Onto the Next Chapter…

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How did it get to be November already??

I have been back at home for a month and a half now and it was definitely the best decision…it feels so good to be back to familiar surroundings and to finally get back on track with my career goals.

My last few months in England were insanely busy with work and packing and traveling! I had so much to wrap up at work and I put a lot of pressure on myself to complete certain tasks because I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment by following through with some very important work. I was able to be a part of locating adopters for several of my children (I know they are not actually MY children, but they were my kids on my caseload)…and I just did not want to let anyone down. I worked day and night to finish Life Story Books and Later Life Letters…I just HAD to get it done. I was able to prepare them for their Forever Families and it was absolutely heartbreaking to leave them and see their precious little smiles as I said goodbye…but I am confident that they will all be loved in the way that they need and deserve to be loved. It was such an honour to be a part of their journey towards finding their Forever Families. It has been the highlight of my career.

I have a found a new love within the world of social work…working with children and helping them to find their forever families…whether I will be able to find work in Canada along the same lines…I don’t know…but I will always carry these precious memories and invaluable experiences with me.

I learned so many things during my time living in England…personally and professionally. There are some experiences I would rather forget…but the negative experiences are overshadowed by my last 6 months which were full of so much happiness and so many adventures. I was able to experience all that London life has to offer and to travel to Europe…and most importantly, I made friends who will be my friends for life. I don’t think I would have stayed in England as long as I did if it had not been for my wonderful friends.

So I do miss the ‘museum’ that was England…I miss seeing the castles and the beautiful monuments and buildings. I miss the accents, I miss the shopping (yes I miss Primarni!!). I miss all the British-isms and the people. I miss being able to hope on a plane and to discover a whole new culture in only a few hours. Sometimes I just can’t believe that I actually moved all the way over to England!!

Now I’m back in Canada…which does not have castles and any cool ‘old things’…but it has a beautiful coastline and beautiful mountains that I get to see everyday during my drive into work…and it has my friends and family. I’m excited to move forward and focus on my self care and to finally be able to start working towards the career goals that I have been tossing around in my head for years. For now, I have returned back to working in healthcare…and so my blog will continue as I begin to navigate towards my goals…I hope you will continue to join me!!

I’ve Made a Big Decision…

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I’ve handed in my notice. I’m going home.

This may come as a surprise to many of you considering that I only started working about 8 months ago…but it wasn’t because my job was so horrible that it impacted my decision to leave. Ok, it did impact my decision a lot, but not in the way that you think.

I don’t blog too much about my personal life, but feel it’s only fair that I’m honest in sharing the various factors that have led to my decision to leave the UK. Many of you know from reading my blog, that I moved to the UK because my SO lived here. We didn’t feel that being in a long distance relationship could accurately depict real life and needed to be together to see if their was a future…but sadly there was not. Things quickly took a turn for the worst yet there was a lot of denial about it on both our ends. It’s hard to leave a situation when you’ve just moved 5000 miles and left all your family, friends and career behind. I was a wreck and emotionally and physically crumbling as my self confidence was being dismantled at both ends…at home and at work by my then supervisor.

When the relationship ended, I took some time to think about what I wanted to do. I moved out and decided that I would stay on a little while longer considering that I put so much time, effort, energy and money into moving here. I wanted to experience my life in the UK as a single woman and not have any regrets. Which is exactly what I did…and I have had the time of my life (cue the song!).

Over time I did begin to realize that I felt so restricted in this country. I was in a job that was shaving years off my life which just wasn’t worth it; I didn’t have a car and didn’t have the finances to buy one; I had so many aspirations for my career which I had put on hold when I moved here…and I was only limited to a certain sector of social work in this country. Also, as I’m getting older…I’ve realized that I just don’t want to rent a room anymore…I’ve had enough of moving around and feeling unsettled. I just want to feel established and settled in my own home. I have felt that my life has been on hold for sometime. And of course, I also missed my friends and family…these are all the factors that have led to my decision to go back home.

I didn’t make the decision lightly and I was a ball of tears when I told my manager. I still haven’t told my team because I just can’t handle all the questions I will get, but I will tell them soon. Since becoming single and moving out, which was around the same time my bully supervisor left, I have to say that I have never been happier. I have come to love the team that I work with and I have made some incredible friends who will be my friends for life. My manager was incredibly supportive and understanding of my decision to leave as she has been aware of my personal struggles since I have been here. I really struggled with when I was going to leave because many of my children are well on their way to being adopted and I just didn’t want to miss any of it!!! How could I leave them?? How will they cope with the transition to their new adoptive placement AND the loss of their social worker?? But…I just had to my put myself first and know that my kids would be just fine…

It still makes me feel really sad to think about it…but I have only a few months left here and I know time is going to fly…I have so much to do at work and I have to think about all the logistics of the move as well…but of course…I will make sure that I make time for a lot of fun in between…

Yes…there are good parts about my job!

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I know that I seem to write a lot of negativity around my job and what I don’t like it…but there are pieces that I really enjoy. The best part about being in a long term team is that I get to be involved with meeting prospective adopters and matching them with children who need a loving and stable home.

I have a baby and several young children on my caseload who have been subjected to a lot of trauma in their lives and who are considered ‘hard to place’. I never realized just how much of an impact these children would have on my life. It pains to think that they never asked for a life like this…a life where their parents were dealing with their own trauma and who just could not give their children the care and love they deserved and needed.

As I got to know these children more, I was determined to find them the best Forever Families and have become really protective over them. Only the best for my kids! I am so excited that an amazing adoptive couple were approved for my baby, who I have just fallen in love with, and that we have found potential adopters for some of my hard to place children.

I am so excited for them and I am so honoured to be a part of their life journey. I am looking forward to the day when the adopters get to meet the new addition to their family…and my baby gets to meet his new mummy and daddy. I know this day will not be about me…but I will probably be so emotional when they meet because I can only just imagine what it must feel like for the adopters to finally meet their new son. This baby is so blessed to have been placed with an amazing foster carer since birth and now…he will soon be moving on to live with his mummy and daddy.

Restoring my Faith

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So you’ve made the decision to move to another country…I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision, but whatever the reason is…to pursue your career, for a relationship, or just for an adventure…it won’t always feel like you made the right decision. There will be moments where you will feel alone…and feel extremely vulnerable…and wonder what the hell you are even doing here.

I have felt this often over the many years I have experienced living away from home. And the time when this usually happens is when I’ve gotten sick. I don’t know about you…but although we are usually capable of taking care of ourselves when we are not well…it’s really nice to have someone around…someone you know you can call on…just in case…especially when we are so far from home.

I am motivated to write this blog entry because I spent the weekend quite ill…and I was out for the count. And to top it off…I was out-of-town and not even in my own place. And although I was spending time with friends who have known me for such a short period time (and some who I had just met!)…words cannot express my gratitude for the empathy and compassion they showed me. From checking in on me…going out to get me soup and meds…and just letting me know that they were there. I hated asking for help, but I had to let that go. It has really restored my faith in humanity after feeling alone for so long.

When I think back to all the years I’ve lived away from home and the various places I have worked…I have come to realize just how fortunate I have been to cross paths with such caring and compassionate people in my life. People who saw me as a brave person who moved away from everything that I know…people who could put themselves in my shoes and understand what it must be like for someone to be so far from home…people who made sure that I did not feel alone…either when I was sick, away from my family for the holidays…or just when I was feeling blue. I learned that there are genuine people who care and who will help you if you reach out–and not expect anything in return.

I felt compelled to write this entry almost as an homage to all my friends I have made during my adventures–many whom I still have a close friendship with, and others who have come and gone in my life–who have opened up their arms, with no judgment and showed a kind, human spirit. To all of you—from the bottom of my heart…thank you.

So while there will be days where you question what you are doing here…there will be those days where the people you meet and the experiences you have will make it all so worth it.

Supervision–Will it make you or break you?

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Do not underestimate the power of supervision. If you get a shit supervisor, you will have a shit experience.

Starting off as a Social Worker in a new country comes with many challenges and I had heard so many different things about the work ethic in this country. I heard that people are constantly in a rush and are constantly being worked to the bone. So when I started working in frontline, I was appalled at the expectations of a Social Worker and the tasks that my supervisor would spring onto me. I didn’t know if that was just the norm and I was just supposed to put up with it or if it was just over the top and ridiculous. Fellow colleagues would say ‘that’s just how it is’, ‘they want your blood’, and ‘they expect you to devote your life” to this work. I couldn’t believe it. I had never experienced this amount of slavery in all my years of social work. Add to that a supervisor that’s not supportive…well that’s just asking for trouble.

There was a reason why I never went to my supervisor for support, and instead went to colleagues and other Assistant Team Managers. I was not getting the support that I needed. But I did not know if that was just me or just the way it was. I needed clear and concise direction, but how was I supposed to tell my supervisor that? How is a new Social Worker, who is new to the country, who is on probation, approach her manager and say ‘hey, you talk too much, just give me a clear and concise answer’. I just didn’t have the guts to do it.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I only recently had come to realize that I was actually being bullied by my previous supervisor when SW photothere was a change in supervision. She never offered me any praise or told me I was doing a good job. And I didn’t realize how much additional stress this was adding to my life and in turn, spilling into my personal life. I didn’t know if I was doing ok or if my practice was adequate. I just didn’t feel confident. My reviews were tainted with expectations I didn’t meet and concern as to whether I would pass my probation. And the worst part is…that I conceded. I caved and said that I was disappointed in myself, when in fact, my supervisor played a large role in not fostering my skills and not helping me to become successful.

A good supervisor should foster an atmosphere of growth, learning, personal reflection and respect of the mentor-mentee relationship. So when it comes to supervision, be clear on what the expectations are of the supervision meetings and what you want out of them, and be honest. Make it known that you want some time devoted to getting to know your cases. I can’t stress this enough. I thought I had advocated for this, but I should have been more persistent because the more you know your cases, the more prepared you are for CP Conferences and LAC Reviews. Speak with your colleagues and ask them about their supervision and what it was like when they first started. Ask for help. And also speak with your Team Manager. I have a Team Manager who is incredibly supportive, empathetic and positive and I wish I had gone to her sooner.

I finally feel like I am now moving forward and progressing in the role and feeling confident. It is really unfortunate that I didn’t have this current supervisor with me from the very beginning because I would have had a much more positive experience. It’s amazing how much of an impact the previous supervisor had on me and I wish I had said something earlier…but I just didn’t know any better. Being a Social Worker in a new country was very intimidating and I didn’t want it to come across like I couldn’t handle the job. But I can handle the job and I do have the skills and I will make mistakes. I have learned to be gentle with myself because it is a very steep learning curve and of course, I am only human…and so are you.

 

Pressure is mounting…

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I’m not keeping up with my blog as much as I would like to and it’s not necessarily because I don’t have the time or don’t have anything to write about (ok so maybe a little bit is about lack of time). In reality, I have so many things to write about and tweet about–whether it’s reflection of something happening in practice or with my colleagues in the office…but I am incredibly nervous of writing about them! I don’t think I’m going to write anything damning about my LA or colleagues, but I’m still trying to work out how to express myself while maintaining my anonymity.

As for work…well I’m definitely starting to feel the pressure. I’m slowly getting to know my families, but it’s overwhelming to go into complicated situations where not a lot of progress has been made, and then having to make an assessment on whether a child is at risk of significant harm. There are so many factors at play and I’m slowly trying to wrap my head around everything.

I sometimes question whether this role is for me…I do think that the experience I gain in this role will be highly beneficial for me in my career and even in my personal life. But the question is…will I enjoy it? There are days where I want to pull my hair out and throw my computer out the window because the documentation is endless. The timescales are endless. The conflicts are endless. The phone calls are endless. The emails are endless. It’s enough to drive anyone mad no matter how organized you are. What keeps me going is that the team I work with is highly supportive and will pitch in to help each other out…and that’s not something that is very common. I’ve had days where I have been so overwhelmed and I have been able to talk to colleagues about it and they are quick to lend an ear and ask how they can help. And much to my surprise, the manager, whom I thought was not going to be helpful has actually turned out to be the opposite. She often talks about having a work life balance and doing what I can to achieve this…which also includes not taking your work home with you…which I am trying so hard to avoid.

I have noticed that some social workers can be critical when it comes to various situations. Maybe I feel this because I’m too new in practicing social work in the UK and maybe because most of my career has been more of a supportive and counseling role or perhaps this is more of an assessment tool which allows the social worker to place the children’s needs first.

I am not sure what 2014 has in store for me and have not made any resolutions other than being happy and really understanding what being happy truly means. One thing I know for sure is that if I am not happy, it will be time to make some changes!

Have you made any resolutions or goals this year with regards to your career? Maybe penciling in a little bit more time for self care perhaps…since social workers are so good at preaching it and not practicing!

Whatever your goals are…I wish everyone happiness and peace in 2014!

My First Taste of Social Work in the UK

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I have officially been at work for a few weeks now and it was quite an exciting, overwhelming and frustrating experience full of meeting various team members, signing up for training, learning the computer systems and learning the policies and procedures of social work. Oh and also, I have now developed an allergic reaction to the word “timescales”.

I was looking forward to working until my supervisor told me in my first meeting that I would either “sink or swim”. In that one second, I went from feeling optimistic to a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Now, I am under no illusion that this work will be easy. I know it will be hard work, but I did not expect those to be the words that I hear from my supervisor. Needless to say, I began to question just what kind of supervision I was going to receive. To add to this feeling of dread, all of the social workers of the team told me that they spend many of their evenings and weekends writing court reports to meet timescales. I was not happy to hear that this job is going to suck my personal life. I have been very fortunate in my social work career to work 9-5 jobs (with the occasional late evening where there is a crisis) where I can leave work at work. My evenings and weekends are MINE.

I also began to think about some of the issues that plague social work in the UK–the lack of qualified, trained social workers who work in child protection. One of the reasons has to be due to a lack of training on the job…based on my experience. And it could just be particular to my local authority. During the orientation/induction period at all of my previous social work jobs, there is always structured training where various aspects of my training have been scheduled for me and I am shadowing various social workers on the job. Not in this case. I had to figure out and arrange pretty much everything on my own…which to me was such a waste of time. I’ve had limited opportunities to shadow other social workers on visits because either they don’t have visits I could attend…or they have actually forgotten that I was supposed to shadow them! This perhaps is a testament to how stressed and overworked many of these social workers are in their jobs—but also frustrating for me as the new social worker. My co-workers have been supportive and helpful whenever I ask questions but there is a definite lack in the importance of training, especially when we are seen as the “professional expert” in child protection. Luckily, there are other new social workers to the team, so we are able to vent to each other.

Over the next several weeks, I will be getting my caseload. I am already trying to find good organizational techniques to keep me on the ball! If you have any helpful tips on staying organized and managing time…please let me know! I want to make sure that I stay on top of all these timescales and never ending meetings.

On top of this stress, I have also had a few lessons on driving a manual car from my SO. Word to the wise…you must have to really love each other to teach/learn driving from your partner!!  For some reason, I was incredibly petrified, but I think that did have a lot to do with the fact that my SO put me on some back road where only one car can get through…clearly his standards were just a little too high! And we definitely have different definitions of yelling too ;) He claims that he never yelled, but I beg to differ. Eventually we found a quiet road with a small roundabout at each end and I just drove in figure 8’s shifting from first to second gear. I felt much better!

Thinking about doing yoga and meditation to cope with the demands of my job…just thinking about it….

I Made It!!!

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I arrived in England just over a week ago with my Tier 2 work visa and it only took me a year to get here! I’m also happy to report that I had absolutely no hassle from Immigrations at the airport. I sent off my HCPC application in October 2012 and arrived in the UK with my work visa in October 2013. Now, that’s not to say that it will take everyone a year for the process because it may happen quicker for others. Maybe you are on the Tier 5, or you were able to do a job interview via Skype from your home country, or maybe the council you interview with is on the ball and very efficient, or maybe you had a smooth application with HCPC.

In the last week or so I have opened up a bank account, sent off my Canadian driver’s license (eek!) and passport off to the DVLA in exchange for a UK provisional driver’s license, requested application for a National Insurance Number (NI Number) and registered with a physician. I am still using a pay as you go SIM card, but will apply for a more financially feasible phone plan once my bank account details are in place.I won’t get my Canadian driver’s license back, but my passport will be returned. I have to wait until I get my passport back before I can post my NI Number application because although I took photocopies of the ID page and visa of my passport, it also asks for a copy of the entry stamps I have had to previously enter the UK.

So, slowly but surely, everything is coming together. I start work pretty soon and am really looking forward to it. The past year has been such a roller coaster of emotions, because on top of getting a work visa, I was trying to work on my long distance relationship with my SO where we went from being 5000 miles away to all of a sudden living together!! Definitely some growing pains happening there!! But I’m beginning to feel more settled and attempting to establish my identity here. I have joined a few social groups on www.meetup.com which is such a great way to meet people. As I’ve moved around, this site has always helped me in creating a social circle.

I’m excited about Halloween and have already carved my pumpkin. I’ve heard that trick or treating is growing in popularity here so it’ll be fun to experience this in the UK. Also, I’ve been hearing a lot about Guy Fawkes Day where people light fireworks and gather around bonfires which celebrates the fact that King James I in 1605 survived the attempt on his life…and that attempt was made by Guy Fawkes. So this day celebrates that plots failure. Apparently, people in Britain burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. Should be an interesting night!

And as usual…I will continue with posts about my experience of living life as a Canadian and a Social Worker in the UK!

Happy Halloween!!

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Frequently Asked Questions

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I get a lot of great feedback and questions from readers (which I love to get!) and so I wanted to compile a list of the most Frequently Asked Questions. I will continue to update this post as I get more information, and please do not hesitate to tell me if any of the information I posted is incorrect!

What was your experience like with HCPC and what information did you provide?

I have written a blog post specific to my experience with HCPC entitled “Registration with HCPC” which outlines my experience and what information I provided. You should provide any and all information, which combined, shows how you have met the Standards of Proficiency outlined for Social Work that is listed on their website. Many of the SoP’s were satisfied with the Bachelor of Social Work course outlines I provided.

Would HCPC accept someone with a Bachelor of Social Work degree or someone who is finishing up their degree in Bachelor of Social Work?

To my knowledge, a student who is in the process of obtaining their Bachelor of Social Work degree cannot apply for HCPC. You do not need a Master of Social Work to register. A Bachelor of Social Work should be sufficient, provided you can meet the Standards of Proficiency for Social Work.

Should I apply to HCPC once I have been offered employment?

If you definitely know that you want to move to the UK and have the financial funds to do so, then don’t wait. It is up to the employer whether they are willing to wait the 4+ months it can take to register and also go through sponsorship and visa process. I say the more you have prepared, the better position you are in.

What is the job market like for Social Workers in the UK? Are there only jobs in Child Protection?

There are many jobs all over the UK for social workers; it’s just a matter of whether you have the skills and qualifications for the job and the appropriate visa. If you are applying under the Tier 2 Visa, it is limited to social work jobs in a “Children and Families setting”, so I solely focused on the area of Child Protection. I never explored what “Children and Families” entails other than Child Protection. But I have noticed many jobs in Mental Health and Adult Care. If you are applying under the Tier 5 visa, then you can work whatever job you like and recruiters can assist you in this aspect.

Which visa did you have when you were in the UK and applying for jobs?

I went to UK as a regular tourist where I could stay for a maximum of 6 months. I have shared my experience with the Immigrations officer at Heathrow airport upon my arrival in the blog post entitled “My Lovely Experience with Immigrations”.  I had to return back to Canada to apply for Tier 2 when I got a job. You cannot switch from one visa to another while you are in the UK. You have to go back to your home country. I did not qualify for the Tier 5 because I am past the age limit for it.

Please refer to the UKBA website for accurate and up to date information on visa requirements.

The job applications ask if I am eligible to work in UK? I need a visa and sponsorship…how should I answer this? 

I always checked that I was eligible to work in the UK…because I was…even though I needed a visa and to be sponsored. Usually the application does ask if you need a visa and/or need to be sponsored. Even if it doesn’t ask, I would write it somewhere in the application.

Can I volunteer while I am visiting the UK?

No, legally you are not allowed to volunteer if you are visiting the UK as a regular tourist/visitor. When I explored this, various organizations wanted to check my status in the UK. You are not even allowed to babysit, but people still do it.

Do I have to go to the UK and apply for jobs? Are employers willing to interview via Skype?

I never explored this option, but I am sure that some employers would be willing to do this.

How did you arrange for accommodations when you got to the UK?

My SO is a British citizen and resides in the UK. So I did not have to arrange any accommodations for myself.

The UK is so big, how did you choose where you wanted to work and live?

Since I would be living with my SO, who was already established, I chose to work close to where we would live-near South London. Do you want the busy city life or the countryside life? Look at the cost of living of various areas. How long would your commute time be? London is your best bet if you don’t want to get a car for your job. Every other area will require use of car. There are many LA’s who are familiar with the sponsorship process and are willing to sponsor. Look at OFSTED reports on the various LA’s to see how they are performing.

How do I contact Local Authorities?

Every local authority/borough has a website with a job section.  If you google London Boroughs, you will get a list of all the boroughs in London and then you can search each borough website. Many job posts will have phone numbers of managers that you can talk to about the position.

What were the interview questions and what did you study?

I have shared my interview experience in my blog entitled “Post Interview Meanderings”. I was asked very typical interview questions regarding my experience with various situations. I did a lot of research and inquiring about the relevant legislation/procedures and reports important to social work to show that I was familiar with their lingo. I was not asked any specific questions about legislation. There are many websites that provide helpful information in preparing for interviews.

Were there any UK agencies that assisted you with the transition of moving to the UK?

No. I did everything on my own and it required a lot of hard work and motivation. Recruiters are only helpful with obtaining locum positions (which is great if you are working under the Tier 5 visa!) but they do not help with the visa. They were of no help to me and only told me to apply directly to Local Authorities. I did a lot of googling!

How did you use Social Media?

LinkedIn and Twitter allowed me the opportunity to connect with Social Workers in the UK, but Twitter was especially helpful in keeping on top of current issues that affect social work. I love my Twitter network! Please refer to my blog entry “Making Connections in the UK”.

Can you suggest any resources for moving and practicing Social Work in the UK?

Google really is your friend here. I took information from bits and pieces of various sites and started putting things together…don’t worry…it will eventually start to make more sense! There are many, many recruitment agencies for social work but I will not list them here because I do not want to promote any of them. You just have to start contacting them if that’s the route you want to take.

http://www.canuckabroad.com/ 

http://www.meetup.com

http://www.basw.co.uk/

http://www.communitycare.co.uk/

http://www.nspcc.org.uk

**Please note that I am only an expert of my own experience and the information I have provided is based on my own research and knowledge. Please contact the appropriate authority for verification**

Visa approved

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I’m excited to report that I have received my Tier 2 work visa! What a relief…and it happened quite quickly. I completed my application online and was able to set up an appointment at the Worldbridge visa office a few days later in Canada. I went into the office and was advised that the application process can take 10-15 business days. I had paid extra for priority and was then told that it would then take 7-10 business days. They went through my application to make sure it was completed and I submitted current and previous passports, bank statements, passport photo and letter of offer from my employer. They also took my fingerprints and photo. Here’s what happened…I went to the visa office on a Monday and had my application and documents couriered to the office in New York on the same day. Tuesday I received an email saying that my documents were received. Wednesday I received an email saying that my visa was issued. Thursday my passport was returned to me via courier with my visa which is valid for 3 years. Voila! So quick. The visa cost 815 US + priority fee + courier fee, so that is mucho $$$. But I have booked my flight and am returning to England in 3 weeks. I was not able to fly back right away because the visa has a “Valid from” date.

I can’t wait to get back to the UK and to my SO where I can actually feel like we are starting our life together…although I know that the journey is not over yet.  Even though I have been issued the work visa, whether I am permitted to enter the country is at the discretion of the immigration officer at the airport. I am fairly positive that everything will be alright, but based on my past experience with immigrations…it ain’t over until I pass their test!

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy my time at home with family and friends…and also enjoy the luxury of long hot showers and a dryer!!

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