By Anna Johnson
I remember vividly the day I found out my field placement. For weeks after the start of the semester, I had been pondering the question of my placement. Would I be working in a school? Would I be working with older adults? At the time, I was interested in medical social work, so I dreamed of a placement in a hospital. As the weeks passed, though, I allowed myself to be in the uncertainty. As I started digging into my readings and assignments I realized that the best way to handle the uncertainty was to accept it whole-heartedly. Instead of trying to control it by holding on to one placement over another, I opened myself up to the possibilities it held.
This turned out to be a good tactic, because my placement was a complete surprise to me. One of the first things you learn in Foundations, by talking to your classmates about their placements, is that social workers can go just about anywhere. The vastness of placements in Houston is almost overwhelming. The field office lists over 100 partner agencies which provide field instruction, but the number of social service agencies in Houston must be even greater.
So, when I read the name of my field placement, the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services, my first thought was, “I need to Google this one.” After a little bit of research, I learned that the Alliance provides a range of services to refugees in Houston, including ESL, driver’s education, employment, financial assistance, and case management. They also have a translation program with over 70 languages, a tailoring shop, and an organic garden.
It was a lot to take in, but boy was I excited. I contacted my field instructor for a meeting, and continued to immerse myself in their website, hoping to learn as much as possible. Then the thought occurred to me: “Will it matter that I don’t speak any other languages?” It seems ridiculous now to be worried about this, but the week before my meeting with my field instructor, I dwelled on this thought. I thought back to my high school days of goofing off in French class, and cursed my decision to take German instead of Spanish in college. When I met with my field instructor, I voiced my concern, and immediately she assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem. Some of the clients speak English, and an interpreter can be arranged if needed.
I knew next to nothing about refugees when I started in October. Now, I can talk at length about where many of our refugee population come from, as well as the issues that refugees encounter when they arrive. If I had been closed off about my placement, stuck in the mindset that I couldn’t work with clients if I didn’t share their language or background, I never would have gained that knowledge and experience. Not only that, if I had remained closed off about the type of experience I wanted (i.e. clinical over macro), I never would have gotten the chance to explore macro work. As a student on the macro track now, I can say that my experiences in field were crucial in shaping my decision.
For prospective students who might be in my shoes next fall, I challenge you to stay with the feeling of uncertainty that you will inevitably encounter. Part of the joy in being a student is exploring possibilities and opening your mind to new ideas. Embrace the opportunity, and maximize your experience at the GCSW.