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Liz Zhang, MSW '17

  • Practice Method Concentration:

    Interpersonal Practice

  • Practice Area:

    Mental Health

  • Country:

    China

What prompted me to apply for Social Work?

After working many years in business, I became increasingly unhappy about my job and life in general. I started searching for a career change, an area that would align better with my personal values and I feel I want to devote the rest of my life to it. I had also extensive volunteer experiences and was always interested in psychology. Life took a turn when a family member was diagnosed with severe depression, which eventually prompted me to apply for School of Social Work, majoring interpersonal practice and mental health.

Michigan or other MSW programs?

I only applied for a few west coast schools and University of Michigan because Michigan’s No. 1 position. When I received the offer, I came to visit Michigan SSW in April, 2015. Compare to other two schools I visited, Michigan won my heart for following reasons:

  • It’s a big, independent school with a ton of resources dedicated to MSW students, such as student services, field placement, career services, class offerings... The Office of Student Services was very responsive. They connected me with an alumna in the bay area and arranged for me to have lunch with a current student and sit in a class during my visit. I really enjoyed the visit.
  • The faculty and student body is very diverse. I felt I can built a great network and learn a lot from people with different interests and from different backgrounds.
  • Even though it’s a big program, all classes are taught in small groups. The interactions with classmates and professors are great.
  • I was interested in a dual degree program. University of Michigan is the only one that would allow self-initiated dual degree programs. Not every school is as flexible. I eventually applied to and got in the Health Management and Policy program under School of Public Health, tailoring my own dual degree curriculum.
  • I found a group with whom I can run outdoor throughout the winter. Michigan winter is not that bad!  

Challenges & things helped

Everyone may face a different set of challenges, as someone who didn’t have a social work background and had a 10-year gap between undergraduate and graduate, here are mine:

  1. Lack of knowledge of the US systems, policies and social context. I couldn’t get through any reading without constantly going to Google/ Wikipedia. I felt totally overwhelmed and couldn’t participate the discussions in class.

    Things that helped:
     
    1. Dive into one or two topics that resonates with you. For example, I picked the Sanctuary City Policies as my policy research paper topic and got a solid understanding of the history of US immigration policy and immigrants effect on US society. This helped me to find my voice as a new immigrant in discussions related to immigration.
    2. Find people in and out of class to discuss and process current events. I gave a 3-minute pitch in my 504 class, ask one volunteer to stay after class and talk about different things with me another international student. That helped a lot.
    3. Talk about my frustration with peer international students. I learned I was not the only one that struggled. The encouragement from each other among international students was very helpful to survive the first semester.
       
  2. Getting used to the grad school schedule was tough, time management was a huge challenge for me. I was a slow reader and was super anxious throughout the first semester. That didn’t help.

    What helped:
     
    1. I signed up for the Ann Arbor full marathon. No matter how hectic life was, I stuck with a running routine with the group. Running 2~3 times a week kept me centered and helped me to keep my life structured.
    2. Build a master schedule of all due dates/exams. Keep updating the master schedule as well as a to-do list every week. Plan trips and other activities around.
    3. Again, talking to people about your feelings helped a lot.
    4. I also went through the Social Anxiety Group offered by CAPS.
       
  3. Find a sense of community was another challenge. After orientation week, everyone gets busy and reality sinks in. You feel so alone a lot of times.

    What helped:

    International student group self-support meetings and self-advocacy efforts. We all share one most salient identity, “international” and similar struggles. So, I started to organize biweekly meetings among international students. Initially, we just catch up, and share our struggles and frustrations. Then people start to encourage each other, and share coping strategies. Eventually, we felt strongly to bring systematic changes in the school so that next year’s international students would have better support and better experiences. That’s what we did. We sent a list of suggestions to relevant offices and met with stakeholders to demand for better support and resources from the school. Now the international student webinar, orientation, and coffee hours are a few of the changes resulted from our advocacy.

    Although at times, it seems this kind of advocacy added more work, it was all worth it. It was very empowering to find my own voice and stand up for our shared passion. Besides, the friendships we built along this journey are invaluable and will last a lifetime.

Significant experiences

For me there is not one piece of experience that stands out. There are a series of experiences that enabled me to reconcile my own, figure out my positions on key issues, and find the proper ways to express my positions and live out what I believe. I want to say this is a process of becoming an authentic social worker.

Words of wisdom

Reflection, reflection, reflection. Be vulnerable and be daring.

Utilize the resources.

Get involved.

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