When I began my social work degree, I don’t think I really expected the epic journey of personal growth and development that lay ahead. Social work appealed to me as I am passionate about working with people facing adversity and in need of professional support. At 37 years old, having worked full-time since the age of 18, I feared that I was too old to re-skill and commit to a 3 year university degree. I always found excuses, “my children are too young, “I’m too old”, “how will I fit in?”, “what do I do with all my work clothes?”….my excuses were endless!….Thinking back, they were actually a test run for the excuses I now have to think of when I haven’t done my pre-reading before a lecture! Joking aside, with the support and encouragement of my family and the prospect of receiving student discounts for 3 years, I finally took the plunge and started my social work degree in 2015!
It was immediately evident to me, that the University of York was an excellent choice for my studies, as quite early on in my course I was impressed by my lecturers’ commitment and passion not only for teaching, but for equipping their social work students with skills to engage with people at some of the most complex and challenging periods of life. Considering my last experience of full-time education was over 20 years ago, university was indeed a culture shock for me. I found the university academic staff relaxed, welcoming and approachable. I must admit though, referring to lecturers by their first names did take some getting use to. I kept chuckling to myself in the first couple of weeks of university, lecturers probably thought I was either really happy or really strange. As daft as this sounds, I had flash backs of myself as a cheeky teenager at secondary school, casually chatting about my teachers by their first names with my friends…”Would you believe David gave me detention?”, “ooh Linda is in a horrible mood today!” of course all this was done behind the teachers’ backs, and at that time was not only hilarious to me but was also my idea of rebellion against authority. Fast-forward 20 years later and here I am finally allowed to do what was previously forbidden!
I got a taste the real world of social work very early on in the course. Lecturers have a vast array of knowledge and experience to not only educate students, but often provide thought-provoking topics for discussion and talks from various professionals and people who use social services. I am comforted by the level of support I am afforded. My support network is wide-ranging consisting of family, friends, lecturers, supervisors, classmates and university support services who are all integral to my education as well as colleagues and service-users I work with on placement. Hey! even my husband is learning a thing or two through helping me with my revision, he may not admit it, but I am sure aspects of attachment theory and models of reflection will come in handy some day.
I am now in my second year and my how time flies! I am currently on my first practice placement in the area of drug and alcohol misuse. To say that I am enjoying my placement is an understatement. This is my first experience of direct intervention with people in crisis. I am particularly interested in adult mental health social work, this interest has been peaked further by my experiences on placement. I see first-hand, the widespread impact of addiction and I am humbled by the sheer determination people have in changing their lives around for the better.
While I am at it, let me dispel a myth about social work practice. Contrary to what others may think, working with people who face adversity can be hugely enjoyable. Between university workshops and my practice placement I have met and interacted with service-users who are for the most part clever, heroic, witty and quirky despite facing challenging life situations. Don’t’ get me wrong, social work is not a sugar-coated subject area, issues explored during lectures and within practice placement can be challenging and in some cases have personal resonance. Consequently, I have learned so much about myself during the past year, one thing is certain, this course has made me more self-aware and resilient.
I am proud to be a student social worker. Despite my inexperience, I have been welcomed with open arms by professionals on placement and service-users, who continue to be an inspiration to me in my quest for knowledge and experience. It gives me great pleasure to know that as a student, I still have the capacity to make a difference. I believe that finally having the confidence to follow my passion, despite my delay in starting this journey, is key to my rewarding university experience thus far.
So if like me you are still contemplating whether to take the plunge, my advice is to Jump! Jump! Jump!….After all, it takes a VERY special person, despite society’s lack of understanding about the social work profession, to commit to extensive study in this field. So far, the University of York has provided me with two things. Firstly, sound academic knowledge for good social work practice and secondly, through my practice placement the innate, subtle knowledge and experience that can only be obtained by spending time, talking to and working with people from all walks of life.
Finally, university is not only about academia is it? Who says mature students can’t join in and have fun? Wait until you hear about the other great opportunities and activities I have been involved in. Yes me! I have not only taken the plunge, I have swum a length or two…..I hope to share my thoughts, experiences as well as offer handy tips and advice for navigating university life through my blogs!