This year, students in the Graduate School of Social Service did their field education abroad for the first time. 

Through a partnership with Fordham’s London campus, GSS students can study abroad, learning about the differences between social work in the U.S. and the U.K. and visiting historic sites. This past summer, about 30 students participated in the two-week program, but two of them stayed behind for three more months to complete inaugural field internships abroad. 

“I felt like this program was made for me,” said Melanie Hills, 24, a master’s student from Glastonbury, Connecticut, who interned at a London community center and served predominantly immigrant populations. “It’s a multi-service, multigenerational approach—and it’s exactly what social work, in my mind, stands for.” 

A Moving Encounter with an Asylum Seeker

Hills worked at Coin Street, a community center that serves Waterloo and North Southwark residents, where she assessed the needs of local families and connected them with services. She recalled a pregnant woman who had experienced human trafficking in her native country and was seeking asylum in London with her two young daughters. Hills said she was able to connect the mother with a local school for her children, a children’s center that could teach her daughters how to communicate in English, and a midwife who could alleviate her stomach pain, despite some initial language barriers. 

“We couldn’t understand each other because our translator phone wasn’t working, so we just stood there, trying to communicate with each other. Finally, I used Google Translate,” Hills said. “She gave me this big hug afterwards, and I was like, ‘OK, this is why [we]do this.” 

As someone who isn’t native to the area, said Hills, it wasn’t easy to connect Londoners with certain services and understand what rights and entitlements they qualified for. But by the end of her internship, she described herself as “self-sufficient.” 

“I had support from Fordham the whole way through and from Coin Street, but I really worked hard, and I’m proud of myself,” said Hills, who regularly checked in with GSS faculty, deans, and her supervisor while abroad. 

This spring, Hills will graduate with her master’s degree in social work, and plans to work in hospital administration. 

“Being in London taught me how competent and powerful I can be,” she said.  

‘Helping People to Be Their Best Selves’ 

Master’s student Vaughn Rush interned at Oxford House, one of the first settlement houses in the United Kingdom that has evolved into a modern-day community center. Rush said he helped to facilitate multiple events, including a Somali culture festival and a “Black history bike ride.” 

“It felt [like]social work in a community-based sense because … they embedded the community in getting things that the community needed and working with them to help themselves,” he said. 

Rush, a 36 year old from Jamaica, Queens, has worn many hats. He is a veteran who served as a behavioral health specialist and medic in the U.S. Army for seven years and a male drag queen, among other things. After graduating this spring with his master’s degree in social work, he plans to earn his master’s degree in applied theater. He wants to combine his social work and theater skills “to make some mental health magic” in a non-traditional way, ideally for the U.S. Army or the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said. 

What he will take from his London internship experience is his growth in empathy, he said. 

“Listening to the differences in people’s lives and their values … showed the differences between us, but also the things we have in common,” Rush said, “and that helps with us being one big world … and helping people to be their best selves.” 

Watch the video below and learn more about the GSS program abroad


Taylor is a visual storytelling strategist in Fordham University's marketing and communications department, where she documents University life through photography and video. Since joining Fordham in 2018, she has served as a writer, photographer, videographer, and social media manager, dividing her time between University Marketing and Communications and the Office of the President. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Stony Brook University's School of Communication and Journalism and her master's degree in public media from Fordham University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Her work has appeared on NPR, NBC New York, and amNewYork METRO.