The Fordham GSS 2023 Summer London Program cohort has officially touched down across the pond.
With a backdrop of beautiful, fall-like weather and sunny skies, Fordham London Centre senior director Vanessa Beever greeted MSW students on Monday at this year’s orientation. Our 30+ students met in the large lounge of the sleek building, welcomed with a choice breakfast of eggs, avocado toast, and steaming-hot coffee (or tea – when in England…).
“You have the ability to be here, look at the issues, and compare and contrast them to what you see in the US and their outcomes on society,” Beever said.
Beever, a lawyer by trade, disclosed some of Britain’s most significant economic and social struggles following the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that the “jury is out” on Brexit and what the policy will mean for the country’s future.
“All of our economic output is still below what it was before the pandemic,” she said. “We’ve had negative growth. Compare that to the United States, which has seen a GDP growth of 5% since the pandemic.”
What does that mean for the UK? “Deprived communities are becoming more deprived,” Beever said. “Food inflation is up 17 percent.”
This is especially true in the north side of London, which, Beever said, has historically been deprived of resources
compared to its southern neighbors. This began with the deindustrialization policy implemented by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which transformed Britain into a service economy centered around the south of London, where most of the financial service buildings were located. The northern area continues to feel the impact of this policymaking today.
“I wish it were a different situation,” Beever said. “There are huge inequalities in health and education outcomes, transport, and infrastructure.”
Beever added with the most extreme statistic, stating that life expectancy between those from the north and south of London differs by 15 years.
She implored students to note how social workers like them can help soothe these structural issues.
History of Fordham in London
Although the current London Centre—located in Clerkenwell, the former home to Charles Dickens—was built in 2018, Fordham has been in the city for much longer. The partnership began with Marymount College, Beever said, and when Fordham purchased Marymount in 2008, the relationship continued. The first Fordham cohort sent to London was from the Gabelli School of Business in 2009. Fordham’s Liberal Arts schools (including Fordham GSS) started sending students to London in 2012.
This relationship has blossomed into a thriving study abroad program at Fordham. The London Centre houses over 600 students yearly between Fordham’s undergraduate and graduate schools.
As a city with a similar size population as New York City but boasting over twice the surface area, London gives plenty of opportunities for students to explore the local culture. Beever’s biggest advice: don’t just stick to the tourist traps. Just like New Yorkers would advise to make quick work of a Times Square visit, Beever noted that there is much more to the city than Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.
“Really get out into London,” she said. “Just get on the bus—there are plenty of them—and see where it takes you. And please do talk to people. Ask them where they’re from, what neighborhood. They’d be more than happy to chat.”
But most of all, Beever told students to use this opportunity to note the parallels and differences between the two countries. What could they learn from one another? How could the students, as budding social workers, take what they learn and implement it back into the States or challenge what they see on this trip?
“This is an opportunity to look at another culture’s issues,” she said, “and explore the differences. Take advantage of it.”
An Alumni Abroad
Our orientation ended with a presentation from London-located GSS alumni Alexis Cable, FCRH ‘09, GSS ‘10. Cable now lives and works in London as the head of clinical for Elder, a health tech company that provides home care to over 500 towns and cities across the UK.
Cable has resided in London for eight years and embodies the versatility of the social work skill set. After graduating from GSS and passing her LCSW exam, Cable — a former division one soccer player at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus — sought even more challenging opportunities. What better way to get out of your comfort zone than by getting out of the country?
“I wanted to broaden my perspective as a social worker,” Cable told students. “I thought, ‘How can I strengthen my skills?’ That international perspective is what I needed.”
After moving abroad, Cable found herself taking on roles that were outside the scope of what she ever thought she’d do as a social worker. She entered the private sector, focusing on companies with a social impact.
Not long after moving across the pond, Cable earned her MBA from London Business School. She thought the skills paired well with those she learned at GSS. Now she could talk fluently with the finance department and still show the empathy clients need.
“I had a good macro view, systems perspective, and understanding of people,” she said. “If you want to be a good leader, you have to understand what people need.”
Cable concluded by saying she had “no intention” of leaving London. She promised that once students got past the notorious British “stiff upper lip,” they’d find that Londoners are great people in a fantastic city.
By the way students approached Cable with questions after her talk, she most likely ignited a fire of London living that will only continue to grow over the next two weeks.