All stories have to start somewhere. My story as a social worker started back in 2007 when I joined Bachelors in Social Work program. Starting out on a new career path was exciting, challenging, thought-provoking and at times daunting. Reflecting upon my first year, it was not very different from yours. Adjusting to my fresh role as a social worker and being in an unfamiliar setting and working with unfamiliar groups was really exhausting; but, at the same time, there was so much to learn and to process.
Unlike what people may tell you, social work is a demanding profession. As social workers, we need to understand and respond to a myriad of political, social, interpersonal, and intrapersonal forces that affect the people we serve. For this, fieldwork is the heart of social work education. As a student of social work myself, fieldwork has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Not only does it really help in understanding what social work is all about, the kind of exposure that you get as a student is unparalleled. And, one of the major foci of a student is not only in gaining a learning experience but also in understanding what you can do and cannot do, your capabilities and drawbacks, strengths and weaknesses and hence, most importantly, your areas of growth.
Three years ago, I began my academic career as a social work lecturer and field work supervisor. Drawing from my experiences as a student, social worker, field supervisor and lecturer, I have been able to comprehend all sides of the field experience. I have learnt many valuable lessons, and I want to share them with you.
1. One of the important lessons I learned was that it’s okay not to have all the answers. During my first internship, I co-facilitated a session titled ‘Building Resilience among the children who are the victims of violence, conflict and natural disaster’. As you all know by now such sessions are very interactive and participatory and you can be asked any question in the midst. So the thought of not being able to answer the questions if asked was terrifying – no one likes the feeling of not being in control.
I went hoping and praying not to be asked questions that I couldn’t respond to. But then I realized that I was an intern and I was there to learn. A good social worker is not someone who provides all the answers but rather finds answers with the clients.
2. The importance of relationship: I have been telling you this almost every time that you need to maintain a good rapport (healthy and professional) with your client. But it is equally important to have good relationships with your co-trainees (senior, junior or your classmate), your supervisors and with the organization you are placed at. During the initial days of field work, I relied on the expertise of my seniors who taught me the ropes and supported me when I struggled. Many of you have seniors to guide you. And seniors, you need to be a mentor to your juniors and always work in collaboration.
In every field placement, remember you are meeting potential future employers. So it’s important to make a good impression and network with all the organizations you work with. Also take this as an opportunity to build as many quality relationships in your fieldwork as possible.
Finally, your relationship with your college supervisor is also crucial. Honestly, the continuous feedback from my supervisors cum mentors helped me develop both personally and professionally. It was through this constant interaction that I was able to develop my learning objectives, identify my role as a social worker in every setting and the skills I had to acquire through the field work.
These relationships are a source of both support and challenge for you throughout your career. Make sure you maintain a sound relationship with everyone and benefit from their knowledge and expertise.
3. Honesty: As a social worker, it’s very important to be true to your profession and to your clients. For that you have to be honest to yourself first. While going through your field work journals, I have found so many of you replicating your friend’s journal. I never did that because I always enjoyed writing the journals. Don’t take journal as a burden but enjoy it and use it as an effective tool to reflect upon yourself and the internship experience. You will discover so many different facets of yourself that you didn’t even know existed as you start jotting down your experiences.
Be honest and do not hesitate to ask questions to your supervisor when you are struggling with something.
4. Take Initiative: Just like all of you, I got an opportunity to work at three different organizations during my fieldwork. Believe me, while in my second year, the organization where I was placed had trainees from eight different colleges. Rather than relying on the work assigned by the organization, the two other co-trainees and I initiated a lot of programs (National level seminar on child rights, inter-school debate competition to collect funds for the seminar, first cultural program collaborating all the 14 drop-in centers run by the organization, etc.). These experiences may not have enhanced certain skills but we stood out among the volunteer groups.
Thus, it’s when you take initiative that you challenge yourself and develop. I have heard many of you complaining how the organization only provides you mediocre jobs and that your field work is neither fruitful nor productive. Some of you are even frustrated that you are not getting enough direction or attention from your agency supervisors. I was really amazed when most of you shared you had nothing to do in your organization. Having nothing to do is in itself the beginning of endless possibilities. You have the time to imagine, plan and work out everything that needs to be done! It could be a time to start initiating activities and projects on your own. Through effective initiatives, you not only develop your skills but will also enrich your professional portfolio.
Challenge yourself in doing something you have never done before.
5. Ask Questions: Never be afraid to ask questions and step out of your comfort zone.
Every field placement is providing you an opportunity to learn what it actually means to be a social worker. Take this opportunity and make the most of your fieldwork experience. Be a proud social worker.
As social workers, our jobs depend on personal relationships. I have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know many different kinds of individuals in my short career span. It is interesting to reflect upon the fact that human nature boils down mostly to three kinds though – people who will passively wait on the side of the road for someone to clear the path for them, people who will yell and complain and even feel entitled that the road should be cleared for them and people who will roll up their sleeves, get down to work and clear the road themselves. The legacy that you wish to leave behind is upto you. After all, we have the famous social work rhetoric ‘If not I, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?”