Photo: GCSW students, faculty, and staff on the steps of Swansea University
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.
Written by: Cassie, Ambassador Alumni