Author Archives: maxnguyen

Internship – by Bao Kong

As part of the Social Work Program, some of us were required to have an internship. I have been interning at a school called Colegio Williams De Cuernavaca in the fourth grade (a bilingual class in both Spanish and English). As we head into the last week of our internship, I was fortunate to have been able to partake in another student’s (Amanda) practicum. She has been interning at an organization called CGCIP. Twice a week, she has been participating in a traditional dance class in Santa Catarina. Our professor Lizz, a couple students, and I were invited to join her as we learned traditional Mexican dances from various states across Mexico (bailes regionales). The dance we learned involved long, beautiful traditional skirts that flowed effortlessly as we tried to find our way to coordinate and dance cohesively alongside the children and staff. Personally, I loved it! It was challenging but it was an honor to have been given the chance to be part of their community as we danced under the sunset.

As for my internship at Colegio Williams, it was my pleasure to have been part of such a well-rounded school. They focused their system on the best possible way to make sure that every student’s needs are meet. To physically be part of this powerful system, taught me more than just the basics of education. They put matters in areas that are often invisible in most systems, and made it a priority to broaden or narrow the perspective when needed to cultivate for their student’s growth. They have created a space for all to flourish in and I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to connect personally with the environment, staff, teachers, and most importantly the students. It is without a doubt that these students will be successful.

With all of my experiences here in Mexico, I have learned that I have a lot to learn and that is the most exciting part because my journey doesn’t stop here. What I have learned here won’t stop here, it won’t be the end of my learning as it will aid me in becoming the best possible version of myself in both my career and my personal actualization. That’s the beauty of education and these experiences will reside in me as I continue this journey.

New Beginnings in Mexico – by Saul Hernandez

Being in México has been one of the most influential experiences in my lifetime. I chose to study abroad in the “Social Work in a Latin American Context” for three reasons. One, obviously to study Social Work. It is amazing to see the differences between Méxican Social Work and Social Work from the U.S, especially as students. Sadly, students at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) didn’t get the chance to visit us this week. However, we had the honor of visiting their beautiful campus and to learn that their Social Work students  have to go through a four and a half year program with nine semesters. In the U.S on the other hand, we have four years with eight semesters of Social Work, assuming it is your first choice when entering a college or university. The way we have learned Social Work is interesting as well. In the U.S I have learned how to work with individuals, then groups and families, and then communities. It is the other way around in México. They work from a macro level and then to the individual and that is pretty amazing.

CGEE students and UNAM students pose for a picture

We traded interesting tales of our experience studying social work

Secondly, I came to better my spanish. As a  native spanish speaker there is still much to learn about my own language. Being in México has helped me practice and enhance my vocabulary. I spend my days talking to locals, staff at Casa Cemal, and practice in class. All of these experiences will help me be a better Social Worker and be able to communicate effectively with my neighborhood in Chicago, IL. Through my study abroad program, CGEE, I have been pushed to new heights and have been able to present in Spanish, interact to with guest speakers, and walk around town with no worries of not understanding anyone. Hearing the stories of  people of Cuernavaca has been inspiring for me. To be able to practice Spanish also means comprehending what others share. I am glad that this wonderful program has made this possible for me.

Saul and his Mexican family

My family in Mexico and I

Lastly and most importantly, I have had  the opportunity to visit my wonderful family who I have not seen in 16 years. I have been marking the days until I could meet my family. Nervous and excited I visited them one weekend and got to hear a lot of our family stories. It was just an amazing reunion.  I got to hear about their expectations of the future and one day coming to the U.S to visit family in Chicago. Experiencing México City was a new experience as I saw a new part of the “Mercado” (Market). There is a wide variety of cultural life form the murals, food, and the vibrant life of the people. My cousin showed me around and I fell in love with all.

Walking United “Caminando Unidos” – by Marlanea Heaven

This week, my Monday morning started with a bunch of hugs from a bunch of children. I was welcomed back to my internship, after a two week break for Semana Santa (Spring Break). I became part of the family that Caminando Unidos created in the beginning of March. It is a program that consists of children from ages one to eighteen years old who come from marginalized families that have been exposed to different forms of abuse, addictions, and violence.

Children at Caminando Unidos are participating in a group activity

We organize group activities for children

This particular week, I had the opportunity to be with the children and staff for four days out of the week day. I observed the attachments beginning to form and the progression in relationships beginning to get stronger. I began to reflect on my first few weeks of my cross-cultural experience at Caminando Unidos and how I let the language barrier really take control of my position as a social worker and as a mentor there. But this week was different. As an intern social worker, working in a Latin context, I have been able to overcome my obstacle and gain the confidence I needed in working in this specific environment. I sensed my transformation forming within myself and used that energy as a source of empowerment for the children. Activities this week consisted of a dental hygiene class and an agriculture class where we learned how to plant fruits, vegetables and some medicinal plants. We had a great deal of interaction games this week and also engaged in team building activities. Social work is always at work in Mexico from people with the title and without the title. The staff at Caminando Unidos provides a social welfare space for these children to gain educational knowledge to teach, learn and support one another. Their mission is to build a healthy development of the individual, followed by the family unit and expanding to the community.

We're teaching kids to plant trees

We teach kids to plant trees

Being able to be a part of such a heart-warming family has affected me personally in the relationships that I have created and in my process of becoming a social worker. I am now able to take these experiences back home with me and work towards improvement for the future with any other cross-cultural experience I encounter.

Why CGEE and Study abroad in Cuernavaca majoring in Social Work? – by Baoyia Kong

When you study abroad you never really know what to expect whether it’s your first, second, or third time you’ve traveled. It’s different for everyone and many have said that it’s beneficial for their own learning. Personally, I have never been more confident or as empowered as I have been here in México. As I take my studies to another country, I can feel my voice getting stronger as I see Mexico through my lens in spite of how it has been portrayed in the United States.

This video contains a short clip of three Social Work students (Chloe, Sam, and Marlanea) and Professor Lizz, who teaches Policy, Social Work with Groups and Family, and Field Seminar. Each student will talk about different aspects of the program.

Chloe is a student from St. Olaf University. She is currently in her junior year of her BSW and will share what her classes have been like in the first two months of her experiences in comparison to her classes in US.

As a student from Augsburg University and in her second practicum of her Junior year, Sam gives us a sneak peek of how her practicum has been in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Ending with Marleana who attends West Chester University in Pennsylvania, she expresses her experience on how Mexico has impacted her personally.

I hope you enjoy this video and continue to walk this journey with us! 

Positionality & Identity Abroad – A Critical Reflection – by Tony Hommerding

As the semester is coming to a close, there are innumerable discussions, experiences, and interpersonal interactions that will forever be in my heart as I finish up my social work degree while preparing to enter the profession. From the moment I stepped off the Delta flight to casually roaming the streets of Cuernavaca, there have been different occasions when I truly felt the feeling of being the “other” or conscientiously feeling profoundly different. However, during these experiences, I also have to admit that I wasn’t fully aware of the physical sensations or emotions in the moment. Thankfully, throughout the program, I have had the opportunity to reflect, analyze, and contextualize some of these experiences in classes, presentations, and discussions. I hope to effectively communicate some of these reflections throughout this blog post. I would also like to say that I am truly thankful for all the presenters, professors, and colleagues who have accompanied me along the way while invaluably contributing to this journey.

Social Work students in discussion with UNAM students

My friends and I are meeting our counterparts from UNAM

One very specific, influential example from my time here is reading Pilar Hernandez – Wolfe’s book, A Borderlands View on Latinos, Latin Americans, and Decolonization: Rethinking Mental Health. We use this book for our Groups & Families Practice course. Hernandez – Wolfe describes many different aspects of one’s identity, marginalization, oppression, and positionality that were quite foreign to me but also became invaluable throughout our time here in Mexico. She really digs into the construction of the “other” and how individuals can confront, influence, or impose it throughout society. I enjoy how she calls out liberal identity politics while delivering a call to action for those who experience different privileges to dismantle or confront the systems that may benefit themselves over others. Additionally, in one of our groups and family class sessions, we visually identified our privileges and non-privileges by using different colored sticky notes on our desk. Many different thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations came out of this activity while considering my own privileges and non-privileges. I was able to contextualize and reflect upon these different scenarios mentioned above while also acknowledging the ways I have inherited many unearned privileges. Thus, I hope to embody Hernandez – Wolfe’s call to action by realizing my own identity and positionality within the context of my future social work practice and as a global citizen to avoid perpetuating colonialism and the construction of the “other.”

CEMAL students and iHouse students

Our first day of meeting iHouse students. Together we would organize many meetings and sessions that focus on topics of race, privileges, and identities.

Finally, I do admittedly ask the question where do I go from here or what now? However, I find some comfort in holding all of these experiences, discussions, classes, interactions, and presentations in such a way that they will not only profoundly influence my social work practice but also the individuals I hope to work with in the future. Overall, my time here in Cuernavaca has really reframed identity, positionality, and cultural context to such an extent that will be invaluable moving forward to collaborate across differences with the hope of enacting positive, equitable change.

Power Shuffle – By Marlanea

During a group discussion this week on leadership and dynamics, an activity was facilitated around recognizing our privileges and rank within ourselves and in relation with our families. The activity was called “Power Shuffle” and its goal was to raise a liberation critical consciousness of our positionality. Doing these techniques allowed us to understand the impacts of marginalization, oppression, and exclusion that have affected each of our lives. This exercise personally impacted my own development and viewpoints on how I choose to identify and on what I choose to share or not share about my past/present. Being able to internalize and externalize how we felt to embrace our resilience, strengths, and capabilities is a great exercise to use in the field of social work.

Students' dicussion

Our Power Shuffle activity

As a future social worker, it is very important to know how to take the role as a leader. Being able to give direction and purpose, but also understanding with that privilege is our duty to empower others as well. During this week, I have observed and learned ways to build a comfortable space to enable and encourage others to share their stories and experiences. At my internship, Caminando Unidos, the staff and children had a group meeting to discuss any differences or instances that have occurred during the week. Sitting in a circle, each person says either a “congrats” or “critique” about someone aloud in order to give positive feedback and solve any issues. This provides a space for everyone in the program to handle conflict effectively and also accept compliments. This population is made up of children from ages one to twenty years old coming from families who have encountered violence in various forms and also addictions. As social workers, it is very important to acknowledge the diversity in clients, groups, and in cross-cultural settings. Both exercises are very effective and may have seemed simple to me at first, but really left a lasting impression on me and it is something I do not want to forget especially for my field of practice.