As an undergraduate student studying linguistics, my academic life and the “real world” didn’t often intermingle. Don’t get me wrong: if you’re up for it, we could have a fascinating conversation about syntax over dinner. But let’s be honest. You’re probably not up for it. And I would hate to spoil a perfectly good dinner with talk of participles and prepositions.
Being a social work student, however, is a different story. It’s nearly impossible to turn on the radio, open up a news website or eavesdrop on a nearby conversation without encountering topics that we’re discussing in class or dealing with at our field placements.
Exhibit A: the Affordable Care Act (or, in laymen’s terms, “Obamacare”)
October 1st marked a new era in healthcare in the United States: the opening of the health insurance exchanges. Whether you sleep, eat, and breathe the latest headlines or you take your current events cues from your friends’ Facebook posts, I’m confident you’ve heard about it. And this morning in my field placement, healthcare reform took on a more direct meaning: helping immigrants determine their eligibility for comprehensive health care.
At a local coalition meeting for human service providers working with the Spanish-speaking population here in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, we learned about how the Affordable Care Act will affect immigrants. There was talk of an outreach event spreading the word about eligibility to those who are currently uninsured. Others were talking about aiding enrollment at local healthcare facilities. Some providers peppered the “experts” with questions about hypothetical eligibility situations for documented youth.
As I listened to the news on the radio on my way home from my field placement, once again, the talking heads were discussing the policy and politics behind the Affordable Care Act. As I listened to their analysis, I was grateful for my experience “on the ground”. Because now it’s about more than lofty ideas and political opinions: it’s about real people with real stories. It’s about our clients and their families. And I was again reminded of the great value in not only spending time studying these policies in a classroom, but also working with those who are directly affected by them in our field placements.
So, as I continue to study social work, my academic knowledge and my “real world” experience continually collide. Not to mention I have better fodder for conversation for my next dinner party.