MSW Student Alyssa Petersel Publishes Book of Jewish Narratives
Alyssa Petersel is an MSW candidate at NYU Silver. She is currently working with the Central Brooklyn Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, serving adults with severe mental illness. Alyssa graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies. As an undergraduate, she worked with Northwestern University's Public Interest Program as a fellow at Strengthening Chicago's Youth (SCY), youth violence prevention collaborative. She has additional experience in the fields of writing, culinary community building and human rights. Alyssa expects to graduate with a master’s in social work from the Silver School in May 2017.
SS: Why did you decide to publish a book?
AP: For me, publishing Somehow I Am Different was as much a personal journey as a professional one. This book is a testament to myself that I can do whatever I set my mind to. Publishing, in all of its rumored difficulties and stressors, was part of that process.
SS: How did you balance writing the book and finding a publisher with your MSW studies?
AP: I committed to completing the writing and a bulk of the editing before I began school in September 2015. Once I started school, I devoted one entire weekday to the editing, marketing, public relations, networking, and community building around my book. The balance is not always perfect and consistently requires attention and readjustment, but the balance is possible.
SS: You launched a Kickstarter campaign to fundraise your trip to Budapest where you worked on your book for eight months. What was that fundraising experience like?
AP: It was thrilling. I launched my Kickstarter on March 17, 2014, and it was an around-the-clock 24-hour job, in addition to the full-time job I already had. I received the final donation pushing me over my goal just hours before my one-month deadline.
SS: What inspired you to pursue an MSW?
AP: Believe it or not, the process of writing and publishing my book led me to the MSW at NYU. I chose social work because of its well-rounded nature and because of its capacity to train professionals to not only get to know their clients, but to advocate on behalf of them. A master’s in social work is so applicable and relevant in so many fields, and I had a strong feeling that Silver would prompt difficult questions to help me become a better version of myself.
SS: Who do you hope will read your book?
AP: The book weaves Hungarian history, politics, and culture into twenty-one unique individuals’ life stories. Buffs in any of those categories would appreciate Somehow I Am Different. However, I believe the people who would gain most from this book are those who are asking questions about identity and belonging. I hope that the individual stories in Somehow I Am Different shine through for people going through a similar search for identity and community.
SS: Is there anything else that you would like to share?
AP: I would encourage anyone who is on the verge of taking a leap of faith on a project like this to do it. Imagine yourself in five years and weigh the potential risks with the benefits. I’m reminded of M. Scott Peck, who wrote, "The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
How do we come to be who we are spiritually? How does our political and social environment influence our development of self? What drives us to discover our purpose and to contribute positively to the world?
A young American author immerses herself in modern Jewish Hungary. The twenty-one stories she shares will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you want to be your own best self. Somehow I Am Different provides an opportunity to connect in a world that otherwise begs us to stand alone. This book serves as a reminder that in spite of the factors working against us, we have the power to make a difference.
In their own words, Hungarian participants will tell you that "Instead of emphasizing our victimhood, we should really tell another story" (Tamás Büchler) and "Maybe I am not perfect, but I am me. At least I am me." (Devora Hurwitz).