Graduate Student Internship Experience: Social Work Student at UConn Law’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic

My name is Paul Ezepchick I am a first year graduate student at the UConn School of Social Work with a focus in community organization. Over the summer I was offered a field placement at UConn Law School’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, to work with clients who have fled from persecution and are seeking asylum in the United States and with law students and supervising faculty members who are representing them. For someone who went to college for a degree in political science and is now going for a master in social work it immediately seemed like the perfect blend.
Now that I am halfway through my first year of graduate school as well as my internship at the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, I have had a chance to look back at the previous semester and this already great experience. Before my internship began I was looking forward to the opportunity to work with the law students. I have always contemplated going to law school in the future and this was a great chance to get a sneak peak at what it was like to be a law student without having the associated bills.
The Clinic has given me the opportunity to work in an incredibly diverse environment. The clients this past semester included a woman from Central America who fled due to years of horrific sexual abuse from a family member. Another client is a gay man who fears being deported to a country where he had only lived briefly as a child, where homophobia is rampant and violent attacks against gays and lesbians are common. While all of the Clinic’s clients share the same goal of seeking the right to remain in the United States rather than being deported to a country where they may face political, religious or ethnic persecution, the non-legal issues that they face are numerous and diverse. For example clients have had trouble in receiving medical care, finding transportation, and being reunited with their children. For someone that has gone into an MSW program with no particular preference as to what populations or issues that I wanted to work with, I have been given the chance to work on multiple issues at once. I have had to contend with both intrapersonal challenges of the clients as well as much larger community and policy issues that affect their daily lives. These challenges have given me a lot to think about as I continue my social work education and will certainly help to shape my future work in the profession. While I have learned so much about the challenges that asylum seekers and immigrants in general face when coming to the United States from our clients, I think the most valuable experience has been collaborating with students outside the social work professionLearning how to work with clients and with other social work professionals is one of the most important aspects of a social worker’s education, but learning how to work with other professionals outside of the field is just as integral. As the social work profession continues to branch out into non-traditional settings, especially in the field of human rights, learning how to not only work with but effectively communicate different ideas and concepts about the role of a social worker and how it fits into the overall mission and goals of the organization is critical to cross-professional work. By working with fellow students of a separate discipline I have been able to develop what I consider to be a good set of cross-professional skills. I believe that these skills will become invaluable as I continue to work in the social work profession, especially as a community organizer. Getting the opportunity to learn and develop these skills has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my field placement.

As we head into the spring semester here at UConn the Clinic has a new group of law students and clients seeking asylum. I am anxiously awaiting the new set of challenges this will present. A fellow MSW student is joining me this semester as a second social work intern, and I am looking forward to working together with her and the law students to expand the range of services available to asylum-seekers in Connecticut.