum called “Sing and Speak,” Julie Gatts, speech-language pathologist and clinical associate professor, and Bill Matney, music therapist and associate professor, led three graduate students and 12 undergraduate students to Stolat, Bulgaria, for the interprofessional program, which included providing clinical services.

Four music therapy and 11 speech-language-hearing students spent 10 days in Bulgaria and four days in Greece. They met with individuals from the Bulgarian Alzheimer’s Association and Bulgarian Music Therapy Association, then traveled to north-central Bulgaria. The group traveled between villages and towns and provided interdisciplinary speech-language therapy and music therapy at a children’s home and elder home. They interacted with other professionals and clients through interpreters and music.  They also provided an age-integrated day camp on their last day in Stolat. 

"The students as a whole demonstrated the ability to engage within the many ways that communication and music overlap; they could use this overlap even when they couldn't speak the same language as those they worked with," Matney said.

Student participants said they developed personally and professionally from the trip.

“I grew more throughout this trip than I ever thought I would. I grew in knowledge and confidence, and I learned how to let go and be flexible within a clinical setting. (There) was an incredible moment where I felt like our professions meshed in such a productive manner that truly benefited the client’s experience,” said Megan Tucker, student in undergraduate speech-language-hearing.

Being surrounded by like-minded individuals from therapeutic fields was inspiring, said speech-language pathology undergraduate student Natalie Brown.

“Bulgaria was such a life-changing experience and such a turning point for me at this point in my education,” Brown said. “I have never felt so motivated and so sure of my future as I do when I reflect on this trip.”

While in Bulgaria, the group explored the fortress and crafters at Veliko Tarnovo, the medieval capital of the area, visited numerous cathedrals and Roman archaeology sites, toured museums, and visited Devetashka cave and Krushuna Falls. 

“It was very impressive how the music and speech therapy students seamlessly collaborated to communicate with the children, adults and professionals within music-based activities. Our group spent a lot of time talking about how the history, culture and people of Bulgaria have captivated our hearts and minds. The things we experienced and learned were life-changing on a professional and personal level,” Gatts said.

The group also made a stop in Athens to visit the Parthenon and Acropolis and learn about the history and culture of Greece.  The trip also included two-day stop on the Greek island of Santorini.