Welcome to the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work Student Ambassador Blog! This blog was created by current student Ambassadors for people like you: Prospective students interested in getting a glimpse of our Master of Social Work program from the student angle. Feel free to contact Student Ambassadors if you want to learn more!
Being in social work school can be draining. Grad school alone is a challenge, but the depth of social work can cause you to feel particularly overwhelmed. This semester has felt especially heavy as I plunge into issues of intimate partner violence, childhood sexual assault, and a myriad of other injustices and heartbreaking experiences, both in the classroom and with my therapy clients at my field placement.
In the midst of my occasional emotional paralysis, I am led back to a question a friend asked me many years ago: What’s the best thing?
Since being asked myself, I have asked countless friends, family members, and acquaintances, writing down each answer as I go. When I feel down or pessimistic, I refer to this precious list, remembering the best things in life, both big and small. “Hearing your favorite song on the radio.” “Sleepovers that turn into all-day hangouts.” “Seeing the moon during the daytime.” “Riding horses.” “Being honest and having someone really hear you.” “When my daughter was born.” “Being in a warm bed in a cold house.” “The last sentence of a really good book.”
And so, I open the question up to you. What is the best thing? Comment here. E-mail me (email@example.com). Ask a friend. Start your own list. Regardless of what you do with the question, let’s aim to remember this perspective that is always available to us.
Within field experience (and MSW education in general), some of the most valuable resources I’ve encountered have been my field supervisors. These men and women, primarily LCSWs and clinical psychologists, have been critical to increasing my understanding of the ins and outs of various treatment modalities as well as the ever-changing mental health landscape in North Carolina. They have imparted their far-reaching knowledge and wisdom to help provide guidance, skills, and insight that would otherwise be near impossible to attain without many, many years of professional experience.
Furthermore, the varied supervision styles and therapeutic presentations of these supervisors have provided excellent models of how to collaborate with clients and colleagues alike. Also, unlike some supervisors of yesteryear, modern-day supervision may allow for a substantial level of give and take, with supervisees having the opportunity to critically explore and discuss approaches to clinical issues that may not have been previously considered.
Carl Jung said, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Great supervision can be much the same way.
One of the positive factors that come along with attending a distance education program is the closeness of the cohort. I remember the first orientation, ice breaker activities, and introductions back in August 2015. I knew right away that a cohort with all women would be special and interesting. The wide range between ages, work experiences, and life challenges makes each of our classes unique. I thoroughly enjoy sitting in class and hearing from the other ladies who have experiences in other careers for years. Their expertise from teaching abroad, working as a lawyer, and assisting in a cardiology clinic help shape the atmosphere for learning.
The best part of being apart of a cohort for two years is seeing a social work bond being created. We inspire and ignite ideas in one another. For example, on certain days, I can tune in to a particular person who is passionate about a specific population and it motivates me to find that same drive. In between classes I see ladies confide in one another about the challenges that life presents while being in graduate school. I have watched friendships blossom and support grow non-stop. From going out in large groups to each lunch, to sending Facebook messages in the private group to push one another to finish a paper, we have formed a cohort family. Fifteen females can’t be perfect but we often take the time to listen to each other’s perspective. And with the support from our professors, in the Winston-Salem Distance Education Program, we plan to someday take over the world!
We all juggle. Whether we are parents, students, working double jobs, or just trying to balance life. I feel like a half the battle of being a social worker is figuring out how to juggle. And then learning to juggle all over again. And just when you think you have it figured out, relearning once more. In social work we not only juggle our own lives, but those of our clients. And it’s hard. Really hard. Harder than I ever thought it would be. But at the same time it’s incredibly rewarding that another human trusts me enough to let me join in their juggle. That for a brief period of time I can let their arms rest, or take over a couple of the balls, or even just stand beside them as they juggle on their own. The other half of the battle is knowing when to gently lay down the balls and take care of your own juggling. It’s not a giving up or giving in, merely a pause. A chance to re-balance your own life. I’m hoping Thanksgiving is that rest, that time to regroup, so that when I come back I can juggle a little higher and a little longer. That I can help my clients a little more.
As a social work student, I am bound to a set of core values in the National Association of Social Workers’ code of ethics in both my personal and professional behavior. The NASW Code of Ethics includes a responsibility to act on behalf of people’s interests to resolve issues within the broader society. It also entails challenging injustice and addressing social problems to promote positive change. When analyzing this role and responsibility as a social work student, I recognize my own white, heterosexual, able-bodied identity and I understand that those levels of privilege are important considerations in promoting these values of social justice and standing up as an ally in support of those who have been marginalized.
The great thing about a social worker’s role is the ability to affect social change on both an individual and societal level. Whether a social worker is working directly with individuals, families, and groups, or doing advocacy and community organizing or any combination of the above, the foundation and core values remain the same:
- social justice
- dignity and worth of the person
- importance of human relationships
In troubling times and in witnessing of acts of injustice on an individual or societal level, the role of a social worker is never that of a bystander. It is one of action to ensure that the core values within this code are upheld and acted upon.
It is within these core values that I find purpose in this work, and there is much work to be done.
NASW Code of Ethics source: http://socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp
If someone were to go visit the School of Social Work this week, they would see a lively combination of stress and wellness. The Self-Care Caucus has been looking out for us. As we hunker down in the midst of a demanding semester, they have provided opportunities for us to care for ourselves. There are healthy snacks offered up on the fifth floor. There’s tea and hot chocolate in the lobby. There are board games and cornhole available for a playful break in between classes.
There is both an overwhelming busyness and a comforting solidarity. Both anxiety and a deep understanding – somewhere down in our core where it’s often hiding – that we’re going to be just fine.
I am grateful for my community’s thoughtfulness, as they provide snacks and tea and games for us. I am grateful for professors who give an optional one-week extension to be used on any one paper throughout the semester (which I gratefully utilized last week when I was hit with three papers all at once). I am grateful for friends in my cohort who get the struggle and to whom I can vent.
My concentration year has been more demanding that I anticipated. I have needed those reminders to live slowly. I have had to pause, look at all that is on my plate, and gently take one thing off. Or maybe rearrange a couple of tasks. I have compromised, saying no to opportunities that I really wanted to say yes to. I have had to juggle and balance all that life sends my way, ultimately creating a life where I can feel busy in a healthy, fulfilled kind of way, while also being mindful and appreciative of the world around me.
I don’t want to wake up in May, having wished the year away. I don’t want to float along, oblivious to the joy and privilege of being at a place like the School of Social Work. I don’t want to take this opportunity or community for granted. And so I aim to live slowly, soaking it all in. I am to strike that balance, constantly assessing my own needs and desires and responsibilities. And I’m grateful for an educational environment that backs me up.
I distinctly remember watching the Carolina Tar Heels playing an NCAA basketball game at a friend’s house around March 2013. I kept telling my friend that the team in blue and white was soon going to be my team as I was expecting to receive an admission’s offer from UNC’s Graduate Admissions office. I was certain that I was going to be admitted to the MSW program, that I had submitted an impressive application, and that God simply wanted me in Chapel Hill. Looking back, I cannot say that I was entirely wrong, but that my timing was a bit off.
Sometime between the fun of watching the Tar Heels complete this pass and the other, I thought about checking my email to see if I had received any response from UNC. And there it was: an email with a subject line that more or less read “..the decision is now ready to view”. I had to open it. My heart was beating faster and faster. This was it. The moment I had long been waiting for. Things would never be the same! I was ready to embrace a new season of my life in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, as a Social Work student.
“I didn’t get in”, I said with indescribable disappointment.
“What?” with concern my friend asked.
“I didn’t get in”. Those were the only words I was able to say before crying for an hour.
I was dumb founded with the news. How could it be? I really thought I was an ideal candidate for the MSW Program. I had followed all guidelines to apply, and I had taken all the tests, including the GRE (painful experience). Moreover, I had actually thought that Social Work was the field where my desire to empower impoverished communities was going to be solidified and championed. The disillusionment was rough because I kept thinking “God, I thought this is what were you wanted me to be for the next couple of years”. I was so ready to leave Washington D.C., and grasp all the knowledge that graduate school offers. It might not sound that critical, but this was a very difficult moment for me and my faith.
The days went by, and I decided not to give up. At least I needed to know why I wasn’t offered admission. I emailed the Assistant Dean for Recruitment, Admissions & Financial Aid (aka: Sharon Thomas) to ask if I could receive feedback with regards to my application. My first question was: “Am I a good candidate for the program?”, Sharon kindly replied that yes, I was. Nevertheless, she highlighted that taking into account how competitive the MSW was (and is!), my application needed to be more competitive and tenacious. During our conversation, Sharon kindly went through each of the elements of my application sharing both the strengths and weaknesses of it. I am still grateful for that challenging conversation that provided precise guidance for my next application attempt.
A year later I was ready to click the “Submit your application” link again. During those months of preparation, I had the opportunity to save money, read books on community empowerment and volunteer in my church’s trip to the Philippines. These experiences weaved my path towards grad school as I was able to learn and benefit from each one of them. Likewise, I examined the MSW’s program website, I read about the classes, and I even emailed a couple of faculty to inquire how their classes could enrich my project and how I could enrich them. I worked very hard on my new application, and it was worth it.
On March 2015, I received what I believe has been one of the best phone calls of my life. Sharon Thomas, the same person that two years before had graciously walked me through my rejected application, was calling to congratulate me on my admission’s offer and to ask about the possibility of an international field placement. I cannot begin to describe my surprise at that moment. I didn’t even know then that I had been admitted! I was still expecting an email, and God responded through an unexpected phone call.
As I look back and remember those difficult days in 2013, and the years that followed, I thank God for the opportunity of being challenged, both personally and professionally, through my application to graduate school. The mere desire of helping the “least favored ones” was not enough. As a potential student, I was challenged to thoroughly question my motives to pursue a MSW, and as a Christian, I was challenged to understand God’s timing versus mine. It was worth the wait and it was worth it to try again.