Internship Field: Social Work
Duration: January — March 2006
Description: "I worked for the majority of my internship in a counseled group living situation for men with one or more of the following problems: homelessness, drug addiction, psychotic problems, experiences with prostituting themselves, hygiene issues, inability to hold onto money, etc. My duties included observing the counselor work, and undertaking various activities with the clients. Due to the fact that I am not a native German speaker nor a qualified German social worker, I could not help the counselor with phone calls, writing reports, nor official counseling of the clients, but in all cases I was permitted to listen and watch and ask as many questions as I liked. All information was open to me to read and learn about. The counselor generously devoted many hours to answering my questions and explaining the social work system in Germany, Berlin specifically. I also learned a tremendous amount through simple observation of how she spoke with and advised the various clients.
In addition, I spent much of my time doing various activities with the clients. My tasks ranged widely. I often went shopping with the clients and led group breakfasts or helped them cook for the weekly group lunch. I would play games or paint with them for free time. I helped clean rooms, and accompanied them to the dentist or other important meetings. Every activity was an opportunity for the clients to learn (for example: shopping and breakfast included writing a shopping list, estimating the required amount of money, going shopping, preparing the breakfast, eating the breakfast together and chatting, cleaning up afterwards) and I was there to help them learn. I also learned a lot simply through the interaction with the clients.
Also, the counselor set up shadowing opportunities for me, so I often visited other social work organizations in Berlin to get a broader view of the work being done to help those in need. That was an excellent part of my internship because I was able to see how multi-faceted and yet interwoven the system here in Berlin is."
Comments: "The projects and responsibilities were worthwhile in the sense that they involved direct contact with the clients. As for the learning of new skills, that comes simply from having had the experience of working with the clients. For example: grocery shopping. I did not learn how to grocery shop but I got practice in teaching the clients what is important, step by step, in grocery shopping. And I had to hold a conversation with them there and back during which I practiced asking direct and personal questions, which of course they didn’t have to answer, but were intended to reflect my care for them and give me a deeper view into their thinking so that I could also help them along their path as effectively as possible. The simple experience of daily seeing, speaking with, and helping the clients learn was a valuable experience."
German language skills: "My improvement was oral. I don’t think I improved in written German at all (except for what comes from simply being able to think more in German), but I became much more fluent in speaking and understanding. To take advantage of this opportunity to improve your German you have to force yourself to always speak it and to hold conversations with the clients and the counselors. I also read a lot of things in German when I had down time. I also obviously developed a social worker’s vocabulary."
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