One of the highlights of the summer for several CUW social work students was an inaugural study abroad opportunity to Austria.

By Lauren Rich (’24)

Lauren Rich was among the students who participated in the new learning experience. Rich plans to graduate in May 2024 with her bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in social work. She intends to earn her Master of Social Work degree through CUW as well.

Rich took time to journal throughout the experience. Scroll down to read excerpts from her reflections.

June 11

“It was so fun being able to walk around and explore Linz. The culture is similar in some ways, but there are so many little things that are vastly different. … Being able to experience something like this is absolutely amazing and I’m so so thankful to be given the opportunity to be here.”

June 12

“The trip to the Hallein salt mine was such a fun and unique experience. From the Celtic village to the mine itself there was so much to learn.”

“The trip to Salzburg was also such an amazing experience. The city had so much to offer, especially in terms of its architecture. The churches, the fortress, and the Mirabell Palace were so fun to explore.”

June 13

“Today was the first day of the conference and it was packed with lecture, the world cafe, and breakout rooms. The lecture I attended was about jailed mothers and the child welfare system in Milwaukee, a topic that hit close to home. Learning about how people who are in jail or prison have super limited connections with their family outside made my heart hurt for so many people. Even if they have committed a crime, they should still be given the right to be able to communicate with their spouses, children, and family. It made me realize that one day when I am a social worker myself, if I were to ever work with this population, I would try my hardest to be able to advocate for better communication means for those who are imprisoned and their family.”

June 14

“On the second day of the conference, I attended a lecture about the armed conflict in Armenia. Throughout the lecture, I kept getting choked up hearing about so many people who are displaced because of other countries’ greed and want for resources. It would be very heavy, but it made me realize how much I want to help people who are experiencing events like this.”

“After the first lecture, I sat in on the resilience lecture. There is so much secondhand trauma that comes with the social work profession, so being able to take care of ourselves is important so that we are able to better help others.”

June 15

“After attending two lectures in the morning, I went on a site visit to an emergency sleep center. It was so interesting hearing about how they have programs like this that allow for people to have a safe place to sleep. When comparing it to similar programs that exist in the US, it seemed like the European model was a lot more lax. For example, on paper those who use the resource are supposed to stay about 4 weeks, but a social worker can advocate to extend the stay if needed, which I think is ultimately beneficial.”

June 16

“Today we visited the Czech Republic. It was absolutely beautiful. There was a renaissance fair going on, so part of the city was closed off unless you had a ticket, so we ended up taking some pictures and walking to another side of the city to actually enter. There were so many pop-up stands with jewelry and other handmade items, probably because of the fair. The churches and the chateau were absolutely breathtaking and the architecture was so fun to look at. Overall, it was such a cool experience and it felt surreal the entire time. It was a bit stressful at the bus station as it was late and the signs were not helpful in finding our bus, but in the end it worked out and we made it back to the hotel safely.”

June 17

“Today was another packed day with going to Munich for the majority of the day. When we got in, we walked almost 40 minutes to go to this festival that was happening. It had a bunch of pop up stands with food, clothes, jewelry, and other handmade things. It was super fun walking around and seeing so many people there too. It was interesting listening to people and hearing a lot of English speaking people, which shows that it may have been a popular spot.”

“After that we got tickets for the tram and went into the historic city center. We walked around for a bit and then found St. Peters church and walked up the 14 flights of stairs for a beautiful view. … We walked further into some gardens, which turned out to be more of like a bunch of open fields with trees, a bunch of grass volleyball courts, and some streams that people swam in. It was absolutely full of people of all ages just laying out and enjoying the sun. It definitely made us all jealous of that lifestyle for a few minutes. There were so many teenagers living their best life and it would have been such an amazing experience to have lived in the area and got to do that for the weekend.”

June 18

“We took a train in the morning to Vienna, and it was beautiful! The first place we stopped at was the Belvedere Palace. The grounds were pristine and the upper and lower palaces were beautifully built. It was surprising, too, that they were built more recently, in the 18th century. After walking around the palace grounds, we walked to an area that had a bunch of shopping. We went into so many souvenir shops and picked up some goodies. … Overall, today was a little less stressful walking around compared to yesterday, and the vibes of Vienna and Munich were a bit different, but overall was very fun and I can definitely see myself going back.”

June 19

“Today was a very heavy day starting off at Mauthausen. It was an experience that you could only prepare yourself so much for. I have done a decent amount of research on World War II and the Holocaust, but there was so much that I learned today. I thought the tour guide was absolutely incredible and did such a good job explaining the different areas but also asking us the deep questions that should be asked. It made me think a lot about what is happening in current day and how it reflects the absolute horrors of almost 80 years ago and much earlier. There is so much happening today that I do not know about, and as we talked about on the tour, a big reason behind that could be that I just don’t go out of my way to research those things because they are not right in front of me and don’t “directly” affect me. It really opened my eyes to how I could try to do better at this and educate myself and hopefully others around me.”

June 20

“Today was the first day of the week where we got to do the site visits for most of the day. I visited the Work and Life site, which turned out to be an amazing resource. It was located in an old cigarette/cigar factory and was home to about 150 business. The place we visited was just one of 150 in the building. The presenters explained that their organization helped people who needed help finding jobs. They have many resources, including counseling, but also have a special program that can help people who struggle finding work to get legal help to determine if they are fit to retire or help them rejoin the workforce. They also talked about how they have a bicycle shop that employs a few people to help them gain work skills to enter the workforce.”

June 21

“In the morning we visited a domestic violence center, a place for social workers and other staff members to have resources ready for those who suffered domestic violence. Something interesting that I learned there was that people who commit acts of violence are forced to leave the home for 2 weeks, not the survivor, and the survivor in that time has the option to submit a restraining order. Another thing the presenter emphasized was that the client makes their own choices and their choice needs to be honored. I feel like this is something that is seen in the US as well. There may be situations where a social worker may want to intervene and speak their opinion on what the client is choosing to do, but they must hold back, as everything needs to be the client’s decision.”

June 22

“The first workshop today was very interesting, as it was about the story of the presenter and his life as a refugee. He talked about how in Iran, he had next to no rights as a refugee from Afghanistan. Even though he was born on Iranian soil, he was considered a refugee and could not attend school, marry a woman from Iran, and grew up in fear of being shot by the police for doing one thing wrong. This was heartbreaking to hear, as it seems to be so different than the US. If you are born in the US, even if your parents weren’t, you still are considered a citizen. It hurt my heart to hear how he grew up in fear and when he got to Austria, it was the first time that he did not feel fear around the police because they were not holding guns. It really put into perspective how much trauma he must have.

June 23

“On the last day of the conference, we were able to go to Steyr. I was in group B, so instead of going to the prison, we went to the facility for those with intellectual disabilities. This location made a huge impression on me. The facility is for adults with disabilities and it allows for them to be taken care of by caretakers and do little odd jobs in order to make money. There was a woodworking room where clients made objects out of wood and another room where clients could make things out of clay. At the end of the tour, they showed us the little shop filled with creations the clients made, and I of course had to grab a few things. I ended up with two pieces of clay that had little designed etched into them. The clients that we met were so sweet and I could tell that most of them enjoyed seeing new people.”

“After that, we were able to walk around Steyr and it was such a cute little city. After walking around, we got back to the bus to go pick up everyone in group A. While waiting, we went inside the church that is connected to the prison, and it was one of the prettiest churches I have been in. The artwork and carving in the walls and ceilings were so intricate and it was so beautiful. After that, we had our farewell ‘dinner’ in St. Florian, which was another cute little town. The church was beautiful and it was fun just walking around in the area surrounding the church. It was a wonderful last day in Austria! I’m sad to leave but am ready to go home.”

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