It was my first day of grad school, and I walked with trepidation into a room of 30 strangers. Semi-strangers, I should say, as I’d met them a few months before in a summer advising meeting. But entering the room alone made the summer feel like years ago, and at 23 years old, I felt like I’d started my first day of high school. I’m relieved to say now that my nerves dissolved almost as quickly as they’d arrived, and in no time at all, I felt completely at ease with these people. The cohort model of the foundation semester meant that each of my classes would include the same 30 people for the next four months. I appreciated this immensely, because it allowed me to make genuine bonds, and to have a built-in support system for the first semester of grad school.
Here now, I will attempt the near impossible, which is to adequately describe the privilege of being in a room of people that feel and think like you. As with any group of graduate students, there is, of course, a vast array of interests and values. But at each of our cores is a strong and unwavering desire to help people. Incredibly divergent life experiences somehow led us to the same program at the same time in our lives. I remember telling friends I had known for years that I was going to school to become a social worker. The conversation usually followed like this “A social worker? Why?” Or a rude, “So, you’ll take people’s kids from them?” They just didn’t get it. But not here– this place was different. It was filled with an inherent sense of understanding of why being a social worker was important. In my classes, we talked about issues significant to the world, and to me. We went around the room and shared what brought us to social work, and what we hoped to do with our Master’s degree. It was fascinating, and I came to school each week inspired to learn more about the profession and the people I was spending so much time with.
The foundation semester is far from a typical stale learning environment. We learned through simulations, class discussions, online postings, research posters and presentations, reading articles, and in-class vignettes. This was completely different than what I was used to from my undergraduate courses- the standard 45 minute lecture, complete with hand-numbing note taking. The learning experiences I had through these new methods were rich breaths of fresh air.
A part of the program I felt I was profoundly unprepared for was the field practicum. When I first started my internship at Baylor Community Programs, I kept looking around, as if waiting for someone to confirm that I was indeed miserably unqualified for this. After a few weeks of working with the students in my placement, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be a part of this program where practice and experiential learning came first. The actual hands-on practice we get as interns in a field setting is terrifying, exhilarating, humbling, and wonderfully fulfilling. I have learned to understand and develop my strengths, and become aware and thoughtful about my weaknesses. It has been a truly amazing experience so far.
I am now officially in my second semester of classes, and I miss being in that first semester where everything was new and unknown. It went by in a flash, and I feel like I’m just now stopping to appreciate it.
My first semester as a grad student was nothing short of future-defining, and I can’t wait to see what the next four months will hold.