You are here

Lessons from the Journey

UMD Social Work major Claire Desautels
December 20, 2018

UMD social work major travels to learn about history.

Third-year UMD student and social work major Claire Desautels is a traveler. In the last few years, she's been to Peru, Mexico, and Jamaica. Claire says, “My mom has traveled to Israel and all over Europe. She strongly encourages me to travel, too.”

In high school in Edina, Minn., Claire was a figure skating star and a good student. It wasn't until she took a trip to Peru, exploring the cities of Pisac, Cusco, and Aguas Calientes, that she felt the depth of a international experience.

"I remember the strange sensation of being the foreigner," she says. “I learned how to cook, I explored different markets, I became immersed in the life of my host family.” Claire talks of the Andes Mountains, the Inca ruins, and the hundreds of years of history. “The hike up to Machu Picchu was amazing.”

UMD Study Abroad

Claire is looking forward to a new challenge and another dive into history. She’s planning to study abroad in Poland during the 2019 May session program,  “Jews & Poles: Entangled Lives.”

“It's a learning trip,” she says. “It fits in with my social work field.” Claire says she’s always been fascinated by the history of the people in World War II. It's the psychological factor she wants to learn about -- how did survivors cope with trauma and how did they rebuild their lives. “I like to understand people and learn how they work through the good and the bad.”

The study abroad program will highlight stories of hope. "One of our first stops is to see the Schindler Factory," Claire says. The group will see the workplace where Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 people, many who came to the U.S. after the war.

One of the program leaders, Dr. Deborah Petersen-Perlman, says she is delighted that Claire will join the group. "Poland is so central to the study of the Holocaust; I can't think of a better venue for Claire's in-depth study.  I expect that all of us will be changed forever by what we encounter.  I know for me, it is an enormous privilege to lead students on this fantastic experience." (About the Poland Study Abroad program)

Claire considers history part of discovering more about social work. In one of her university courses, she was shown a documentary on how a community rebuilt and recovered after Hurricane Katrina. Claire knows helping people work through tragedy is in her future. She's is looking ahead to learning social work skills involving diagnosis, counseling, and treatment. "I want to learn more about how humans react and behave."

Claire has another reason to look forward to the trip. “I’m adopted from Russia,” Claire says, “Going to Poland is close to my home country, and I’m just super excited to go.”

About the UMD Department of Social Work

About UMD Study Abroad