Going to college in a rural setting provided me with opportunities that I deeply value, but it was not able to develop me completely. I spent two summers doing social work internships in and around Decorah, IA and knew the community well. I had hit a point where I knew I needed a new and fresh environment that challenged me. The Chicago Center did just that. The city of Chicago is a classroom in itself, and this is what the Center believes. They provide you with the tools to be a successful student in your new home; working to expose you to the diversity and life that exists throughout every part of the city.
While I was here not only did I come to love the city; I also came to love the people that I shared the city with. Our floor was a group of students from six different colleges and universities that became one family. We made meals together, shared our experiences, and grew from one another. Living on a floor where they were an equal amounts of social workers and teachers provided for a learning environment in itself. We were able to see the city through each other’s perspectives, being challenged and growing in tandem. The location and apartment that the Chicago Center provides allows you to live comfortably and enjoy every part of the city. With a bus stop outside the building and “L” nearby you are able to take advantage of everything the city has to offer.
While in Chicago I was paired with an organization by the name of Chicago House. Chicago House works with HIV/AIDS through multiple means providing housing, counseling, employment, medial linkage, and support. During my time there I worked with the Prevention Team. Part of my job was to have conversations with and educate the LGBTQ community about HIV and sexual health. I would use geo-social apps to interact with the community and give options such as HIV testing, information on PrEP, and answer questions on sexual health. I also would do outreach events throughout Boystown at local bars and clubs; meeting the clients where they are at. During my semester at Chicago House I was challenged and supported with every step that I took.
Once a week you meet with your fellow classmates and have seminar. This is a time where you are able to process the past week and to look retrospectively at what you all learned. I loved my seminar experience. Being able to work with a staff that is not only knowledgeable, but cultivates passion is key foundation to the Center. You find yourself moving from casual conversations to thought provoking ideas and concepts that are taking place within the city. Working with and learning from the Chicago Center has been a key point of me becoming the social worker that I am today.
Now that I have moved away from Chicago and am done with college I have found a new life. I am currently living in Occupied East Jerusalem working at a school for the blind and visually impaired. I live in an Arab neighborhood north of the Old City. Living in a community that is diverse, like Chicago, provides me with a variety of different perspectives and narratives. Using the skills that I learned as a social work student I am able to grapple with the underling tensions that exist day to day. As an American living and working abroad I have been able to use the skills that I learned from the Chicago Center in my life here. With the self confidence that I was able to obtain by living in Chicago I feel more comfortable exploring the city and the diversity that exists here.
Reposted with permission from Chicago Center for Urban Life & Culture.