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Posts Tagged ‘england’

Expat Banking

When you move to a new country and try to set up a life there, you encounter a broad range of differences in the way people do things in this new country. For instance, in Britain, everything is harder. Ha! No, it just feels that way sometimes, especially when it comes to banking. Without five years of checkable addresses in the country (I wonder if it counts if you’ve lived some of them in Ireland, Wales or Scotland?), you only qualify for a type known as a Cashminder Account. All this means is that, like in the United States, you have a debit card, can bank online, and can deposit and withdraw money. OK, good, that’s all I wanted to do. Here, customers are charged a monthly fee for different levels of banking because the bank will offer you things like free worldwide travel insurance, home insurance, financial advice, and an overdraft. Overdraft is basically a line of credit. We have something called overdraft in the States, too, but I’ve never had it as anything other than a link to my savings account in case a check bounces, so I won’t be charged.

All things considered, I suppose the British overdraft and the American overdraft are similar, it’s just that its like having a credit card attached to your checking account instead of not having anything and being charged a fee if you go into the red.

My problem with British banking is that it’s ridiculously hard to get anything done. To change your address you have to go into a branch. Not just any branch, either, but the branch at which you started the account. You have to put in various parts of two codes to get into your account online. And because my proof of address, which came from Ealing Council, for a bill for our old address, and thus says C/O [my new address], they’re having problems accepting it as proof. They also won’t issue me a bank account right away because I’m not a UK passport holder, even though I’m not asking for any credit. What is that all about?

They say it’s so you’re more protected against fraud, and I wonder how much there is compared to in the States, but I do know someone who had her identity stolen and fraudulent charges made against her bank account.

Oh! And I forgot! Apparently you can’t do online purchasing through your bank card unless you have a card reader sent to you? Maybe that’s only with Royal Bank of Scotland. But Brits, please tell me your experiences with online purchasing. I’m really interested to know now that I’m about to be able to start doing that.

Now that I’ve finally got a job, I’m really looking forward to being paid. But wouldn’t ya know it, I can’t be for at least another week. Which means I still can’t get a cell phone. I’ll just stare wistfully at the HTC Desire for another week and debate endlessly over which phone provider to go with.

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A week and a half ago, I interviewed for a social worker position within the Referral and Assessment team in the Child Protection unit of the south London borough that I had been volunteering with over the past two months. If any of you reading don’t remember, because everyone who hears that I was volunteering my social work services says, “Whoa. Well, you’re a better person than I am,” I was volunteering to get some recent, UK experience to make my CV look better, mine being so far back and none of it in the UK. I was only mildly nervous about the interview, pretty much knowing that I had it in the bag because nearly every manager has come up to me and told me specifically what a good job I’m doing and how hard a worker I am. Then all the girls started asking me if I remembered this, or that, or the other, and then “revising” with me (“studying” is called “revising” in the UK), and I began to get nervous. The Children Acts 1989 and 2004, sections specifically pertaining to CP work (7, 17, 20, 23, 47 and definitely others, there was a huge list, ACK!), Stay Safe, Be Healthy, Enjoy and Achieve, Achieve Economic Wellbeing, Make a Positive Contribution (five markers they use to gauge the wellbeing of children and families in the UK), and operations questions like, “What happens when you get a referral from a member of the public?”

I don’t think I’ll be revealing any trade secrets here, but my manager didn’t ask me any questions like that. I think it’s because I wasn’t educated here, making him less interested in whether or not I already knew statutory information, which is something I can learn on the job, as he was in finding out my general social work knowledge and attitudes, and how I would deal with certain situations I might find myself in while out in the field. The only one I didn’t pass with flying colors was when dealing with underage mothers, where I forgot that the mother herself is still considered a child, and must be treated accordingly, with us watching out for her needs and wants as much as those of her child. With my skills checked and my character already vouched for through the past two months, I was offered a start date of 1st June, pending final approval!

For about a week, I sweated over the phrase “pending final approval”. I was pretty sure I would be OK but feared some dark horse UK QSW would come out of the woodwork wanting a permanent position to sweep my spot out from under me. I need not have worried because late this past week I received confirmation that I did indeed have a job to go to on Tuesday, and that I would be taking the title of Senior Social Worker. It’s a little nerve wracking; apparently senior social workers may be assigned higher caseloads than social workers, but my deputy head manager already told me they would only be assigning me Initial Assessments at first. And since I don’t have a car, and will be riding my bike as well as taking public transportation, I’ve negotiated the probability of not being assigned far-flung cases, or those in the hillier region of the council. Phew! I’ve also been given the use of a tablet, ostensibly so I can learn the handwriting system and write notes instead of the more distracting-to-clients typing notes down, but also so that I may try to keep up with paperwork while using public transportation. Apparently every hour with the families generates about 6 hours of paperwork, a daunting figure when you take timescales into account.

I will still need to buy a new computer for working from home as my old Mac won’t allow me to access the internet program to write case notes, but overall I’m feeling pretty prepared for this job. But I am shitting myself just a little bit. I’ll be working again, after a 16-month absence from the work force. Time to get on it! One bank holiday weekend to recover from a 5 time zone change.

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I have been eligible to vote for 14 years now, and have rarely used my enfranchisement to much good. Though Florida, where I was raised, is a swing state, I was only able to put that to use in the 2000 elections, and we all know what good that did! Actually, do we? I wonder how much of the fiasco made it through to the average British citizen, and especially those who were my age at the time. Recently, I had a near-altercation online with someone who thought it was “ironic” that America went to an illegal war over oil, killing British soldiers, and civilians, and now oil was washing up on our shores. I countered that the American government had started that war, and that neither I, nor anyone I cared to know, had supported it. This person came back with something along the lines of “By the people, for the people and of the people”; I responded, “Yeah, because everyone in this country is a chav or a Tory,” very close to blasting them about civic participation, gubernatorial representation, and did they feel their government adequately reflected their opinions and ideas? In my froth of rage, I wanted to school this person on the 2000 elections and the recount that was called off by Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who just so happened to be under George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb Bush, and then, shockingly, working in Washington soon after. My subsequent realization that I was being trolled cooled me off, but it made me think about elections and my part in the various states in which I’ve lived.

Florida: just 18 for the 2000 elections. Paid attention, discussed the happenings with friends. Ignored local politics. Voted.
Minnesota: The first place I wasn’t oblivious to politics, excited about being a social worker and living in a historically politically active, liberal, democratic state. I wasn’t there long enough to delve heavily into local politics, but I voted for governor, though I suspected that Tim Pawlenty would win, once it was known he had George W. Bush’s support (I was right).
New York: Though I lived in NYC for 6 years, it never felt permanent, and I moved so often, through various municipalities, that I lost steam for local politics.

Local politics are extremely important, moreso than a lot of people think, yet we often neglect them in favor of national politics. Presidential elections only come around every four years but local elections come around much more frequently and have a much larger effect on day-to-day life. I’m really feeling the need to get involved in local politics again, and as such, was extremely excited when last night, a Briton told us that based on his French partner being able to vote, he thought that we, as leave-holders, may vote in local (council) elections. This morning I did a little research, having been saddened that my residence didn’t come through until three days before the election, much too late for me to vote. I did a little searching this morning, but it didn’t take more than a cursory read to realize that neither I nor my husband are eligible to vote in any kind of election in the UK. It would take citizenship for us, though it seems like practically the rest of the world is allowed to vote in, at least, council elections. Below, the requirements. I make sad face now.

Who can register to vote?

You can register to vote if you are:

* 16 years old or over and
* a British citizen
* or an Irish, qualifying Commonwealth or European Union citizen who is resident in the UK

If you are 16 or 17, you can only register if you will be 18 within the lifetime of the electoral register. You cannot vote until you are 18.

Below is a full list of Commonwealth and European Union countries. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, and resident in the UK, you are eligible to register to vote in UK elections. To qualify, Commonwealth citizens must be resident in the UK and either have leave to remain in the UK or not require such leave. The definition of a ‘Commonwealth citizen’ includes citizens of British Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories.

Citizens of the European Union who are not Commonwealth citizens can vote in European and local elections in the UK, but are not able to vote in UK Parliamentary general elections.

European Union countries

Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy

Latvia
Lithuania
Luxemburg
Malta
Netherlands
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
United Kingdom

Commonwealth countries

Antigua and Barbuda
Australia
The Bahamas
Bangladesh
Barbados
Belize
Botswana
Brunei Darussalam
Cameroon
Canada
Cyprus
Dominica
Fiji Islands
The Gambia
Ghana
Grenada
Guyana
India

Jamaica
Kenya
Kiribati
Lesotho
Malawi
Malaysia
Maldives
Malta
Mauritius
Mozambique
Namibia
Nauru
New Zealand
Nigeria
Pakistan
Papua New Guinea
Rwanda

St Kitts & Nevis
St Lucia

St Vincent & The Grenadines
Samoa
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Singapore
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Sri Lanka
Swaziland
United Republic of Tanzania
Tonga
Trinidad & Tobago
Tuvalu
Uganda
United Kingdom
Vanuatu
Zambia
Zimbabwe

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The Waiting Game

Still no news on the visa front; I was told that I can check the progress of my visa through the system, when I enrolled my biometric data (no retina scan, sadly), but have been unable to find the section of the UK Border Authority’s website that would let me do that. I can’t even find where to ask someone about it. And all numbers given are pay numbers. They sure don’t make it easy for you to navigate that system, do they? Probably the same in every country.

I can’t even remember when I sent everything in. It seems like it may have been about 5-7 weeks ago, and the maximum time length given for expected return of an uncomplicated spousal visa (right of abode) is 14 weeks. I think it has been about 3 weeks since I enrolled my biometric data, where I was told that after the data was compared against national and international databases, and I was vetted, my application would be assigned to a case worker. The husband and I are hoping that it will be no more than another 3 weeks until I get the visa. Apparently I will receive a letter first, letting me know that I will be getting my national identity card (new thing!) and when I do receive that I can breathe a sigh of relief.

As for “work”, my “internship” has been going swimmingly. Well, if by “swimmingly” you think of the frustration of trying to cram a load of new information into your brain in a very short time, then yep! It’s going swimmingly! I’ve been given no more promises than a shot at an interview, but that was more than I had two weeks ago so I’ll take it! Most of the managers have taken the time to come up to me and tell me what a good job I’m doing and how helpful I’ve been around the place, it makes me feel really good. It just seemed like I was floundering around and probably being of some help, but without training I wasn’t sure if I was anywhere near the mark of what kind of work I was supposed to be doing. Now I know there will be training available, on both the caseload system we’ll be using as well as on work-flow and the manner in which to undertake an investigation. I believe I’ll be well supported, and the team is filled with really excellent people I enjoy working with. It’s pretty much a win-win situation.

The garden is coming along, but as my landlord-roommate is painting the fence you’ll all have to wait for update photos. At least the light is out much longer in the day now, I’ll try to take photos during the coming week. For now, a blurry photo of our laundry covered wagon. Laundry fort?

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Yesterday I had an informal interview to talk about doing an “internship” with a local council’s child protection services team. I have registered here in England as a Qualified Social Worker, which basically required having a bachelor’s degree in social work from a recognized school and at least one year of experience in the field. In the aftermath of the deaths of a few children, the warning signs missed by health professionals and ultimately social services professionals, the country has stepped up the requirements for being called a social worker, as well as added more rigorous specifications for registering with the General Social Care Council, the major professional body for social workers in the United Kingdom.

As is frequently the case in many fields, new workers are passed over in favor of people with experience in the field, and adding on to this my status as an American social worker has resulted in a dearth of job options for me. When I finally realized what was happening, I began to research what I would need to do to put myself in a better position to get a job, and started asking people in the field what graduates of programs in the UK would know after going through their social work coursework. Specific laws came to light, such as the Children Acts and Disability Discrimination Acts, both of which are similar enough to laws or broad ideas already at work in the United States that I feel pretty confident on that front, but another is the Assessment Framework, which is slightly different in most, if not all, of London’s councils. This brings me to the topic of “councils”, and London’s city government, which has confused me since I got here. The UK civic framework work is different to anywhere I’ve ever lived; in the States, there is city government, county government, state government and federal government. Different states have different rules regarding which set of lawmakers trumps which, but the balance between states’ rights vs. federal and what is laid out in the Constitution and its ammendments is the framework overarching all of it.

That is the quick and simple explanation of the US system because that’s all I remember from civics class and exposure to local and national news (including teh interweb, of course). Having been in the UK less than a year, I have less of a grasp on how the government works here but for me, the most striking difference hasn’t been monarchy or parliament but the councils that I mentioned above. From what I understand, anything located inside the M25 is considered Greater London. It is separated into areas known as councils, which, now that I think about it, must be somewhat similar to NYC, which is comprised of five boroughs, and is headed by a city mayor with each borough sub-governed by a president. London is governed by a mayor, Boris “Look I’m One Of You Because I Don’t Fix My Hair” Johnson, and split up into 32 boroughs, run by councils. What confuses me is how none of them seem to have any sort of interconnected, overarching government body to streamline city services (Oh look, I’m wrong. And here’s the LGA, an “advocate for the local government sector in England and Wales”). Some councils have plastic bins for garbage collection, some allow their residents to feed the urban foxes by having them keep garbage bags outside by themselves. Various public service operations in place in different councils also have different systems for determining the levels of need for access to care and no real interconnectedness. I think that this probably contributes to people slipping through the cracks, benefits fraud, child welfare problems, and other issues relating to social service use and funding as well as the problems within the NHS. It’s like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

And to finally bring me back to my title and main purpose for this post, my days of leisure and crushing boredom are numbered. I am proposing to enter this melee, and hoping to be able to help in the effort to make a difference for the children of one particular patch of London. I am nervous about how I will be received by families, both as a foreigner and as a social services worker. Apparently the UK has a strong history of distrust of social services, the use of which is widely stigmatized. The idea of safeguarding children by watching for signs of abuse or neglect, and also simply assessing children and their families to see what help they may need to enable them to conduct their lives with purpose is noble and interesting, but the difficulties on the ground for workers seems exaggerated here by high levels of paperwork required by social workers, that don’t seem to be all that helpful in and of themselves. Streamlining services, allowing various agencies and areas of government to better communicate with one another, all these things have always interested me a great deal. Maybe I’ll end up in policy, where I always thought I might.

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Last week I purchased the Limited Edition flavor Mascarpone, Passion Fruit & Truffles on impulse, lured in by my love of mascarpone cheese and passion fruit.

Due to consuming 1 bottle of 7.5% cider, this was a bit of a tipsy impulse buy, and that’s all I can come up with for my near-instant dislike of the flavor. It led me, also, to find the UK Häagen-Dazs website, to click on the “contact us” link, and to write an email all about how I thought it was an unsuccessful flavor combination and that I wanted my £4.79 (exorbitant!) back. The next afternoon, when I decided to give it another go, I found it unutterably delicious and finished off the pint. *shrug*

Today, the boyfriend came laughing upstairs and told me that Häagen-Dazs had sent me £5! I didn’t know if I would hear back from them, and thought that maybe if I did they would send me a coupon for a free pint (I had high hopes of several free pints). Instead they sent me a £5 postal order! How amazing is that!? So I have to write them an email thanking them for their good customer service and to tell them that I will continue buying their products (duh).

Brits, complaining doesn’t always get spit in your food. Try it once in a while.

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Wedding Bells

Less than a week to the big day! I have a lot to do today, call a hair stylist, take my wedding dress to the cleaner, figure out how to get an American appliance to work here on 220V (yes, I know, a converter. still have to make sure I have the right adaptors, too, it was bought in Spain), vacuum the bedroom, make the list of people to send invites to, whether or not they’re actually coming to the wedding, give myself a pedicure (is it too early to do that?) and decide which of the borrowed jewelry I will wear with the dress. Oh, and find a piercing shop to have my old septum ring put back in, unless I decide to have a gold one made.

*phew*

Here are my lovely wedding bell earrings. They even jingle!

I can’t wait to be able to show off the wedding rings our friend made!

We had been pretty bummed because we didn’t think we’d be able to have any family members out here for the wedding, ticket prices being what they are, but last week we got great news: both moms can make it! Not everyone is able to make it out here but for they who can’t there is streaming video hosted by the registry office. Sweet! Both moms arrive on Friday morning, within an hour of each other, at distant airports. So the meet-n-greet will have to take place back at the house, not at an airport or major transport hub since neither of the airports easily link up to the same hub. : ( Guess we’ll all just have to wait a little longer. I kind of fancied a big meeting at King’s Cross, myself.

I suspect this week will be a blur of minutes and hours and preparation and worry over what must get done and then the day will be here and gone and we’ll wonder where it all went!

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