Jack Caulder is an overseas student in his final year on the MA in Social Work. One of the big draws for our programme is that we are a highly international university and the Master’s qualification itself allows you to practice in many different countries. With that in mind, we wanted to see what he thought of the course and studying in Manchester from an international perspective…
When I first came to Manchester, the weather was definitely a shock! I’m from Charleston, South Carolina, where it’s always sunshine and beaches everywhere – I also lived in Spain for 3 years – so the idea of swapping sandals, shorts and tank tops for an umbrella was quite a difference! But when it came to it, I was so impressed on the interview day I knew it was for me.
Right from the off, all the lecturers and professors have been friendly and open; of course they are wicked smart, so they won’t baby you when it comes to getting to grips with theory and terminology – that’s up to you – but they will always try and bring you up to speed, even with things like Blackboard.
Weather aside, I really enjoy the University and the city in general, especially the way people treat each other. For instance, the treatment of the homeless community is better than what I’m accustomed to: there are lots of systems in place to help them get back on their feet, which as a social worker is something I really appreciate – the local BBC outlet even asked me for an American’s opinion on Brexit!
I am currently on placement, working with Manchester City Council‘s Transition Planning team, looking after 16-25 year-olds. Prior to adulthood, this involves doing assessments, preparation and research around someone’s case: when they turn 18 we then become leads on their case and arrange appropriate end of involvement and hand over to adult services.
I’ve been really lucky on this placement as I feel it has captured everything I thought being a social worker was about. On the one hand, it helps gain experience in filing DIDS (Deprivation of Liberty in a Domestic Setting), reviewing cases, as well as assessing and securing funding for a person’s various needs; on the other hand, this placement has also taught me how to lead on safeguarding and enabled me to learn about important policies like the Mental Capacity and Mental Health Acts in greater detail.
I’ve also gained an insight into the team as a wider part of the departments dealing with learning disabilities. As someone who is dyslexic, diagnosed with ADHD and on the autistic spectrum, whereas I might not be able to relate to a person’s physical condition, being able to empathise with certain mental hurdles has been really meaningful.
In terms of the support you receive, it obviously it depends on the placement, but even on my current one, I sat down beforehand with my academic advisor (AA), Dharmen Jeyasingnham, to discuss what he told me would likely be a very difficult placement: he has been absolutely fantastic throughout and helped me overcome many challenges, pastoral or otherwise, all the while remaining fair and professional – he embodies what I think of as a social worker – so they are a crucial.
The same goes for when you are the lead as well: they strike a perfect balance of autonomy and supervision; I’ve never had any issues with any of the staff and being able to be the lead on a case whilst feeling like you have someone watching over you from a good distance gives you the confidence to be independent.
The modules themselves are great and provide you with the basic principles for you to then go out really flesh them out and put into practice on placement. I would say that they really start to come into play in 2nd year when you start exploring Interventions, as well as strength-based and person-centred approaches, which has been a primary focus in my current placement.
On a personal note, I have taken pride in being somewhat of an informal, first point of contact for other international students on the course – mostly American, in truth, because although the US is so vast and has such a wide range of cultures from state-to-state, it’s still nice to have that sense of familiarity.
However, even beyond that, there are certain roadblocks that all international students encounter, like setting up a bank account and registering for a phone contract and so on. Being not only an international student but a 2nd year as well, I can play peer mentor and give them the kinds of information I would have wanted when I started.
Where relevant, I also recommend consulting the Disability Advisory and Support Service (DASS) if you find you are struggling. They can provide vital information and assistance, but you also need to be proactive about seeking out help and realistic about how much the University can do for you versus what you have to be responsible for – it’s all part of the independent learning experience. If I can do it then anyone can.