Parenting while Studying

 

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Written by Shay Ugoh

As I begin to type this, I am sitting in the car rider line, waiting for my second grader to get out of school. Being a part-time student, a part-time employee, and a full-time mom, I am the epitome of a non-traditional student. People are amazed every single time that I disclose that I have four children. Yep, you read that right… all four of those children in the photo above belong to me! My journey to “parenting while studying” started very early on in my college career. The path I took that landed me pregnant before I was even two years out of high school, is an entirely different blog topic, but nevertheless there I was. Pregnant. I found out on my nineteenth birthday. I dropped my full load of college courses, and worked as much as I could to save money for the baby. After about two years of single parenting, I realized that I needed to make education a priority so that I could secure a better future for my son. I started taking classes, while working full time, and raising a child. Three years later, I met my future husband, and before I knew it I had grown up, gotten married, and had three more children.

In the fall of 2013, I decided to go back to school once and for all to obtain my bachelor’s degree. When classes started my youngest child was only three weeks old. How did I survive that? One word, swing. She loved her baby swing so much that even when it broke and stopped swinging, she still slept in it.

kid-2

Three years later, I have my bachelor’s degree and am a second year graduate student. Every day I wake up around 7am. It doesn’t matter the day. Sunday-Saturday my little ones start to wake up around 7, somedays earlier, and even when my husband is home to make their breakfast, I still can’t sleep in because of the noise. I stay home with my three year old during the day while the older kids are at school. The most commonly asked question I get is, “When do you get your work done?” The answer is, “Whenever and wherever I can!” It is quite common for my daughter to be sitting right next to me as I do my schoolwork. Some days, she sits on my lap. On this day, she insisted on sitting on top of my book!

kid-3

Being a parent while being in college is extremely difficult, and it’s not something that I would recommend. However, my children push me to be a better student. They don’t hesitate to ask me how my day was at school, or what kind of grades I am getting.  We all work together to get things done around the house, and celebrate each other’s accomplishments in the classroom. My non-traditional student experiences may not be as fun or event-filled as those that join organizations and live in a dorm, but I will be forever grateful for my second chance, and for my “roommates” that I get to share my student life with.

Self- care sustains you longer!

The GCSW program has never failed to emphasize the need for self- care. In 2 of my classes, I was asked to write out my self- care plan and challenged to execute it. I was also part of a video which stringed together a few commentaries by GCSW students on how we got through year 1. It is no surprise that it was only through the execution of our self- care plan which got us through the tough year. Grad school is an uphill hike for anyone who takes it on, even those who are brilliant. We are stretched for time, for energy, for assignments and for class participation. And all those readings! On top of all this, we have to fulfill internship hours while some of us also work at the same time. So I chose to write about self- care because of how pertinent it is to keep our passion burning.

Time is our most important resource. How we spend our time and what we are occupied with primarily is what we have to consider. As I looked at the time management window (what is urgent and important, urgent and not important, not urgent and important and not urgent and not important), I realized that it was critical for me to have a list of my priorities and plan for the week. We tend to get too caught up with the mountain of things we need to do, not spreading it out according to its urgency and importance. Secondly, we all have a different perception of time. We tend to keep telling ourselves, “I have no time!”. Stress abounds when we think that we have too much to do and too little time. My strategy is to have a schedule of what I will do. When the course syllabus is released, all the due dates are input into my phone calendar and I have a clear weekly schedule on the assignments that are due and tests or readings that are required.  This helps me to stay on track with all that I need to do. Since my schedule is relatively fixed due to the internships and courses, I am also fully aware of the amount of free time I have. This is where I have to think about what the upcoming tasks are on my schedule and how I can plan something fun and relaxing. I have a list of activities which I like to do. My husband and I enjoy watching movies online and going to Miller outdoor theatre. We also have a strong support system within our local church community and often engage in hangouts with them. On Friday nights, we participate in the International Christian Fellowship at the University of Houston. Being International students, we wanted to be part of an international community in Houston too. We have made some solid friendships and also been on some retreats and camps with them. I also have a few close friends from the GCSW and we find time to enjoy what Houston has to offer. I love to dance and this is something I have committed to every Thursday night as part of my church dance team. Exercise helps me to keep fit and healthy, which in turn allows me to focus on all that I need to do. Traveling excites me and I’m always looking for a vacay! With all that I am committed to, I chose the activities which constitute part of my self- care plan. Everything else I can do will depend on my interests and in my desire to build relationships with people. It is thus, significantly important to ensure that we have a holistic, well rounded lifestyle which constitutes more than school. Social Work affects one deeply and intimately, with our core beings being shaken by the stories we hear, the barriers we see and the injustice we battle with. We talk about coping skills with our clients, it is thus important for us to cope with our tool bag of things we can use to manage. I like the usage of the DBT acronym, IMPROVE through the usage of Imagery, Meaning, Prayer, Relaxation, One thing at a time, Vacation, Encouragement.

In order to sustain in the long run, we need to take care of our body, soul, mind, spirit and ensure that we are taking care of ourselves first before we can take care of others.

Written by: Sujeeta E. Menon-Anand, 2nd year clinical student

Tales from Abroad

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Photo: GCSW students, faculty, and staff on the steps of Swansea University

Written by: Cassie

S’mae! (the Welsh equivalent of “Howdy!”) It has been a while since I posted, but, no, I was not left behind in the UK. I’ve just been especially busy the past few months working my way ever so close to graduation. Now that I’m back in the swing of things this semester, I wanted to share a little about what I learned and experienced during my study abroad trip this past spring.

To begin, we touched down in London and spent the first couple days just exploring. I embraced my status as a tourist by seeing the Crown Jewels, eating fish and chips by the Thames, and riding a double-decker bus. My favorite experience by far though was visiting Speaker’s Corner, a section of Hyde Park where people go to “get on their soapboxes.” Ladders have come to replace soapboxes, but impassioned speeches remain a staple. Crowds gather around to listen to the different speakers and even, sometimes, speak back to engage in heated discussion and debate. I enjoyed this sightseeing stop the most because I was able to hear about current events, like the refugee crisis, from a different country’s vantage point.

Our time in London wasn’t all fun and games, however. We were tasked with observing patterns of homelessness in the city, which provided a starting point for a comparative discussion between homeless services in Houston and London. And, two members of our group even had the opportunity to put their social work skills to use by helping someone in crisis on one of London’s bridges.

After London, we crossed the border into Wales to visit our home away from home: Swansea University. We were able to sit in on classes that were in session as well as attend private lectures by the talented faculty of the Department of Public Health, Policy, and Social Sciences. A highlight for many of us was an advocacy exercise facilitated by Professor Andrew Dunning. We were given a list of a variety of items (passport, cell phone, antique rug, family wedding dress, guitar, etc.) and asked to agree in small groups on the three items we would take with us in the wake of a natural disaster. Then, a representative of our group had to advocate on our behalf, and the representatives had to try to reach agreement on three items.

A lasting takeaway for me was that we must put aside our own personal agendas when serving as an advocate and instead focus on the needs of those we are representing. I was able to see this through the skillful advocacy of the Swansea students serving as representatives. SU has a concentration in advocacy and thus students receive specialized training. We were impressed by their skillfulness and understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of social policy. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from our peers across the pond.

We also did a bit of touring in Swansea. Local Gareth Davey, our amazing host and guide for the week, showed us around Swansea where we learned more about Dylan Thomas, Swansea’s famous son, as well as sampled traditional staples like Welsh cakes and laverbread at the local market. After a closing trip to the beautiful cliffs of the Gower Peninsula, it was time to head back to the familiar Houston heat and the GCSW. Back to reality, we closed the course with group presentations of our research comparing the practices and policies of the US and the UK in our various areas of interest.

As I said in my previous post, studying abroad in the UK was a long held dream of mine. When I tell people that I studied abroad in the spring, many do a double take; I suspect puzzling out how someone with a full-time job could manage such a thing. I’m glad to be able to introduce people to new possibilities, and I continue to be so grateful to the GCSW for the opportunity to make my dream come true.

 

My experiences in Hong Kong and China

by Heather Doyledaisy2208@hotmail.com
Posted February 19, 2010

Let me start by saying “ni hao.” I only learned a couple of Chinese words, but I had a blast on my trip!

I’m going to start and end this with the same sentence. If you ever have an opportunity to take a class abroad or an international field internship, don’t pass it up! I was fortunate enough to participate in a study abroad class to Hong Kong and China last summer. The class focused on comparing child welfare policies between China and the US. While in China I focused my interest on learning about children with disabilities, the stigmas placed on the children and their family, and the resources available to these families.

The first week of the trip we went to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong we attended an international social work conference (Promoting Harmony and Justice in a World of Conflict), hosted by the City University of Hong Kong. The conference featured many different professors from all over the world as well as several professors from UH. The GCSW’s own Dean Ira Colby was the key note speaker. I was also able to interact with social work students from Hong Kong and learn what their experiences are and how they are different from mine. While attending the conference in our free time, I was able to tour Hong Kong and experience some of the culture. I traveled around Hong Kong using their many different transportation systems. While in Hong Kong I visited Hong Kong Island, Victoria Peak, Aberdeen fishing village, Stanley Market, and Repulse Bay.

We then flew to China and landed in Beijing. In Beijing we visited the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square and learned the history surrounding it. We also visited the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the 2008 Olympic Village, and Ming Tombs Museum. My favorite place we visited in Beijing was the Great Wall. This was an experience I will never forget. We also went to Xian, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai while in China.

Throughout the week in China we visited several agencies. One that stood out to me was the mental hospital we were able to tour. We had to get special permission to tour the hospital. It was interesting to see how the mental hospital was run due of the great stigma that is placed on mental health in China.

Overall, my experiences in Hong Kong and China were amazing and I am so happy I had the opportunity to be a part of a study abroad class. Emerging yourself in the culture is the best way to learn and gain a whole new perspective of what social work is about. If you ever have an opportunity to take a class abroad or an international field internship, don’t pass it up!

The best mentor I have ever had

By Shu

 

Finding a mentor in graduate school is extremely important for both MSW and PhD students. When you are confused and struggling, a mentor who knows you well can offer individualized and constructive advice to help you make well-informed decisions about important aspects of your academic life, like coursework, internships, volunteering and career planning. Their generous and honest sharing of the unspoken rules of graduate school can save you tons of time and unnecessary stress. Along your academic journey, mentors can also act your graduate school skills coach, facilitating your development in areas, such as time management, work-life balance, team work, personal growth, professional networking and self-care. Then, when you succeed in your endeavors, your mentor will also be the first to celebrate your accomplishments and encourage you to set even higher goals for yourself!

It is not always easy to find a good mentor due to factors such as willingness, availability, compatibility, and personal and professional styles. It is an amazing feeling when you find someone who is a good fit for you because you know who you can go to for just about any question. I find that I feel refreshed and relaxed after every single conversation with my mentor; I always leave the room with clearer thoughts and better solutions to my problems.

While mentors are essential for students who seek advice, an excellent mentor can play many additional roles. In my experience, my mentor has been my supervisor, professor, advisor, and friend as well, changing the course of my life as doctoral student. Over the past 2 years in the PhD program, I have been fortunate to have Dr. Monit Cheung as not only my mentor, but as the best mentor I have ever had. She has played so many important roles during my time here at GCSW and abroad. I am grateful that we chose each other for my PhD journey.

As a supervisor, she has been extremely understanding and patient with students like me, who have only had limited previous research experiences. Rather than being surprised or disappointed, she has trained me during every step and has allowed me time to learn and adjust. She has tried her best to maximize my growth as a student under her mentorship. When I was having trouble with my school-related finance, she cared about my struggling and helped following up on my payroll.

As a professor, Dr. Cheung has spent an unbelievable amount of time preparing her class lectures, and consistently updating her course syllabi and teaching materials. She encourages us to engage in college events such as faculty candidate interviews to support the college and learn from the experiences.

As an advisor, she has made herself available to me almost 24/7. In addition to our weekly face-to-face meeting, she replies to my emails very quickly, even when she is abroad. Her availability is very impressive and extremely helpful. She always respects me and my time, and arrives on time for our appointments. When she has very rarely been late, she informs me as early as she can, with detailed explanation and sincere apology. Though she is a full professor, she never acts as though her time is worth more than mine.

As a mentor, Dr. Cheung has advised me on a wide range of problems in my personal and professional life. She has spent her valuable time listening to me, showing sincere empathy, and offering practical advice. In addition, she and her family have generously prepared a lot of delicious free food at the college events and at their home parties. I couldn’t remember how many leftovers I have taken from these events to feed myself and my family. They all have helped to make ends meet on a tight student budget.

As a friend, she has shared her life stories and lessons with me. Her experiences have inspired me and I have learned so much from her wisdom. When my parents came to visit me from China, Dr. Cheung and her family took them out for lunch. My parents were impressed and touched by her thoughtful care for me. They left the U.S. happily with huge gratitude for Dr. Cheung and her family.

I have been in the U.S. for 7 years as an international student. I always want to go back to China and I have already started the count down. However, among the happy expectations for finally returning home, one piece of my heart feels sad. I know that sadness is connected to my relationship with Dr. Cheung, who is always my go-to person. I am so used to contacting her at any time for anything that I need help, and she is always available and helpful. I cannot imagine my post-graduation life without seeing her every week.

Dr. Cheung is my role model (although I don’t skip on sleep and food as much as she does!) and the light of my PhD life. I will be forever grateful for all of her love, advice, and contributions in every single aspect of my life!

How do I live a creative life?

 

By Maurya

While waiting to meet with one of my children’s teachers, I gazed at three windows that adorned the top of a 15 foot wall of the school foyer. I watched a cloud slowly pass one window, and then another. I impatiently waited for it to pass the third window, and when it did not spread fast enough; I leaned to the right to capture its essence from the second window.  Oh, how nice it would have been had I had my 35 mm camera so that I could have captured those few minutes of serenity in a photograph.

Photography allows me to capture images such as these and has become a part of my commitment to living creatively. In fact, photography has become a huge component of my self-care. Yes, self-care, self-care, self- care! We hear about it in our social work programs, licensure supervision and our continuing education training, but do we really know how to practice self-care by living creative lives? For many of us, there is little time within our daily cycle because of the imbalance of being plagued with immediate, instantaneous, “I needed that yesterday” within our technology-driven world. So in these instances, like my three minute wait for the teacher, I relish in the opportunity to have a moment of visual creativity.

Admittedly, I was tempted to pull my camera phone out and take some pictures and to even create a collage. I restrained myself and breathed in the moisture of those curvaceous cotton ball puffs, and I exhaled the vapors of each droplet. I imagined I was seeing the mountains of Mount Rushmore or the bimodal peaks of Blueridge, GA. I fantasized about being a girl again; lying in the soft grass and gazing up into a sky filled with …“Mrs. Glaude?” called the teacher. “Yes.”

My fantasy was quickly interrupted, and I was off to another obligation in the daily maze of “things to do.” It’s because of this maze that I encourage balance and the prioritization of creative self-care. This meeting was just one of many amidst my own part-time work and full-time doctoral studies. So you might wonder how I incorporate time for living a creative life. I have avowed to make creativity a priority. I take time to craft, paint and take photographs about once a month. And when I sign up for something at the kids’ schools, I strategically sign up for tasks like assembling the classroom auction basket because this allows me to use my creativity and have a quiet presence at the school. Yet, there are times when I am not feeling so artistic, and in these instances, I have to be even more creative!

I recently completed my qualifying exam, and near the end, I was stomped, braindead, drained and fatigued. So, I took a leap of courage and went to the city that makes me feel rejuvenated and refreshed – New Orleans.  NOLA is where I became engaged and married and this spunky city is also where I completed my MSW, became a mother to my two wonderful kids and survived four major hurricanes! The aroma of the mighty Mississippi gives me life! So, while sitting in my French Quarter hotel room, I typed and typed away at my qualifying exam. I only took breaks to eat. While I continued to mange (French for “eat”) at the local marketplace, I listened to amateur musicians and watched innovative artists of all kinds. This jazz town made me come to life! My three day trip was just what I needed to get my creative juices going again, and yes, I passed my exam!

We exert a great deal of energy – physical and emotional. Accordingly, there is a need to revive, rejuvenate and refresh! Therefore, we must find ways to be creative and to ensure self-care. Whether it’s gazing out the window and creating cloud animals, cooking a new meal, or even capturing images with a 35 mm. In small or big moments, I assert, we must access our creative selves.

To this end, I will suggest a few tasks. First, think of a couple of ways through which you show your creativity. Second, schedule an hour or so, once a month, bi-weekly or weekly to spend time doing one of these activities. Actually schedule an activity on your calendar in your phone! Third, find a “creativity accountability partner” and hold one another accountable to finish a project regularly (i.e. drawing, quilting, cooking, scrap booking, writing, blogging, song-writing, etc.). *Note: This will require you to unplug and put all work and “tech-no-ference” away so that you may experience creativity. I challenge you to rejuvenate and revive your creative self.  And, if you’re so inclined to really be daring, gaze out the window and watch the clouds make new shapes while you breathe in confidence, kindness and courage. Seize a moment of serene self-care and take in the creative greatness. “Carpe diem”!  beach

If I Could Leave You With One Social Work Superpower

Tiffany Photo       by Tiffany

As social work students, we become equipped with a wealth of knowledge and practical resources to help our clients. Attending the GCSW program is like attending a superhero convention where you stop at different booths to acquire superpowers for helping those in need. “Got anxiety? Here, try Mindfulness.” “Got depression? Here, try psychotherapy and Prozac.” “Homeless? Here’s a list of shelters in Houston you can try.” “Fighting against racial discrimination? Stop here to fill your empowerment belt!” When we leave class and enter into our field placement, though we sometimes wonder why our superpowers are not working.

I arrived at my first year internship eager to use the skills on my tool belt with the residents at Freedom Place, a residential treatment center for girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking. I was excited to teach the residents a weekly dance class, for example, but things didn’t go as planned when in week one I attempted to show them how to do a plie and a tondue. By the second week, almost all the girls were just sitting along the walls, watching me dance, requesting their own songs. I was a stranger, asking them to be vulnerable with their bodies by moving through space in ways they had never attempted.

When I was 15, a very wise woman sat across from me at a Barnes and Noble and gave me simple, life changing advice. I was in the midst of a spiritual transformation and wanted to share what God was doing in my life with my family and friends, but nobody seemed to be listening. She said, “Tiff, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” It’s a bit of a familiar phrase, but the trick is figuring out what caring looks like for a social worker. I thought I would be able “fix” my friends and their problems just by telling them about Jesus. I had one tool in my tool belt, and I only knew one way to use it—but each of my friends and family members had different concerns, perspectives, and needs. Caring for them would require learning about those differences, adopting a multitude of approaches, and, honestly, carrying a heavier tool belt.

Once I realized the residents weren’t digging my ballet techniques or Taylor Swift jazz routine, I asked—out of desperation—what they were wanting to learn. “Hey Miss! Can you do the Nae Nae?” From then on, I tried to choose music and dance genres that fit their interests, skill levels, and cultures. I showed them that I cared: I taught hip hop and salsa, I left out the plies, and I got more participation.

More often than not, if people are seeking services from a social worker, they are in need of help; they are in a vulnerable position, and helping them requires care. Our tone, rhetoric, body language and other nuances can determine whether they’ll return next week for their therapy session, or never seek out help again. Our knowledge of interventions and evidence-based treatments is moot if we do not first establish a therapeutic alliance. This process of building rapport begins during assessment. It’s not rocket science; it is simply having the eyes and ears to notice struggle, denial, pain and strengths in a person. It’s the difference between recording parents’ marital status on an intake form, and noticing how a girl’s eyes welled up when she whispered “divorced.” It’s pointing out an overlooked success: “Wow! It’s amazing you finished high school on time with two toddlers at home. Not many people are that dedicated to their education.” Building this therapeutic alliance continues throughout the treatment process.

But here’s what’s hard about it: social work is a helping profession where you constantly pour out your kindness, patience and resources and usually don’t get anything back. Our clients have been through hard places! In most social contexts, when we are personable and warm it is reciprocated. However, our clients are not our friends.  It is like inserting quarters in a gum ball machine but never seeing that sweet multi-colored ball come spiraling down. That’s not to say social work or therapy is not rewarding: in this past year I’ve experienced many fulfilling moments. However, we can not expect clients to reciprocate the warmth and empathy we give. We offer this part of ourselves not to get something in return, but to create a safe place for clients to receive the help they need without experiencing shame.

Psycho-education is an essential aspect to any treatment intervention, but if it is coming from a stranger’s mouth it will fall on deaf ears. Building rapport provides the soil for cognitive shifts to eventually take root.

Policy is Social Work

Andrea Photo     by Andrea

The world doesn’t know enough about our profession, except for that some us probably work for CPS. People have less of a clue that policy work is a huge part of social work’s mission and its values. In the NASW Code of Ethics there is even a section called “Social and Political Action” (6.04). As social workers it is our responsibility to “engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully” and “should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice” (NASW Code of Ethics 6.04).

Even if you plan to work in a micro setting, you still have the responsibility to advocate for your clients whether that will be to make efforts to expand Medicaid services in your state or talking to your local school district officials to make policies on hiring social workers so we can put an end to the school-to-prison pipeline. Whatever you have a passion for, I am sure there are policies that need to be improved or need to be implemented to help whatever cause you are passionate about. It is crucial to remember that policy is a part of social work!

Being politically engaged is critical tos our roles as social workers. Being politically engaged can vary in many ways, ranging from simply going to your local voting booth (very important) to running for office. Being engaged can also include: talking to your legislators, registering people to vote, tracking bills, watching debates, going to civic engagement events, doing policy research, writing policy briefs, bringing awareness to social issues, etc.

I have never been so involved (besides voting and keeping up with the media) until this past semester. Here are some highlights of my recent advocacy experience:

  • I went to several Policy Insiders events, where I got informed about current issues such as, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) and the Syrian Refugees arriving to the U.S.
  • I went to a workshop of how social workers can get political engaged, and I got tips on the process of running for office. This workshop got me thinking about running for office someday.
  • I followed the Houston Mayoral election and the Presidential Primaries election, which was the first primary I voted in.
  • I tagged along with UH GCSW, UHCL and UHD Social Work students to go visit the capital for Social Work Advocacy Day.
  • I talked to my district’s Texas State Senator, Sylvia Garcia, for the first time at the Texas Hispanic Senate Caucus’s Latino Summit (held at the GCSW) and I got to know her agenda for the upcoming legislation session.
  • For my Advanced Social Policy Analysis class, I wrote a policy brief about the gap of post-release services for unaccompanied minors and I have sent it to fellow congressmen and congresswomen that their district is a part of Harris County, which is the county that is receiving most of the unaccompanied minors.
  • Lastly, last week I attended the Policy 2.0 Conference at St. Louis. At this conference not only did I learn many new things about social policy, but I also got to present my policy research, which was a comparison analysis in between the American and Canadian immigration system in regards to their policies towards unaccompanied minors.

If you are unhappy with how the system is set up or that your current legislators don’t appropriately represent your community, stop complaining about who is at the policy-making table. Bring yourself to that table! Don’t wait to be invited because that is less likely happen. You don’t have to be in office to influence social change, although it would be great to have more social workers in public office. You can write letters to your legislators and meet with them. You can attend public meetings within your community. Just put yourself out there, so you can be political involved.

As a student, there are several opportunities to be politically engaged, especially when the UH GCSW offers these opportunities just a few steps away from your classroom. So what are you waiting for? Go out and be involved! Go do some political social work!

Eliz

 

What brought me to Houston from China?

Shu Zhou     by Shu

As an international student from China, it was hard for me to make the decision to  study abroad and leave my friends and family behind. It became even harder when I needed to choose a PhD program. I mean, wherever I chose is where I would stay for at least 4 or 5 years, and there are so many options! I travelled around the U.S. for campus interviews and visits, and sought advice from many of my PhD friends. After months of exhausted researching, my final decision was made in April 2014. While some other programs appeared attractive as well, Houston and the GCSW have a couple of strengths that are very important for me and my family.

  1. Funding: Most importantly, GCSW has Graduate Tuition Fellowship that can cover my coursework tuition. In addition, I was offered a research assistant position that provided a monthly stipend and President-PhD scholarship. On top of that, I had regarding say which professor I would work for. With the 6.5 currency exchange rate between Chinese Yuan and U.S. Dollars, I would not have been able to come here without the helpful financial package. Actually, I was surprised that international students are eligible for many of GCSW’s funding sources, just like domestic students. The flexible financial support not only brought me an educational opportunity, but also warmed and inspired me emotionally in the spirit of “borderless education.”
  2. Study Abroad: I have experienced huge personal and professional benefits from studying abroad in the U.S. I highly cherish the chance to explore more about the world, especially before I carry more family responsibilities like parenting. I was excited to know that GCSW leads many study abroad trips to a variety of countries and regions. For example, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Mexico, Turkey, Russia, Cuba and U.K. are recent study abroad options, and the list continues to grow. It is convenient that these study abroad courses are scheduled at different times throughout the semester and selectable for both MSW and PhD level students.
  3. Student Organizations: Student organizations are definitely an important part of my school life because loneliness is one of the biggest problems for international students. We face language challenges and culture barriers on a daily basis. As a prospective student back in 2014, I was aware that PhD cohorts tend to be comprised of a very small number of students. That made me value the role of student organizations in my PhD life even more. I was glad to learn that GCSW has many interesting student organizations that represent different academic, professional and cultural interests. For example, the Association of Asian American Social Workers, Hispanic Student Association, MACRO Student Organization and Clinical Leadership Society are a few popular student organizations at the GCSW. They actively promote professional and social activities among social work students. I desperately needed such opportunities to expand my social network and support system.
  4. Diversity-friendly: Another factor I considered when selecting a school was whether the university and the city are diversity-friendly. As a minority immigrant, I want to be safe and comfortable in the community where I stay. As a major port city, Houston is the most diverse city in the nation. It is amazing to me that over 90 languages are spoken here! When I was here briefly for my campus interview, I had the chance to meet and talk with professors and students from different cultural heritages. I felt accepted and welcomed. I knew I wouldn’t need to worry about being a “stranger” in public due to my race and appearance. The diversity of people and cultures also had another unexpected benefit: besides New York and California, Houston probably has the largest and best China Town in the U.S.! I absolutely enjoy their Asian supermarkets and restaurants with delicious authentic Chinese food.
  5. Opportunities: As a married student, I had to keep my spouse’s needs in mind and ease our family relocation as much as I could. When I was applying for a PhD program, my husband, who is also Chinese, was about to get his master of economics. We agreed that I would go to a place that could provide some good opportunities for him as well. Houston was a great choice for us because he didn’t need to decide if he will study or work at that point. Regarding PhD-level educational opportunities, there are many options such as UH, UH-Downtown, Rice, and Houston Baptist University. As for employment, oil industry companies and banks are all over the place. Our Chinese friends who work in Houston told us local companies welcome international employees, which was very important for us.
  6. Future Career: Since I want to return home to China after graduation, I evaluated how GCSW can help my future career in China. I met with some professors who originally came from China and learned that they had conducted numerous research projects about Asian and Asian-American populations. They had also collaborated with other Chinese professors and visiting scholars. Of course, they have maintained good relationships with different universities in China. Our conversations comforted me and assured that I would be able to continuously build up my professional network and research projects with their resources and support, instead of starting over after moving back to China. Meanwhile, I still needed to be prepared to work in the U.S. following graduation just in case. Following the suggestions of my PhD friends and with the help of Google and Facebook, I tracked down the current employment of some past PhD graduates of GCSW. Apparently, they were competitive in the job market, especially in the state of Texas. The search results gave me some hard evidence to prove the GCSW’s reputation and quality of education. My strong confidence in my future career began at that point, even before I actually started the PhD program.

It has been a long way from China to Houston, and my expectations are as high as my investments. As a 2nd year PhD student, I won’t lie and say that my first year here was perfect; growing always comes with pain. What I can say is that the primary needs of me and my family have been satisfied here. We appreciate the many wonderful strengths of Houston and the GCSW!

Study Abroad: Dreams Come True (for Part-Time Students, Too!)

cassie-photo-  by Cassie

Call me biased, but when I hear the phrase “study abroad,” I imagine unencumbered undergrads, able to relocate for months at a time. Not 30-something-full-time teachers, who are also in graduate school, with a host of other ongoing, local commitments. Fortunately, this March I will be able to challenge that image, for myself and others, as I join the GCSW for the Learning Abroad UK trip.

To study abroad in the UK has remained at the top of my “bucket list” for many years. As an undergraduate, I did not pursue a similar opportunity because I allowed my anxieties about leaving home and my fear of failure to override my better judgment, a decision I have regretted ever since.

Fast-forward a decade. Studying at the GCSW has helped me to identify the root of my primary professional goal: to facilitate challenging and meaningful conversations. As a LMSW, one setting in which I can see myself pursuing this goal is a hospice – facilitating more authentic and reflective conversations among family members and terminally ill clients as they prepare for their death.

So, this learning abroad trip to the UK will allow me not only to challenge my personal limitations but also to support my professional goal through visiting the birthplace of two large cultural shifts around death and dying; the first hospice and the first Death Café began there.

I’m grateful to the GCSW for helping one of my long held dreams to come true. The college is continually growing and revising itself to meet the needs of its students. To me, one reflection of this is offering brief study abroad options that allow even busy Weekend College students to participate. So, stay tuned. I look forward to posting an update on what I learned and experienced when I return!