With an undergraduate degree in communications and journalism and a master’s degree in drug prevention, David Romanowsky was working as a counselor in public high schools in Mexico, designing and implementing activities to prevent drug use and other risky behaviors. “Then I realized prevention wasn’t enough,” he says. “Some people need treatment. That’s why I wanted to come here.”
Born and raised in Mexico City, Master of Professional Studies in Integrated Behavioral Health student Romanowsky came to Minnesota in 2015 specifically to obtain another degree.
“Both of my parents went to graduate school in the US,” he continues. “My mom went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and my dad went to Boston University, so I was familiar with the university system. So I went online and did the research.”
“I was looking for a master's that offered integrated care for people who are diagnosed with co-occurring disorders. The University of Minnesota covers both areas and teaches students evidence-based treatment modalities to treat both conditions simultaneously.”
In Foreign Territory
Getting used to the harsh Minnesota winter was just one of the challenges Romanowsky faced moving here. Without a single connection in the state, he left his friends, family, and girlfriend in Mexico and came north.
“The transition was challenging, getting used to the place, a different culture. Your social support is limited. I was used to the pressure of grad school, but the rest was difficult. Fortunately, I was able to develop some friends outside of school, too, and things got better.”
Eventually, this unique mixture of backgrounds and experiences in the classroom fostered valuable conversations. “We began to exchange different points of view, which is what I think grad school is all about, getting out of your comfort zone, and knowing that just because you see it one way, that is not the complete reality.”
Staying the Course
So what inspired him to come here and study counseling in the first place? “I grew up in the Jewish community in Mexico City, and over the past decade or so, the drug use and mental health problems have increased. Community leaders and parents are concerned, and I feel a personal responsibility to try to understand what the problem is, the reasons behind it, and what we can do about it.”
To dig deeper into the unique challenges this group faces, Romanowsky is completing his internship requirement at CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio). His first internship focused on approaches to substance abuse counseling, and his current one deals with addressing mental health issues.
"I feel a personal responsibility to try to understand what the problem is, the reasons behind it, and what we can do about it.”
Currently, there is only a handful of male, bilingual, Spanish-speaking counselors in the state who are licensed to address substance abuse and mental health disorders, and the need will only continue to grow. Romanowsky is uniquely qualified to serve this population. “I do believe that most of my service will be provided to Latinos because we share a language and that cultural common ground.”
A Bright Future
Would he stay here in Minnesota to pursue a career? “That’s a great question. Here in the US there is more social awareness of mental health issues. In Mexico there is a huge window of opportunity to develop more programs, clinical and preventative, in regards to these topics… There is a lot of need.”
In the short term, he will go back to see family and friends, where he will be surrounded by uncles, cousins, and siblings who all sought graduate degrees in the US. “In our community there is a really high emphasis on education; it is a priority. My family taught me that it doesn’t matter what field I study, just go and do your best. They didn’t care what degree I chose.”
Whether he decides to stay here or return home, Romanowsky’s skills and background will make him an in-demand asset to any clinic or organization.
He hopes to have family members join the celebration when he walks at commencement in May. “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s going to be very emotional at the end,” he says. “It’s been a long journey.”
- Group/Work Therapy
- Multicultural Counseling
- Advanced Ethics
Advice for Future Students
“Be patient every time you start a new project, a new life, or career. You may not be the best student right away or be perfect in your first assignment. Let life come to you; it’s going to be okay. That being said, don’t procrastinate. That’s my recipe for success: If you can do it now, do it now.”
David Romanowsky is the recipient of the Mucke-Roff and Nolte-Miller scholarships.