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Social Work students gain confidence at conference

Every March Saxion University in Enschede holds a conference to coincide with International Social Work day. Countries from across Europe are involved and this year we were again asked to attend to contribute by delivering some workshops. Five of our Social Work students are given the opportunity to take part in, both attending and delivering workshops.

Social Work students in the Netherlands

Students are invited to apply through the Go Abroad scheme, shortlisted and then interviewed before the final five are chosen to attend. We spoke to some of the students who went to the Netherlands to find out all about it.

“Not everyone was sure about going on the trip as we have things going on outside of university that we have to juggle too but Social Work tutors made it clear it was a once in a lifetime opportunity so we decided they had nothing to lose by going for it!

“We were given a budget from the Go Abroad scheme to cover our transport and hotel while we were away. In the end we paid some extra so that we could extend our trip and spend some time in Amsterdam too – and we were so glad we did! In the end the trip was a mixture of work and fun and even found ourselves somewhere for food and drinks in the evening that we ended up referring to as our ‘local’!

“During the week there were 14 different workshops on offer which dealt with equality and diversity as well as social justice. This year the theme of those workshops was tied into International Women’s Day, which also falls in March. It’s an international conference and lots of universities attended with some delivering workshops from places ranging from Essex to Denmark and Turkey.

“We delivered workshops on the Tuesday and Thursday. Our title was Women in Social Work – Practice in the UK. When we realised we had to deliver a presentation it was a bit worrying but we worked really well together and with the tutors who came on the trip to develop something we could deliver together. We talked as women about our life experience and journey to becoming social workers so far. We did a stereotyping exercise with our participants which involved statements about ourselves and assigning labels to according which person they thought belonged to which. Talking about our identities as women in social work we ended up talking about very personal aspects of ourselves, including things like mental illness, dyslexia and abuse.

“It was hard at times – almost like therapy. It was also exhausting after we’d been talking about something so personal all day. But we were so glad to know the audience had found us so open and transparent as that’s one of the social work values. It was also quite moving to learn about each other’s journeys and it brought us closer together as a group.

“We also did a privilege exercise where we looked at how society viewed us and how we viewed ourselves to consider our identities and society’s stereotypes. It reinforced the idea that you have to go into social work with no preconceived ideas about people. If you meet a service user with pre-judgments then it may impact on the kind of support you offer to someone.

Noreen, one of the students who went on the trip to the Netherlands

“When we weren’t delivering our own workshops we went to some fantastic workshops which really reinforced to us the idea of multi-agency working. We went to workshops that looked a human trafficking, modern day slavery and sex work.

“The human trafficking and modern day slavery workshop was really interesting as we found out more about as we weren’t entirely clear about the difference between the two. It was really moving. The girls are sold an idea of freedom but arrive and are told they owe money. They are trafficked from Nigeria and surrounding areas and often gang-raped during their journey through the Middle East to their final destination in Europe.

“The workshop also covered race and how it might be different if the girls being trafficked were white as there may be more of a social outcry. It was heavy going material but also really inspirational and interesting.

“We also went to a workshop delivered by Danish academics titled women’s Rights in Denmark from the Perspective of Prostitutes and How to Ensure they Don’t Leave Prostitution. When we asked why they want to ensure prostitutes stay in the sex trade we were told it’s the reverse psychology angle they use; if they can work out what keeps people working in the sex trade then they might be able to think of solutions to get people out of it. We looked at comparisons between Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands. We spoke to someone from the Netherlands about the fact prostitution is legal in her country and she said it is people from outside the country who come in to do it and it’s only really prevalent and visible in Amsterdam. It was really interesting to see things from a different perspective.

Amsterdam at night

“As we’d decided to extend our trip to see Amsterdam, we ended up seeing the Red Light District for the first time after we’d been to the workshop. It made us wonder about how free the women were and whether they were there by choice. You can’t judge though as you do have to look at things from different perspectives. We found out that the Dutch government takes taxes from the women and we wondered whether they actually care about the women or if they’re just happy to take the tax money. It was a very eye-opening experience!

“We all felt the trip was absolutely worthwhile. Most of us are chatty people anyway but we weren’t confident about standing up in front of a large group of people. We realised that before starting our Social Work course we wouldn’t have taken on this kind of challenge so we’re all growing in confidence. We’ve also been able to reflect on our communication abilities in our own social work practice. It’s nerve-wracking to stand up and talk to people you don’t know but we were talking about ourselves so it helped to make us more comfortable to deliver our workshops. It has really opened our eyes to other opportunities and empowered us in terms of our confidence, communication and networking abilities. We enjoyed it so much we’ll be arranging a reunion visit to the Netherlands!

“Our advice is that people shouldn’t put themselves in a box and say what they can and can’t do, which is what we tended to do before being encouraged to apply to go on this trip. On this occasion no men applied but all are welcome! We’ve drawn on strengths we didn’t know we had brought together our knowledge and develop communication skills."

Social Work student

Why Social Work?

We spoke to first-year students, Jess, to find out why Social Work is a great choice.

Jess's 10 reasons