Allysia White (far right) alongside instructors and a classmate in South Africa
Allysia White (far right) alongside instructors David Miller and Nicole Parker, and PhD candidate Shellie Vincent

Spartan Showcase: Allysia White

Before starting classes at Case Western Reserve University’s Jack Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Allysia White had her sights set on a particular experience: study abroad.

“I love to travel so study abroad wasn’t a question of if I was going, it was more of a question about when and where,” she said. 

One program in particular piqued her interest: the “Social Justice/Social Work, International Learning through Community & NGO Internship,” which takes place inSouth Africa.

“I was praying that they were going to do this trip while I was a student. During that time, I didn’t know what it was about South Africa that intrigued me, but I knew that this was the trip that I was going to go on,” she said.

Now heading into her second year of the Master of Social Work program, White just came home from that very study abroad experience—describing it as “eye-opening” and “life-changing.”

White didn’t initially buy into the cliché that studying abroad would have such a drastic impact on her, as one of her instructors suggested on the first day of classes. But once she was immersed in it, she found that was exactly what happened.

“During and after the trip, I can agree that this experience did change my life,” White said. “I am a shy person but my classmates, professors, and all the people with whom I interacted in South Africa welcomed me with open arms. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and have grown in my confidence, perspective, and overall, as a person.”

Learn more about White’s experience abroad and at the Mandel School.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

1. What has been your most valuable experience at the Mandel School?

My study abroad and internships have been the most valuable experience. These experiences let you learn hands on with real people in real life situations. These experiences challenge you and not only make you grow professionally, but also as a person. 

2. Why did you choose social work?

I received my BA in psychology and attended the University of Central Florida to obtain my master’s in counselor education. As I was going through the program, I realized that I wanted to be more than just a counselor in my career. I decided to not finish my master’s in counselor education and began attending CWRU for my MSW.

Social work drew me in because I am unsure what predominant role I would like for my career. I am fascinated by many different aspects of healthcare and did not want to limit myself to only being able to be a counselor. In choosing to obtain my MSW, I have had the experience of being a researcher, a counselor and a job coach. I love that while these all sound like vastly different experiences they all fall within the social work umbrella.

3. Did you expect your study abroad experience to augment your class work?

I definitely expected my study abroad experience to augment my class work, especially since I was doing a study abroad with [the] Mandel [School]. In my first year, I took many different community classes that discussed the importance of feeling like one belongs to a community, identity, and how to approach issues within a community. 

[While I was] in South Africa, I learned the similarities and differences between the approach on community issues and community organizing in South Africa and the United States. 

4. What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My biggest takeaway from my study abroad experience were the relationships I cultivated. I have built great relationships with the South Africans who let me into such a vulnerable part of the everyday life of their people. This experience has given me a new perspective on the way we approach issues within the United States. 

Not only did I cultivate relationships with the South Africans, but I also grew very close with my classmates and the professors who attended this study abroad. We were having very difficult conversations and not being in a classroom for these conversations offered a real-world perspective which allowed us to dive deeper into these topics.

5. What drew you to CWRU?

My sister graduated from CWRU in 2018 with her MSW and always advocated for me to attend. Reflecting on her experience and where I am in the program now, I never understood why she was pushing CWRU until I was in the thick of it. CWRU has offered me so many opportunities I have only ever dreamed of. I am learning so much more than ever thought I would, not only about social work, but also about myself. 

At first, I applied to appease my family but since my first day at [the] Mandel [School], I have never been so grateful that my family knew what I needed more than I did.