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Posts Tagged ‘work’

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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Boy, it’s been nearly a month since my last post. In that time I have interviewed, dreamed about what I could do with my pay, ridden my bike a lot, flew to another country without my passport, gone to the beach, and gotten a bit of a tan. I also got to hang out with a pretty cool three year old who has discovered, “What?” and its cousin, “Why?”, much to her mother’s and my dismay.

I’ve spent some time sewing, spent some money, hung out, and went to my mother’s wedding reception (the wedding was in Vegas, before I got my passport back). Life has been pretty awesome, but I’ve been too lazy to write in the blog. I’ll catch up soon, hopefully with pictures.

Can’t wait to get back to my husband, my pillow, another pair of shoes (who brings only one pair of shoes on vacation, the pair that still needs breaking in?), and our garden. I wonder how much it’s grown? I hope the peas are flowering, I’m definitely looking forward to that.

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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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(though in actuality, I will be in the mountains of the Fog Belt)

Saturday marks the third time in twenty four days that I will have hopped on a plane. Sleep is fractured, full of strange dreams and I awaken early most of the time. Last night’s dream was being in a flying contest [propelled by one’s own muscle power] where everyone was trying to cheat by pulling down everyone else’s vehicle, which were like tiny Victorian ideals of balloon travel, and then I actually got close to the front and one of the guys opted to lose, himself, in order to lead me wrong and make me lose. Obvious, much?

Until then, friends, friends’ children, Mom & Gma, the beach, and working on my tan.

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Taking Stock

Life has changed in a big, dramatic way for me in the past few weeks – in a number of ways I’m not entirely comfortable discussing online, but the upshot is that I am back in the States for good. Currently in Florida, soon to be visiting Wisconsin, and then deciding whether I possess sufficient temerity to move myself to a completely new city (Portland, OR or maybe somewhere in northern California) during an economic downturn, or if it is better to return to the town where all my stuff and most of my friends are: New York City. Where I go will depend entirely upon where I can find work. Massage, social work, the combination of the two, albeit not at the same time, is my eventual goal. It will be nice to have the steady paycheck and schedule of a social worker, punctuated by the ability to take time off and also to see immediate results from my work when a massage client feels better as they walk out the door. Currently, I need to decide whether trying to launch my own business with the rest of that part-time schedule is a good idea, or whether refilling the coffers and spending a year or two contemplating life, liberty and the pursuit of a home and future is a better one.

Today I got my bike back from the new (to me) LBS and rode it the short distance from storefront to home. The saddle is too high (easily remedied) and I dislike the big, open streets and unfamiliar traffic patterns of my hometown. I cannot imagine living anywhere it is truly unsafe to consider a bike my main means of transportation. It is also too hot in Florida. I can no longer imagine living anywhere that does not take me through more than two seasons per year.

It is time to contact friends and past employers and blag my way back into NYC.

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