Student Spotlights

Student Spotlights

Social Work Students Gain Cultural Insight in PI


University of GuamStudents from the SW 400 class pose after taking children out for playtime while visiting Missionaries for the Poor, an outreach organization in the Philippines.


Zorka Perez said going to the Philippines over break as part of a social work course really helped her gain a better understanding of the family structure, culture, and shared values of a community that has strong ties with Guam.

The senior social work major, who has also traveled to Palau and Chuuk as part of the degree program, said visiting the Philippines and neighboring islands helps to fulfill a need for outreach in the greater community beyond Guam’s borders.

“Being on Guam, it’s easy for us to actually go out to serve our community and island,” Perez said, “but to go to the Philippines—Why not help our neighboring friends and islands through their struggles?”

Perez, along with five other students, traveled to the Philippines as part of SW 400: Fields of Social Work Practice, which is a travel course offered every two years within the social work major at UOG. This year, students visited organizations whose missions focused on helping the poor, exploited and underprivileged in society. 

Missionaries of the Poor—an international organization with a facility in Manila that houses elderly men and disabled children—and the Buklod Center Inc.—an organization that helps women transition out of the sex worker industry—were two of the organizations that the students visited.

Perez and her classmates also gave a two-hour presentation at Ateneo de Manila University on colonialism with regards to Guam.


University of Guam From left to right: Trish Billen, Dr. Lisa Natividad, Zorka Perez, and Jennifer Lee take a photo in front of the Women's Study Program at the University of the Philippines.


Francisco Figueroa, a sophomore social work major, said presenting to students and staff at Ateneo was an opportunity to compare and contrast while sharing Guam’s story with the people of the Philippines.

“We shared our history, and we shared the Guam perspective—how our relations are with the United States and how we compare to the Philippines,” Figueroa said. “In social work, we deal with the diversity of needs and have to understand what the population is going through.”

Figueroa noted that poverty in the Philippines, for example, is one aspect of society that has a large daily presence, much more so than in Guam.

“At the same time, I noticed the educational system,” he said. “The curriculum is more extensive. Even though they don’t have the facilities that we have, they have the expertise.” 

From her experiences abroad, senior Jennifer Lee says she’s better able to relate to those immigrant communities she’s visited in the home country. Since Lee has seen firsthand what life is like in Chuuk, Palau, and the Philippines, the families she works with are more comfortable speaking and sharing with her, she said.

“In my experience as a practicum student, I see myself being more culturally competent,” Lee said. “I’ve become more aware of their cultural background. I bring back this experience through these trips.”

University of GuamUOG Social Work Students Jennifer Lee (left) and Zorka Perez (right).Perez explained that having a greater understanding of culture, values, and socio-economics from neighboring countries whose citizens sometimes find themselves living in Guam, it’s like peeling back the layers of an onion.

“You slowly take away your judgment, and when you get to the middle, you truly get to know the levels of this person,” she said.

Although still early on in his studies, Francisco said this trip to the Philippines expanded his knowledge and understanding of the needs of Filipinos abroad and in Guam. He hopes to continue the work the social work program at UOG is doing with some of its partners in the Philippines.

“I want to help people in those conditions like I saw in the Philippines,” Figueroa said. “My goal is always to help people. I’m early in the program, but I hope one day I’m part of that group that’s helping everyone here on Guam.”

Being able to travel to neighboring islands is a privilege older graduates from the program did not have access to in the past, Perez said. 

“UOG giving us the opportunity to travel, we’ve been blessed,” she said. 

Perez added even though she’s discovered a newfound passion for social work, she wouldn’t want to attend any other university because Guam is where she wants to make a difference. 

“This is home,” she said. “UOG is home. This is where I want to work after I graduate. This is where I want to give back to our community and to our island.”