Lora Oh: My Path To Social Work
This guest post was written by guest writer, Lora Oh. Lora is a junior at New York University’s (NYU) Silver School of Social Work. She lives in Flushing, Queens, New York. I entered NYU’s College of Arts and Science in September 2013 with absolutely zero ideas on majors, ambitions, and basically how to go about this thing I called impending adulthood. I was dreading everything, but was also eager to find something to call my own. I took random classes and thought I had found an answer: art history. I took an incredible class on papal Rome, studying the lives and works of two prominent Italian artists: Michelangelo and Caravaggio. The class made me excited to go to school and led me to wonder about life outside of the city. Growing up in a lower middle-class, single mother household, there were no such things as vacations, excursions, or simply any moments to leave New York. Yet, simply realizing that my heart leapt for these paintings, frescoes, and sculptures meant so much to me. I had found a passion. Art meant so much to me because I loved the feeling of conversing with a piece of art. In it I found happiness, solace, refuge, and peace. Each person’s views on artwork are unique and can be contested. Those moments made things fun. I also loved transcending time and place through pieces and empathizing with different eras and artists. My second year, during the spring semester, I decided to study abroad in Florence, Italy. Money was tight, but we made it work. It all seemed like such a hassle, but I just had to be outside of the city. It simply did not make sense for me to learn about art and never go anywhere. But for the record, I acknowledge that New York has many amazing museums and galleries. The packing was taxing, and obtaining visas, a chore, but I was finally off to Italy. The experience? It was life changing. They were four months of absolute bliss. I learned about early Renaissance art with one of the best professors I had ever had the honor to know; traveled all around Italy; visited Ljubljana, Morocco, Paris, London, Brussels, and Amsterdam; and was fortunate enough to befriend some of the best people I will ever meet in my life. It was all too much to handle. It was more happiness than I could ever imagine. It was almost too good. I felt something in my stomach that I can now identify as privilege. I had wanted this experience so much and it was all really happening even if for only a short period of time. I felt so happy shopping on Champs Elysees, so happy watching shooting stars in the Sahara, so happy eating gelato after an enormous Florentine steak, and so happy to be away from home. I felt so happy with all of these indulgences; but this happiness felt wrong and I came to be ashamed of it. I am not saying that being happy is a crime, but I just couldn’t see my life in the same manner anymore. I felt incredibly sheltered and immobile, which is ironic because I looked like a jet-setter. I came back to New York, incredibly depressed because they were without a doubt the best four months of my life; but ultimately I came to the conclusion that I could not have a profession in the arts. I love art and will love art my whole life, but having a career in the field just didn’t match me. Am I saying that art is something only the rich can pursue? Am I saying that art professions are not wanting and are too indulgent? Of course not. I simply had a long overdue awakening. I finally found a conviction to stand by. I wanted not only to see the world, but also to change it. This awakening came at a time when everything was pointing toward social work. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression ever since I got to college. And I had an interesting encounter during my first year when I called a therapist and found out that he was a social worker. I thought it was strange that he wasn’t a psychologist or psychiatrist, and disregarded him because I had no idea what a social worker was. The words “social worker” eventually came up again, but on a more personal level. My cousin works with a nonprofit that advocates for Asian immigrants in New York City and works to reduce police brutality. He talked about social workers, and I thought to myself, “I remember that word!” How did the words “social worker” come up both in clinical and social justice settings? And how, after all this time, did I not know what “social worker” meant? Now I had to know. I took to the Internet and loved what I found. It was the helping profession. The global definition is that social work is a practice-based profession and academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. I didn’t even know it existed. But once I did, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was a profession in which I could make a difference. My cousin’s view on social workers was critical to say the least. When I asked about social work he said that it is a very underappreciated field and often the workers are overworked. I enrolled in classes in NYU’s Silver School of Social Work to see for myself. I didn’t even know NYU had a school for social work before then. I was ecstatic and thought to myself, “This is a sign.” The events following an idealistic girl thinking to herself, “this is a sign,” may scream disaster; but I can happily report that it was more of a continuous miracle. I couldn’t believe how great and insightful my professors were. I learned about how to interact with clients in nonjudgmental ways, how to regard everything with respect and tact, and surprisingly, I learned a lot about myself. I agreed with social activism but personally did not act; something I am learning to improve upon. I prided myself on my empathy, which definitely is a good thing in social work, but I also learned that it may be difficult for a client to receive that empathy authentically or if at all. And I learned that I loved learning about social work. It inspired me, motivated me, and changed me for the better. I became more socially conscious, more competent, more active, and more confident on how I approach my world. I chose social work because I saw myself transform into a person I liked. A person who could acknowledge privilege, the importance of activism, and self-improvement. I gained knowledge that would affect the world and influence individuals. I was able to break down the aesthetic barrier I cherished and obtain a more meaningful existence and a fuller life.