James Madison University

Social Work Alumna Transcends Borders

By: Dina Manco '15
Posted: March 17, 2016

The Social Work program cultivates students with adaptable skills that can be applied in a variety of settings and scenarios. Stephany Herzog (’09) has put her skills to use in a country without traditional social workers: Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. She currently works as the Learning Support Coordinator (LSC) and Elementary Counselor at the American International School of Abu Dhabi (AISA). With students representing over 80 nationalities, its wide-spread diversity is both an attraction and a challenge for Herzog.

When she first moved to Abu Dhabi in 2012, she taught English as a Second Language.  Since social work is largely unknown in the country, it was challenging to find ways to apply her undergraduate training. However through a networking relationship, she learned about the LSC position at AISA. This role has given her the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of Social Workers in a school setting. As a counselor, she meets with children who have learning disabilities, crises, and family or educational issues. Herzog’s assistance can range from helping children with a death in their family to mediating elementary school friendships.

Her responsibilities expand to facilitating the Gifted and Talented program and writing Individualized Education Plans. Herzog supports students diagnosed with disorders such as dyslexia and autism. She offers individualized tutoring on school subjects for students with learning disorders and counseling on emotional expression and maintaining eye contact in social settings for students with particular behavioral disorders.

She adds, “I also help parents navigate a system of how to get a psychological education assessment. Once they get it, then we help them understand what that means and how we can work together to support their child.”

The most challenging part for Herzog is navigating the diverse school population. 20% of the students are from the US and 30% are native to the United Arab Emirates, while the remaining 50% of students are composed of 78 different nationalities. The language barriers in the latter present a struggle, but Herzog innovates ways to communicate with the students in order to meet their needs. She says, “Being a Social Worker, we are always talking about social competence and learning about other cultures and our own privileges and our own bias. I think having these skills makes you a little less nervous jumping into a new environment with so many different nationalities.”

While she was completing her Bachelor of Social Work degree at JMU, Herzog participated in courses where they would conduct therapy sessions on video with an actor and have their skills assessed afterward. This helped prepare her for her professional endeavors. She states, “One thing with JMU is they always pushed you…I think overall the connections I had with my professors and the JMU community has changed how I view things.” She adds, “I was in 9 or 10 organizations at JMU, so a lot of [my time there] was learning how to organize things, how to have a team and collaborate with each other and that was helpful.”

Prior to her move abroad, Herzog earned a Masters of Social Work degree at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. After graduating, she worked in St. Louis public schools and the St. Louis County Detention Center. She is currently completing supervision via Skype to become a U.S. Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Her contract at the American International School ends this year, and she intends to take her skills to South America next.

Herzog states, “You get to see so many different parts of the world [in Abu Dhabi]…I’ve learned so many things; we have International Nights and Mother Tongue Day where we learn about different languages. It’s just a really cool environment to learn so much about different cultures.” Traveling and taking risks enabled Herzog to utilize her degree in various ways. She encourages social work students to explore the different paths their careers can take them.