As cliché as it sounds, the first year of my graduate program flew by. It seems like such a short time ago that I was looking around the room during the first days of Foundations wondering which of the faces around me would become new friends (the answer: all of them). Though not without its challenges, this has been one of the best years of my life.
After consulting with students in other graduate programs, I have learned how very unique my experience has been as a Master’s of Social Work student. In this environment, we are not only studying subject matter; we are examining ourselves. In every class I have taken, the students have been asked to look within so that truths about our passions, biases, assumptions, histories, values, beliefs, relationships, and goals will be revealed. As we practice introspection, we are also asked to listen attentively to the findings of those around us. What matters most to the classmate sitting next to me? What assumptions do I have about a peer who talks or dresses a certain way? What can I learn from the perspective of someone I have never spoken to before?
Another unique component of studying to be a social worker is the pervasive and, in my opinion, profound emphasis on self-care. I was recently the only social worker in a room of other students studying in fields such as medicine, biology, dentistry, and public health. When the leader asked who had ever been asked to practice self-care in their academic programs, I was the only person who raised a hand. When asked who knew what self-care was, I was again the only person to raise a hand. And yet, here at U of H, we are encouraged every day to take steps toward excellent self-care practices; we make self-care plans, we have other students offer suggestions, and, in my case, sometimes we suggest personalized plans to our significant others to increase the happiness of those around us.
I am so grateful to have learned what I have from this program so far not only because I’ve seen how much it has already benefited me on a professional level through my internship at Baylor College of Medicine, but also because I realize that these are skills I will need to keep me resilient in my personal life. To use one of the terms I’ve learned in the program, here’s a little bit of appropriate self-disclosure: this year, I’ve gotten engaged, received a prestigious fellowship, and learned that my mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Navigating the complex intricacies of joy, pain, excitement, and other combinations of overwhelming emotions in conjunction with classwork would be much more difficult without the values of the social work profession instilled within me. And now, strengthened by my own spirit as well as the support of the cohort and classmates I’ve grown so close to, I’ve emerged from my first year of the program: awakened, anxious, resilient, reassured. As I look forward to the next and final year of the MSW program, I cannot know what joys and challenges I will face academically and personally…but I can be empowered to confront each with openness and humility.