Snogging with Giraffes

Over winter break, I was lucky enough to participate in the Conservation Social Work course in Kenya.  It was a life-changing experience that has completely changed my outlook on life as well as impacted my professional goals.  The Conservation Social Work in Kenya course is offered to concentration year students and is part of GSSW’s animal-assisted therapy program (although you are not required to be in the animal-assisted social work certificate to participate).  Throughout the fall quarter, we met every couple of weeks for class and then we traveled to Kenya for 2 weeks over the winter break.

It would take me pages and pages to describe my entire Kenya experience, but here are a couple of stories from my trip:

  • This is the fun story…We had the opportunity to visit the Betty and Jock Leslie-Melville Giraffe Center where we got to feed and pet rescued giraffes.  After getting to know them a little bit most of us chose to get up close and personal with the giraffes, allowing them to eat pellets of food off of our lips.  It turns out giraffes are quite slobbery kissers and have large, black, sand-papery tongues.  (If you would like more information about the Giraffe Center, you can go to www.giraffecenter.org.)

 

 

  • This is the sad story…We had the chance to explore Kibera, which is the largest slum in Africa (and the 2nd largest in the world, behind India).  As we walked through the slum, we heard children chanting, “How-are-you?” and “Muzungo, muzungo!” (“white person, white person!”); we saw mounds of trash, mangey dogs, and lots of people; and we smelled cattle legs being grilled on fires.  It was extremely intense and like nothing else I have ever seen in the United States.  All of the homes were made of mud and sticks with sheet metal as rooves.  Most of them had a “store” on their front porch and when you walked into the home there was generally one 10 foot by 10 foot room that 5-7 people lived in with no bathroom.  Most of us were completely speechless and even now, it is hard to really describe what it was like to visit Kibera.  Although it was sad and emotional, it was also frustrating on a larger scale.  The Kenyan government does not acknowledge that there are 3 million people living in Kibera (they say there are only several thousand).  They do not have any kind of medical care or job security.  In fact, the only time the government pretends to care about what is going on there is during election season.  Overall, it was an amazing experience to interact with the community and to see the struggles they are experiencing.

  • This is the perspective-changing story…In one of the villages we visited called Kasigau, I spent some time interacting with a family in their home.  When it was time to make lunch, they said that it was customary for the visitor to slaughter a chicken.  I had no idea how to react–I didn’t want to be disrespectful to the family, but there was no way I was going to be able to kill a chicken by myself.  Thankfully, one of my translators actually did the slaughtering, but I did help with the rest of the process.  While the whole thing was going on, one of the 13 year old girls asked me if I didn’t eat chicken.  I told her that of course I eat chicken, so then she asked me why this was such a big deal for me if I ate chicken.  I then had to explain to her that in the United States, we generally go to a grocery store to buy packaged chicken that no longer resembles a bird.  She could not understand this whatsoever–it just did not make sense to her that there were factories that supplied this type of food to us as consumers.  It really made me think about how disconnected we are from the food we eat in the United States.  As I have reintegrated into our society, I find myself passing by the meat sections in the grocery store and feeling sick because of how inhumanely those animals were most likely treated.  This experience really changed the way I think about the food I am putting into my mouth.

 

Overall, Kenya was an amazing experience and there are plenty more stories where these came from.  While we were in Africa, our class actually attempted to blog about our experiences.  So if you are interested in learning more about the things we did while we were there, you can visit http://learn2conserve.wordpress.com

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The Search is Over

As you may have read in previous posts from myself or others, many of the first year students have begun, and hopefully finished, their search for Concentration Year internships.  Right after Field Fair emails began flying through cyber space, phone calls were made and interviews were scheduled.  A few students I know were even contacted the very night of Field Fair and had interviews before the end of that week.

The stress level at GSSW rose considerably during the weeks following Field Fair.  Students were not only working their internships but searching for and interviewing for next year’s placement while managing their course workload, and for some,even a job.  Students were often visibly irritated when they had yet to find a placement and another student announced that they had accepted a placement.  Competition for certain placements was steep; for example, seven students interviewed for 2 coveted positions at Children’s Hospital in the Inpatient Eating Disorder Unit or a multitude of students for a stipend program at the VA Hospital.

The search for next year’s placement really begins with a decision.  Students must decide which track of study they will pursue and find an internship that fits those needs as well as their own personal interests.  We must also consider what Certificates we intend to earn as our host site must be able to accommodate that training.  For many students who aren’t sure what they want to do or what career path they’ll take after graduation, this can be a very stressful time.

I’ve finally accepted a placement and will be working in the Heart and Lung Transplant Unit at the University of Colorado Hospital.  Although it wasn’t my top choice, it allows me the Medical Social Work experience that I desire and is with a large, well-respected institution that may have opportunities for me as a professional after graduation.

A Double Attraction…

I’ve been pulled in two directions… I have to balance a tug of war between my competing attractions: international human rights and social work. One day, my thoughts slowly drift into an international world of theory. My brain is twisted in a million ways, forced to conceptualize the complexities of human rights and human wrongs. And then, the cloud that surrounds my thoughts dissipates and forces me to fall to land where community social work practice is my mantra.

It has been difficult to balance this double attraction, this multidimensional gravitation that seems to make my life incredibly complicated and incredibly interesting simultaneously. But…it is a worthwhile endeavor. I feel like my brain is being worked in every way possible, forced to understand the delicate and necessary balance between theory and practice. Who says I can’t have the best of both attractions?

Studying both international human rights and social work has opened my eyes to the diversity of options that lay before me as I enter the professional world. This coming summer, I will have to opportunity to spend two months in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I will have an international social work field placement that integrates my intersecting interests. It will allow me to explore international opportunities for professional development and understand the complexities of NGOs and international nonprofits. Importantly, knowledge from my international human rights education has opened my eyes to transnational migration flows that lead many people to the United States, people with whom I interact daily in my current field placement with a community organizing nonprofit. A global knowledge base contributes greatly to my understanding of social work practice and is increasingly important in our transnational world. Ultimately, I hope it leads me to an academic social work position, where I can work with future students in the classroom and contribute to scholarly knowledge about the intersection of globalization and social work.

The Search Is On

1st year students have begun the process of looking for their second year internship placements.  Last night GSSW hosted their annual Field Fair, an event that brings internship hosts and students together.  The fair allows students to meet and ask questions about field placements, get a feel for supervisors, and make an initial impression on the supervisors.

The event can be a bit overwhelming as there are a few hundred people in the room but it is a GREAT way to mark people off of your list if you learn information that deters you but it’s, more importantly, a great way to solidify what you want to do and where you want to intern next year.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be making initial contacts (again) and scheduling interviews with internship hosts.  Ideally, we’ll have and know our placements by the end of this quarter.  Although it will be a stressful few weeks, the pay off will be worth it!

Track / Certificate / Program Information Sessions 2011 part 2 (VIDEO)

The following track / certificate / program information sessions are intended for students as they plan their concentration for the academic year 2011-2012.  Requirements and specific offerings change from year to year, so always check your student handbook for accurate information.
Continue reading “Track / Certificate / Program Information Sessions 2011 part 2 (VIDEO)”

Finally Figured Out What to be When I Grow Up!!!!

Although I have always known that I wanted to go into the field of social work, it seems like my choice in concentration within the field changes on a weekly basis.  Coming into graduate school, my ultimate goal was to run my own non-profit that brings service-learning into the schools and into after school programming, specifically targeting high-risk populations of youth.  During my first quarter of school I constantly went back and forth between the clinical and community track.  I am passionate about working with high-risk youth so part of me wanted to focus on the clinical high-risk youth track, but another part of me wanted to learn the skills I would in the community track because they would be extremely beneficial to my ultimate career goals.  By the end of my first quarter, I had settled on the clinical track because I want to have a clinical internship (specifically school social work) next year and not a community internship.

Throughout this whole decision process, I had also been considering participating in the animal-assisted therapy certificate.  This past week, GSSW provided information sessions on the different certificates so I decided to attend the animal-assisted session.  Even though I thought it was definitely something I wanted to do, I found that I was in it for the wrong reasons.  I think that involving animals in therapeutic programs is a really interesting concept.  The classes required for the certificate are very focused on the science behind animal-assisted therapy and it just isn’t something I’m interested in learning about.

I have been working with a family at my internship this year that has dealt with a lot of trauma and it has become a passion of mine, so I also decided to attend the information session on the interpersonal trauma certificate.  After listening to the director of the program talk about the certificate, I immediately knew it was something I wanted to do.  In order to complete the certificate, your second year field placement needs to be focused on working with clients who have experienced some kind of trauma.  I have decided that I really want to try out school social work next year and, luckily, it looks like there are plenty of school sites that offer trauma related social work internships.  So, I decided that when I grow up, I want to be a school social worker focusing on interpersonal trauma!

To all of you who are still undecided about what you want to concentrate your studies on, please don’t worry about it!!  Your first year at GSSW is all about figuring out who you are and what you are passionate about, so enjoy every second of it and take advantage of all of the learning opportunities you can.  I promise you will figure it out (even if it changes every week for your entire first year)!!

Clinical, Families and Everything in Between

It’s track selection time here at GSSW.  You choose a track before you begin coursework if you are an Advanced Standing student, and before 2nd year if you are a two year student.  “Track” refers to whether you will study Community or Clinical practice and specializations within the clinical track.

I’ve chosen to go down the Clinical Families track, intend to get a Trauma Certificate, participate in the Denver Family Institutes certificate program (if I am admitted) and dabble a bit in Adult and Late Life courses.  If I am admitted to DFI I hope to also work towards my LCSW and LMFT post-graduate.

Choosing a track can be challenging but the beautiful thing about Social Work is that choosing a track does NOT limited your career opportunities in the future and many people cross back and forth between clinical and community work throughout their careers.