A very late Happy 2016.

Happy 2016. It has been way too long. Life happens.

Last year was eventful, in good and bad ways. Let’s see, where to begin…

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Happy 2016. It has been way too long. Life happens.

Last year was eventful, in good and bad ways. Let’s see, where to begin…

  • I traveled 7 times in 2015 (February, March, May, June, July, October, November). That’s the most I’ve ever done in 1 year. United Arab Emirates. Puerto Rico. Houston, Texas. Boston, Massachusetts. Chicago, Illinois. Detroit, Michigan. Portland, Oregon. (I may post a few photos from the different trips. I also have 1 more United Arab Emirates blog draft, that I should’ve completed months ago, that’ll be posted for sure.)
  • I left my job – the first one I got after returning from England – and started a new one in September 2015. You can blame the new job and ensuing commute for most of my absence from the blog.
  • I studied for my professional license exam… and had to reschedule it a few times. I’m now set to take it this spring. There were a few things that came up which forced me to push it back. Would you like to know 1 of the reasons why I had to push it back?
  • Because we got bed bugs. Yes, a f***ing g**damn bunch of bed bugs, in the beginning of summer 2015. I won’t even go into the horror & trauma they caused me. I now hate bed bugs even more than roaches.
  • Along with a new job and long commute, I was apartment hunting. I now hate New York’s real estate market. I didn’t even have this much trouble finding a flat in England, and that market is probably as expensive & popular as the market here. Not having a car to drive to all of these apartment viewings, made the search even more exhausting, grueling & tiring.
  • I had to stop going to the gym after I started the new job because of the commute, so I’m back to where I was when I started. But I’m starting again in a few days (if not sooner) since my commute is much shorter now.
  • I completed a Couch To 5K program before I started the new job though, so that was a bonus. Since I’m starting over, I’m gonna re-do the program because as a result of doing it, I began developing a like/love for running and I want to get back to running again.
  • It took long enough, but I finally found my own place. (My original commute was killing me, so I had no choice but to look for a place closer to the new job.) After over 2 years of living with family, I’m slowly but surely getting back on track. I’m forever grateful to them, but I’m also very glad to be back on my own again. I’ll also be forever grateful to those who helped me post-England.

That’s all I can remember off the top of my head. How are you doing, dear readers?

Teaser photo: El Yunque National Forest - Puerto Rico.
El Yunque National Forest – Puerto Rico.

Then and now.

Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side. –The Talmud

(NOTE: this is a long one, with a bit of cursing, disclosure, no punches pulled, and vulnerability. Don’t like any of that? Don’t bother reading any further.)

Picture it: October 2013.

Aside from a few pieces of luggage filled to the brim with whatever I could carry, I returned home with almost nothing. The life I was trying to build in the United Kingdom was snatched from me.

I’d been placed on unpaid leave on August 9, 2013 – in contemplation of dismissal – by a shady employer that misinformed me about my work visa, among other things. Because of the employer, I accidentally overstayed my work visa by about 2 months by the time I received notification from the Home Office on August 8, 2013. I then had to report to the local immigration office like a criminal – once per week initially, then once every 2 weeks. I was evicted from my beautiful apartment in October by what turned out to be a shady landlord (I’ll never forget, Gary Sheppard of southeast London). I’d been his tenant for over 3 years and even offered him my security deposit, but money over everything, right? For 3 weeks before leaving the United Kingdom, I stayed with someone who insisted that I stay with her after my eviction. (I won’t mention her name here, but can’t thank her enough.)

I asked the male DNA contributor to please help me get a ticket home; there was no real response. Things were so bad that an American colleague took the male DNA contributor’s number from my phone to call and explain how bad things were. (Even though I knew it was a waste of time, she insisted.) Male DNA contributor begrudgingly bought a ticket, didn’t accept my thank yous, and treated me like shit. After almost 3 months of no contact (didn’t even check to make sure of my safe arrival to the U.S.), the male DNA contributor e-mailed me – not to say “hello” or “how are you?”, but to tell me that “you owe me (insert U.S. dollar amount here)”. No exaggeration – that’s what the e-mail said. When I responded that I was living from couch to couch, the male DNA contributor stated that I was exaggerating and need to look for work to pay back the money, along with some other really fucked up things that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Male DNA contributor would’ve known that I was looking all day every day, including weekends, at employment opportunities, had there been any effort to check on me. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.

Bye.
Bye.

The female DNA contributor isn’t much better. (Boy… if there’s a higher power, he or she sure knows how to pick the people whom they want to create new human beings. 😐 ) Complete narcissistic waste of time & energy. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good a while ago. At least I don’t discriminate, right?

Another person from England, whom I’d known for 10 years, insisted that I pay her back $50.00 I owed her in spite of full knowledge of my situation. Yes… $50.00. I was so stunned that she had the nerve to ask me for money she knew I didn’t have, that I just responded with “not a problem”. I gave her the bit of money (and boy, was it just a bit) I got from the former employer about 5 weeks later and after that… *crickets* –  no “hello” or “how are you?” or even “f*** you” after that. I waited 1 year for her to say something to me on any form of social media or technology… still *crickets*. I was there for her during some really difficult times (including an abusive relationship), before and after my move to England, and she threw everything away for 50 U.S. dollars. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.

Bye. (Or, in British speak, off you go.)
Bye. (Or, in British speak, off you go.)

At one point, I don’t think that even my aunt & uncle – who are like real parents to me – realized the gravity of my situation. And I’ll admit, I was angry at & frustrated with them for a bit before my return home. But once they realized how bad things were, that was it. I began staying with them before Xmas 2013.

I forgot to mention that since I accidentally overstayed my visa because of the former employer, along with reporting to the local immigration office, I was banned from returning to the United Kingdom for 1 year. Once I gave up all chances of returning after being shafted by recruitment agencies, I gave up trying to get back to the country and sat out my 1 year ban.

And so many other painful stories of betrayal and outright dismissal, from so-called colleagues, friends & relatives, that I could recount since I hit my rock bottom. (I’m not sure if those people deserve my energy, though.)

But then there are people such as:

  • my (ex-)stepfather who, in spite of us not speaking for 1 year because of an issue, picked me up at the airport upon my arrival home even though he lives in another state and carried my luggage – no questions asked – and gave me money for public transportation to get to interviews without me asking.
  • Joana, who insisted that I stay with her upon my return home, free of charge and refused any of my offers to help otherwise. I didn’t stay long due to other reasons, but for that and her I’m eternally grateful.
  • my aunt & uncle, who’ve housed me, which has helped me rebuild my life slowly but surely. Among countless other things, aunt bought me a coat and interview clothing also.
  • Dashima, who supported my fundraiser and sent me flowers when I finally got a job after almost 8 months of no luck.
  • Juma, who gave me his old coat until I got a new one, and provided other support.
  • those who gave me emotional and/or financial and/or other support and didn’t have to – Ellen & her husband storing my stuff in England, Sherri helping me pack, Sherri (again) & her husband cooking for me, Nadine helping me pack, Dacia, Gary, Johanna, Uzma, Twana, Sharon S., Natalie & Emmon, Ruth, Atiba, my 2 main Facebook group members, and so many others I wouldn’t expect.
  • the many people who sent me job postings.
  • the people who don’t know me in real life or online but believed me and believed in me more than enough to help, no questions asked.

I know I’ve forgotten some names, but I hope those people know my heart.

I think things are beginning to look up.

  • I’ve worked since March 2014, after almost 8 months of unemployment with no benefits of any kind.
  • I’ve paid down some debt.
  • I joined a gym to return to healthier living.
  • I’m studying for my next highest credential (or qualification, for those of you overseas).
  • My aunt, uncle and I get along very well overall, which is definitely a challenge for an introvert like me.
  • I have travels coming up within the next 2 months; my travel bug is finally back. (I’ll leave the travels as a surprise for now.)
  • And last, but certainly not least, I’ve been able to help others with no strings attached. It warms my heart to help those who can never pay it back (nor do they have to try). I’m just grateful to be able to do it. (I’m very selective, however.)
Finally (little by little).
Finally (little by little).

I sit here, typing this with tears in my eyes. (A few of ’em even fell.) Some feel like sad tears, but more feel like grateful tears. For those who left me when I needed it most, farewell. For the rest of you, I’m eternally grateful. I thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.

Little by little, step by step, day by day.

The world returning to my fingertips.
The world returning to my fingertips.

Life-changing day.

Exactly 1 year ago today, I received a letter in the mail that’d change my life for a long time, if not for good.

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Exactly 1 year ago today, I received a letter in the mail that’d change my life for a long time, if not for good.

It was a Thursday evening, and I came home from a long day at work, with my team on duty for 3 days straight. I was glad to be home. It’d been my home for a little over 3 years, and I thought I’d be there for a long time to come.

There was mail in front of my door. I picked it up and saw that one piece was from the Home Office. I thought to myself

Oh, good. The Home Office will renew my visa. I’ll get to stay here a bit longer, save money, travel a bit, and even look into dual citizenship.

I put away my belongings, settled in to read my mail and maybe watch a little television – likely something I DVRed, no doubt. I opened the Home Office mail and read it. Then my heart sank deep into my stomach. The Home Office denied my visa application. I was a overstayer.

I re-read the letter a few times to make sure that it wasn’t a joke. But nothing in the letter changed. I was an accidental overstayer. I was speechless for a bit, and even fought back tears. (I can’t remember who won – me or the tears.) I called my aunt and let her know, and I told her I’d keep her posted.

Little did I know that this was the beginning of the end – the end of my expatriate life, the end of my independence, and the end of my life as I lived it for ___ years. And to this day, I’m still feeling the effects – they aren’t as strong as 1 year ago or even a few months ago, but they’re still there.

I hope my day is so busy that I don’t dwell on the anniversary. I hope that the bitterness goes away completely one day – some of it is gone, but some still remains. I hope that I can handle unfinished business over there. But in the meantime, for the way my expatriate life ended over there, that place can go straight to hell.

Staying put.

In the words of the Prophet, “It is finished.”

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In the words of the Prophet, “It is finished.”

Everything they've done since August has led up to this.
Everything they’ve done since August has led up to this.

(PLEASE NOTE: I’m using the picture to make my point, not for any religious purposes.)

After giving this some thought recently, and after reviewing the requirements for a work visa application, I’ve decided to stop looking for employment opportunities in the United Kingdom.

The visa application website requires potential applicants to qualify for a certain amount of points before moving forward. I hadn’t looked at it since 2010, so I didn’t remember what the requirements were. I took the preliminary test to see if I could go ahead with the application, and I met each requirement… except the sponsorship part. Therefore, I couldn’t go ahead with the application.

I don’t think it’s too difficult to get sponsorship in my profession from employers over there. What is difficult, however, is finding a reputable recruiter/recruiting agency to find a decent employer willing to offer sponsorship. Unfortunately, my experiences over the past few months led me to believe that most recruiters/recruiting agencies over there are shady. They’ve shat on me from the start, making shoddy promises and displaying a major lack of professionalism. Here are 2 examples of their “professionalism”:

Hi (Spinster),

I am looking to see if i can find a worksponser for you in London, will keep you posted ASAP

Regards

Recruiter Name

(P.S. I copied/pasted the e-mail exactly how the recruiter sent it to me.)

(P.P.S. The e-mail subject was “.” Yes… a period – that thing with which we end sentences.

)

Another one never spelled my government name correctly and used smiley faces in e-mail correspondence. (And no, it wasn’t a woman.)

I got so fed up with recruiting agencies over there, I decided to change the settings on 1 employment website such that recruiters can no longer contact me. I also changed the settings on another employment website such that neither my former employer nor another shady employer – which flaked out on me 3 times – can ever contact me again. If I work over there again, it’ll be on my terms and to hell with recruiters/recruiting agencies overall.

I’m also still experiencing the negative effects of what the former employer did to me. Now don’t get me wrong… overall, my time living in the United Kingdom was alright, but the last few months of my time there – along with my current challenges – left a really bad taste in my mouth. I try not to let those months color my whole view of the country, but I admit that it’s very difficult.

Will I live/work there – or any other country outside of the United States – ever again? I don’t know. After this experience, I don’t think I want to expatriate again. (I’ll always love travelling, though – that’ll never change.) But I’m not 100% certain about this, so who knows what the future holds. I’ve applied & looked for jobs all over so I’ll go wherever the money is. And if that means leaving the country again to get back on my feet, then so be it… even if – since I know that expatriation isn’t all cupcakes & roses – I go kicking & screaming for 1-3 years. However, I’d prefer getting my life back on track here, not in another country.

When I returned to the States, the ticket was round-trip because it was cheaper than a one-way ticket, and I scheduled to return sometime in Spring 2014. I plan on changing the ticket date to later this year. (Hopefully my life will be drastically different by then.) If I still feel a certain way about the country (and it is possible that I may feel the same way in the future), I’ll cancel the ticket altogether. But I think it’d be good to see a few of my old colleagues and a couple of friends, so I’ll likely just change the date instead of cancelling altogether.

There’s a lot more, but I’m going to end here. I don’t want to pass on my doom & gloom to anyone reading this, and many things are better left unsaid (until later?). It ain’t over until the fat lady sings. I’m fat, but I’m not singing… yet.

(WARNING: the following song has curses and derogatory words)

I will not lose…

Related posts:
Home (bitter)sweet home.
https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/home-bittersweet-home/

Hard knock life. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/hard-knock-life/

This sounds familiar. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/this-sounds-familiar/

Reset my life. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/reset-my-life/

Jobseeker(s). https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/jobseekers/

Some things change… https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/some-things-change/

Limbo. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/limbo/

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color.

(For more about how the Weekly Photo Challenge started, take a look at this link. For more about this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, click here.)

04.10.2013 – Like me, he must’ve had a long day at work.  The work uniform signifies that he works in either construction, public transport, or engineering works.

Image

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Day in My Life.

(For more about how the Weekly Photo Challenge started, take a look at this link. For more about this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, click here.)

I like this Weekly Photo Challenge because it makes people tell a story with photos. Sometimes, words aren’t necessary; as the famous saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So although I added a few words to the following photos, the photos should tell enough of a story for you to see a day in my life. I suggest viewing the photos from left to right, and hovering your mouse over them for captions (all but 2 or 3 have captions). Enjoy.

04.02.2013 (with a couple thrown in from 04.03.2013 & 04.04.2013)

As usual, the system takes forever to load, so in the meantime...
As usual, the system takes forever to load, so in the meantime…

(Since I switched teams, though, I don’t conduct visits as much as I used to. That has its pros & cons.)

IMG_3270

IMG_3271

So every once in a while, something like this is nice.  (Unlike many Britons, though, I rarely drink.)
So every once in a while, something like this is nice. (Unlike many Britons, though, I rarely drink.)

IMG_3247

I try breaking up my week (or weekends) to keep from going insane in this career field to keep myself a little grounded. For example:

So there you have it. Hopefully you’re not too bored with a day in my life. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Keep calm and drink tea.
Keep calm and drink tea.

10 Things I Hate About You.

I’ll begin with a list of 10 things that I hate about this country. I’d rather start with the bad so as not to give anyone any illusions about being an expatriate.

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If you check(ed) out my last written post, you’ll see that I reached 1 year since my move here.  Looking back at the past year is amazing because it went by so fast.  I’m taking a little time to think about my overall experience here, then put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  Please bear with me, as it may take at least 2 posts for me to get through this.  I’ll begin with a list of 10 things that I hate about this country.  I’d rather start with the bad so as not to give anyone any illusions about being an expatriate.  I’ve always said from the start that I’d share the full experience, not just the roses & daisies.
________________________________
Rude people. 
After my confrontation on the road a few weeks ago, I’m more firm in the belief that this country has some of the rudest people on the planet.  It’s funny because many people back home see this country as prim & proper, uppity & snobbish.  I can say with certainty that that’s not the case.  There are people here who have no scruples, no sense of respect or decency, and they come in all colors & shades & races & ethnicities.  People here will rush past you, bump you & damn near push you to the ground without uttering one “Sorry” or “Excuse me”.  The men have no sense of chivalry – no holding doors, no giving up seats on public transportation, no helping those who are less able (elderly, pregnant, etc.) – and it’s a wonder that women flock to them so much.  What kills me the most about these rude people is their sense of entitlement.  But that’s another rant for another day.
Banking.
I was supposed to open an account with one particular bank before moving.  Because I was so busy with the move, I couldn’t do that until I got here.  (My American colleagues processed their paperwork before moving and they still had problems with the length of time it took to open their accounts.)  This particular bank gave me so much trouble that not only couldn’t I withdraw money when necessary, I had to put my money into someone else’s account until I got my own.  It’s a real pain in the ass to bother someone to withdraw another’s money from one’s own bank account almost every day, especially since the first few weeks had lots of unexpected expenses come up out of nowhere.  I opened an account with a different bank instead; that was also a pain in the ass, but not as bad as the original bank.  Bank processing also takes too long; an account debit can take anywhere from 5-7 business days to clear, possibly longer, and even cash can take a while to clear (unless one goes to the bank face-to-face).  This can make bill paying a real pain in the ass.  This isn’t something I’ll ever get used to.
Taxes
Seriously?  Almost 25% taxes out of people’s paychecks, sometimes more?  Come on now.  (There’s a plus side to this, which I’ll discuss in my next post.)
Driving
Driving on the wrong….. oh sorry, left side of the road is a bit annoying and, at first, nerve-wracking.  One of my American colleagues let me drive her car once.  It was the perfect driving lesson because it was after-work rush hour & getting to her house is like driving through a maze.  But I was so nervous that not only was I gripping the steering wheel, I also don’t remember breathing until we reached her house & got a headache.  Having such narrow roads doesn’t help either because they make me feel claustrophobic.  When it comes to driving, I prefer home, where everything is bigger.
Police
After my confrontation on the road a few weeks ago, I’m more firm in the belief that the police in this country = toy cops.  Rather than rehash my story, I’ll briefly mention a couple of incidents that happened to my colleagues:
– 1 colleague got punched in the face for no reason by a drunkard in broad daylight.  What’d the police do?  Give him a self-defense packet that, aside from a noise-making device, had nothing in it that could help with self-defense.  The man was never caught despite having CCTV almost everywhere country-wide.
– 1 colleague, while waiting for a night bus, saw a man expose himself; there were others at the bus stop (including a child).  I think the man used some racial slurs along with whatever else he said while exposing himself.  The colleague called the police, but nothing happened.
Most of the police force don’t use guns.  I don’t like that.  Which brings me to the next thing…..
Criminal justice system
While the U.S. criminal justice system is by no means perfect, I appreciate it more since moving here.  I prefer law enforcement officers with guns, I prefer stiff penalties for harsh crimes, and I prefer the death penalty for those who truly deserve it.  Here, if a person commits a crime and goes to jail/prison, that person is eligible for parole at or before half of the time finishes.  That’s right… only 1/2.  It’s bad enough that court-imposed time isn’t much anyway, but to only serve 1/2 or less is, in my opinion, a slap in the face for victims & their families.  Here’s a mild example; the harsher examples are. in my opinion, too outrageous to share here.  Only a convicted murderer can get a mandatory life sentence.  And there’s no death penalty.  For more information, HM Prison Service.
Red tape
 Everything here is covered in red tape, better known as bureaucracy.  This form must be filled out & signed, but first you need to fill out & sign that form so that you can fill out & sign the 1st form.  But wait, you have to sign Master Form 1.23456789 & Master Form Part A-2.34567890 to sign those other forms!  Then, when all the forms are signed, it takes damn near forever to get your product or service or etc.  As an example, my laptop crashed 1 month after I bought it.  I brought it back to the store since it was under 1 year warranty, and it took 1 month for it to be fixed & returned.
Social services
Since I work in social services and don’t want to jeopardize my job, I won’t elaborate much on this point.  All I’ll say is that the social service system in this country need to be overhauled & modernized.  In addition, social work here focuses on child protection… but not much else.  This contrasts with the United States, where social work classes/study courses & potential career paths are varied (here’s 1 example).
Benefits
This is what’s called welfare back home, and I’ll use both interchangeably here.  While it’s nice to live in a country that is somewhat socialist (a plus side that I’ll discuss in my next post), the grass isn’t much greener on the other side.  There are some on welfare/benefits who misuse the system with no penalties or fear of punishment, and in my opinion (and the opinions of my diverse colleagues), the United Kingdom government has enabled a sense of self-entitlement & laziness in these people.  {Please note that unlike home, where people of color are (often mistakenly) seen as the culprits in misusing benefits, the culprits here come in all colors & shades & races & ethnicities.  I can’t find a statistics breakdown for this country; I could be searching incorrectly.}  It annoys me even further because I pay heavy taxes here, yet I can’t access any recourse to public funds.  In other words, if I’m injured and can’t work for a period of time, I can’t access unemployment insurance or other benefits since I’m not a United Kingdom citizen even though I pay heavy taxes.  But without using any names, I know someone who is an able-bodied United Kingdom citizen, just had a 2nd child, and refuses to work because benefits take care of everything.  (There are also many European Union citizens who come here & access United Kingdom benefits.)  So basically, I bust my ass working to barely make ends meet, yet my taxes are paying for this person to sit around for most of the day.

Public transportation
 I hate the Tube and avoid it as much as possible.  It’s overcrowded (especially with tourists) & filled with stifling heat.  The buses are annoying sometimes because baby carriages (known here as prams) take up space & contain crying/whining/screaming/hollering babies/infants/toddlers/children-who-are-too-big-to-be-in-carriages.  I’ve turned up my music to drown out noise on many occasions yet still hear crying/whining/screaming/hollering.  And oftentimes, the older children/teenagers & adults are even louder & more obnoxious than the babies/infants/toddlers.  And how could I forget the all-too-common smell that wafts throughout the bus & tells on the many people who haven’t used soap & water every day?  Thank goodness for different over-ground trains (like this & that & these & those) and knowing how to drive.
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There’s more but that’s it for now.  Are there any expatriates that can relate & have a top 10 hates for your current location?
Next post will focus on my top 10 favorite likes about living/working here. Stay tuned.

Anniversary.

1 year ago today, I landed at Heathrow Airport to work/live in another country. The time went by so fast. And I’m still alive, still standing.

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1 year ago today, I landed at Heathrow Airport to work/live in another country.  The time went by so fast.  And I’m still alive, still standing.

I’m not gonna write a long entry about the year; instead, I already have a few posts coming down the pipe that’ll address my experience(s)/thoughts about the year, and my other blog is under re-construction and should be done by the end of the week.  You can, however, read this & this & maybe even this to get an idea (if you haven’t already) of my experience moving here, along with reading other posts right after those.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences so far, and I hope that it inspires someone to make that move.

Work here = Work everywhere.

I guess now is a good time to talk about what I do for a living. I work in social services. It’s something I decided to do as a teenager…..

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I guess now is a good time to talk about what I do for a living.

I work in social services. It’s something I decided to do as a teenager, when I saw the work that my father did. He wasn’t a social worker by trade, but his community work was admirable – working with drug addicts, people with HIV/AIDS (who were also often drug addicted), mentally challenged teenagers, etc. I wanted to become a doctor or find a cure for HIV/AIDS, but then I decided that I might make a bigger difference by doing the same things as my father. As a result, I studied a few different social sciences in college and went on to graduate school.

The United Kingdom, especially England, has a historic shortage of people willing to work in social services. The reasons are varied & complex, but to make it simple for you:

– underpaid
– underappreciated
– overworked
– overwhelmed
– bureaucracy on a massive level
– challenging families – poverty, deprivation, desperation, etc.
– burn-out and, as a result, high turn-over rates

(In 2009, the Local Government Association basically begged retired/ex-social workers to come back because of the shortage.)

To remedy this, one of the ways that the United Kingdom tries to fill in vacancies is by recruiting overseas on a heavy basis – the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. That’s how I got here. Overseas recruiting worked for a while, until now. With the world economy already up Shit’s Creek, the United Kingdom, like most or all of continental Europe, has taken many austerity measures to close gaping budget gaps. One of these measures will likely target overseas recruiting (if it hasn’t already – depending on what part of the United Kingdom one resides in), which will likely lead to an increase in social service vacancies….. Why? Because despite heavy PR campaigns in & outside of the United Kingdom, the image of social workers by the public is quite tarnished due to high-profile child abuse cases that took place over the past 10-15 years – Victoria Climbie (detailed story – Wikipedia) & Baby P (detailed story – Wikipedia) are glaring examples. As a result, there aren’t many people willing to attend school for & work in the profession. And honestly, I’m not sure why in the world I keep doing this because all the above reasons apply to me too. 😐

And as you might imagine, the many vacancies will affect families, as well as the way that social care agencies provide services. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that it’s a vicious cycle that occurs everywhere, worldwide.

To be more specific to my experience, I work for the local government in children’s services with the aim of keeping children ages 11-17 out of (foster) care. Although cases of child abuse and/or neglect aren’t part of my department’s services (that’s the job of child protection), the area in which I work is pretty deprived. Here are some statistics:

– According to the 2001 census, the area is 63% white, 16% black African and 8% black Caribbean
– Broken down further, this particular area is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the United Kingdom
– High-crime area with high levels of gang violence, for which it has a notorious reputation
– Most crimes here (and throughout the United Kingdom) occur as stabbings since guns are illegal here
– Great Britain overall has seen an increase in gun crime & gangs in recent years even though guns are illegal here
– The area has the highest teenage (under 18) conception rate in the United Kingdom (and if I remember correctly, in Europe)
– The area has high STD (or, as they’re known here, STI) infection rates

(The only reason that I’m not specifying from where I obtained these statistics is for privacy & personal concerns; hopefully readers will understand.)

Well, there you have it. Welcome to my (work) world.
______________________

For further information about the aforementioned topics, check out the following links:

Europe hit by wave of anti-austerity protests – The Guardian
Austerity in Europe – Financial Times
Workers in Europe protest austerity measures – New York Times

Operation Trident – BBC News
10 years of Operation Trident – Time Out London
Operation Trident may be ditched in spending cuts – The Guardian
Gangs in the United Kingdom – Wikipedia (pardon me for posting a Wikipedia link)
Drop The Weapons/Stop The Guns
London Street Gangs – Blogspot
Los Angeles (California, United States) gangs take over UK streets – The Sun (warning: a bit sensationalist)
Teen gangs of Britain – The Mirror (warning: a bit sensationalist)
Police identify 169 London gangs (as of 2007) – Current TV

Images for Victoria Climbie (WARNING: GRAPHIC)
(Victoria) Climbie report urges childcare reform – BBC News
Baby P & Victoria Climbie tragedies synonymous with reforms to system – The Telegraph
Timeline: Victoria Climbie – BBC News
Baby P: The official files – The Independent
Couple behind Baby P death named – BBC News
Bonus link – Timeline: Khyra Ishaq’s death – BBC News

Damn foreigners.

One of the first e-mails I saw was from a newly-hired recruiter at the agency that brought me over here. In it she stated that a new group of Americans just arrived, and she requested my attendance at an informal dinner on Thursday to meet the new recruits.

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It was my 2nd day at the new job (July 6th). Aside from meeting with my supervisor to learn the ropes for the non-computer aspects of the job, lots of reading, and help from my team members, I didn’t do too much. That was fine because there was a LOT of reading – laws & rules & statutes, oh my. 😐 I got to know my team members little by little, in addition to colleagues on other teams somewhat related to my work. Some of them asked lots of questions about home, told me about their visits to the States, and stated their opinions about the many goings-on in the States. These were nice conversation starters because I wouldn’t have initiated conversation.

My work e-mail worked, so I checked it to see if I’d gotten anything. One of the first e-mails I saw was from a newly hired recruiter at the agency that brought me over here. In it she stated that a new group of Americans just arrived, and she requested my attendance at an informal dinner on Thursday to meet the new recruits.

*scratch record*

*REWIND*

What? Meet people? People I’ve never met before? For dinner? For a long period of time?

Why? 😐

For those who know me well (and I’ve mentioned it here a couple of times), I’m an introvert. A proud introvert. For most of my life, people (including family members) made me feel bad about this, saying there was something wrong with me since I’m not a social butterfly. Social interactions, especially for long periods of time, deplete my energy and cause me to withdraw into a cocoon (whether living solo or paired up). It’s my way of recharging (albeit nowhere near as recharged than the average social being). In the past this caused me lots of angst because as a teenager (and like most teenagers), being this way made people misunderstand me even more, which led to a vicious cycle of wanting to please people but not being able to, being angry at the world and hating myself. But now, as an adult, I’ve come to accept the fact that I can’t please everyone and I’ll never be an extrovert. I like that I appreciate one-to-one & small group interactions the most; I prefer more intimate connections with people as opposed to shallow & superficial interactions with tons of people. Besides, bad girls move in silence. 😉

So, I was wary of this e-mail but said to myself, “To hell with it. I’ll force myself to go. Maybe these new people aren’t too bad.” But then I remembered something else about myself:

Because of my past travels, I’ve come to avoid most other Americans when travelling. I’m sorry fellow Americans, but some of you make us look bad worldwide. You have that damn A-merry-can Sarah Palin-esque accent, which annoys me to no end. (American accents vary by region, but more often than not, this is the most common accent I’ve heard during my travels.) And your clothes, for the love of whatever deity might exist… Buy some new clothes! Do you have to wear the same tourist outfits – track suits or mountain gear? And don’t get me started on the terrible American-centric Caucasian-centric superiority complex that many of you have, which makes America/Americans look even more stupid in the eyes of the rest of the world. Don’t you realize that we’re seen as a joke across the world? 😐 Hell, it embarrasses me to the point that when people ask me where I’m from, I just mention my city to look better in the eyes of others. 😐

Anyway, I replied “yes” to the e-mail knowing that I’d regret it later. Over the 2 days that preceded the dinner, I thought of every excuse possible to get out of going – I was still jet-lagged, I needed to go to the internet cafe, it was hot outside… whatever it took.

The day came and as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, I decided to go. This would save me from cooking or buying dinner. I was a little late because although it’s easy to get to London Bridge, the place was hard to find once I got there. A few minutes later I found it, asked for the reserved table and walked over to it.

I had a bad headache and I was hot & grumpy. I said a polite hello and sat down. I sat in the corner seat, deciding that I’d eat & leave within an hour. I didn’t know these people, and they were A-merry-can, which meant that I probably wouldn’t like them anyway (or so I thought). I wasn’t getting up to introduce myself. That’s not what I do. 😐

In the group was a married couple from Texas, a young woman from Texas via Colorado, a man from somewhere in the New York tri-state area, and the 2 women from New Zealand who sat on the other end of the table. I was sitting at the A-merry-can side of the table. Fuck. 😐 I was even more chagrined when I learned that most of them never left the United States until now. (The only thing I’m a snob about is travel.) I said to myself (something to the effect of):

“Christ. These people have never left the country? Here we go. More ignorance and bullshit.”

I ordered my food & drink, hoping for this to end soon. The new recruits knew I got here a couple of weeks before them, so the questions started pouring in:

1. Have you ever been here before? (Yes.)
2. What’s the job like? (I just got here just like all of you. I don’t know.)
3. Where are you staying? (My friend’s house.)

Sigh. And too many other questions. They probably didn’t realize it, but I couldn’t deal with all the social interaction yet I forced myself through it.

After a while, I relaxed a little. I began talking a bit more when the husband in the married couple whispered to me,

“Hey, are there any Black people here?”

Sigh. Why me, whatever deity might be in the sky, WHY?

I said, “Are you kidding me? England has the largest population of Black people in Europe. You really haven’t left the States, have you?”

Him: “No. I didn’t know there were Black people here.”

Sigh, help us all. 😐

I began telling him about the different groups of Black people here, cultural events & activities, and told him something that I don’t think he ever heard before:

“As a Black American, you’re part of a very small elite group. Many Black Americans… hell, many Americans in general… have never left the United States, much less lived in another country. Don’t limit yourself to just ‘Black stuff’. There are too many cultures here for you to do that to yourself. Take advantage of everything that this place has to offer.”

He listened intently, and I think its importance hit him after that statement. I began to feel a little more comfortable, mostly because I was only speaking to him at this point, but also because the group wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. I didn’t leave within an hour like I said I would; we didn’t leave until at least 22.00. We all exchanged phone numbers and I told everyone that I’d see them next week (like me when I arrived, they had 1 week to settle in before beginning work).

I still had a headache, but I was happy that I went. Recruitment staff paid for dinner and everything tastes better when it’s free. 😉 I headed home exhausted and although I wasn’t ready to embrace them just yet, I was happy to make a couple of potential connections. I told N about the new folks and she shook her head at their lack of travel experience too, but she was glad that I clarified some things.

One of the new people wound up returning to the States 2 days later (I may explain that in another entry, but don’t hold me to it). The rest of us are still here and our connections are stronger; this is especially so for me & the married couple. They’re great and, as a solo expatriate, I’m glad that they’ve accepted me into their lives.

Until next time, ladies & gentlemen.