Beyond translation: Becoming a bicultural professional

  • Tien Ung Simmons College School of Social Work


Culturally relevant and responsive social work practice is essential to any social worker’s professional identity, however, little has been written about how one acquires such a sense of self, professionally speaking.  For the bilingual native, negotiating two cultures is an inherent way of living that directly feeds the essence of being and thus informs and shapes the practice of doing.  This essay illuminates the personal and professional experiences of its author becoming bi-cultural and draws on these experiences to offer insights about becoming culturally responsive as a professional social worker.  The emphasis in this article is intentionally placed on the process of professional identity development since much of the literature on culturally competent practice is focused on the acquisition of knowledge, awareness, and skills. Wherever useful, the author also draws on the use of creative narratives such as ethnic folklore, cultural idioms, fairy tales, and koans to support the main ideas.


Key words: social work; professional identity; bicultural identity; multi-cultural practice

Author Biography

Tien Ung, Simmons College School of Social Work

Tien Ung is an Assistant Professor at Simmons School of Social Work in Boston, Massachusetts.  As a social work practitioner, Dr. Ung works with clients and trains practitioners in child and family settings such as child protection, forensic social work, child and family trauma, and adoption.  Consequently, Dr. Ung is an established expert in these clinical domains, and especially in the area of acculturation and its impact on identity, mental health, and family well-being.

At Simmons, Dr. Ung anchors her practice experience in her research by drawing on the principles of community engaged scholarship to design and conduct research.  Inspired by a translational approach to research that focuses on relationships between community capacity, social capital, human capital, cultural capital, and family well-being, she partners with local agencies to co-create and disseminate relevant, evidence based practice knowledge to include prevention and intervention strategies.  Within this context she studies two populations: children and families who experience intrafamilial violence and immigrant and refugee families and their children.