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Summer Institute Week 5: The most wonderful group of strangers

In our final blog from the Summer Institute, Adam reflects on his first five weeks as a participant on the 2018 Cohort of the Frontline programme.

Excitement and privilege.

Of all of the thoughts and feelings competing for my attention as I arrived for the Summer Institute, these were at the forefront of my mind. Excitement to get back to studying (now that my undergraduate degree is but a distant memory) and privilege, as I’m aware how competitive places are to be on the Frontline programme.

Concerns were also never far, though these melted away shortly after meeting other members of the cohort. They are diverse in experience and background, yet united in a common purpose. They create an infectious buzz around the campus. Whether through a contribution in a lecture on an extremely difficult topic or singing their heart out at karaoke, one thing strikes you sooner or later at the Summer Institute: that you are surrounded by the most wonderful group of strangers.

It’s difficult to pin down how five weeks at the Summer Institute has changed me in a couple of paragraphs, because it is hard to know where to begin. Whilst on the one hand I feel much more knowledgeable than before I arrived, it’s also apparent that we’ve scratched the very tip of the iceberg of social work and I look forward to deepening my understanding, not just throughout the programme but also beyond it.

Perhaps the greater impact isn’t in the content we are taught, but techniques we are taught on how to think: how to remain curious and open yet vigilant, how to truly reserve judgement and how to broach topics of discussion that may be a cause of distress for the person you are talking to. However, just as with the content, whilst I have certainly developed, I’m also more conscious of how much I don’t know, which it is my responsibility to learn.

I hope I don’t do any of the teaching staff a disservice when I say, however, that my standout memories from the Summer Institute are the stories from people who have been at the receiving end of social services. Survivors of domestic abuse, mothers who are recovering from substance addiction at the only mother and baby centre in England, a man who had suffered a psychotic episode, a grime artist who endured the death of his father, a mother with learning difficulties; the list could go on.

There is something irreplaceable about the first-hand accounts by these experts; something that you cannot read in a journal article or see in a film. It is the experience of another human being telling a room full of strangers about the darkest moments of their life. That they are bearing their soul to you, so that you become a better social worker, is humbling.

So whilst I leave the Summer Institute with nerves about the year ahead, my overall feelings are that of excitement to beginning my placement and privilege to be doing so as part of a talented and supportive unit within a truly unique programme.

Read last week’s Summer Institute blog here.