Great Books for Social Workers

I recently wrote this blog post about great movies for social workers.  Now that I have access to more libraries, I’m working on the book version.  I am only just getting started with this list, so any recommendations of what to read next would be appreciated!

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi

The author of this book, a former neurosurgeon, describes the shock of being diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He wrote the book in the last year of his life, reflecting on his career and how the diagnosis changed his values and reason for living. This book is not for the faint of heart – Kalanithi spares no details, either of the surgeries he performed, or of what cancer did to him.  However, he writes very little about his family or the emotional side of things, so I found it less sad than I thought it would be.  I learned about this book because the author was married to the sister of a blogger I like, so you can read more about his wife’s experience at Cupofjo.com.

Evicted, by Matthew Desmond

This book is about poor renters in Milwaukee, and how their lives are affected by their landlords.  The author is a sociologist who spent about a year living in Milwaukee and following several families.  He describes their hopeless situations and how the families fall into deeper poverty with each eviction, which seem to come right after another.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

This is a fictional account of the lives of several Londoners during World War II.  Cleave does an excellent job of describing trauma and loss; his descriptions of the psychological aspect of living through constant bombing made me feel like the characters were real.  I almost cried several times during the story!

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’m still working on the list.  Any suggestions?!

Have you Ever Tried Tree Watching?

There is not a lot of difference between the culture in Boston and in Chicago, but New England does have a few unique traditions.  Because of the beautiful fall foliage all over the region, going on trips to look at trees is quite popular these days.  Tree Watching might not sound very exciting (though it is sometimes called Tree Peeping, which sounds a bit illicit), but it actually seems to be pretty popular.  I’ve already heard quite a few conversations that go something like this:

“What are you doing this weekend?”

“I’m going up to New Hampshire.  I’m going to look at trees!”

“Wow, have fun!  I heard they’re especially beautiful this year!”

At first, I was a bit skeptical of this tradition, but I did go on a hike last weekend up to an outlook where we saw a beautiful array of colorful trees.

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You can see a tiny little Boston in the background!

I also started taking pictures of the trees near the lake by my apartment to keep track of the change.  What’s more, I have started buying different kinds of squash each week, and put pumpkin spice in my coffee each morning.  I am glad to be enjoying fall again, even if I don’t think I’ll go all the way to New Hampshire to watch trees any time soon.

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The lake in October.  Luckily I walk by here and check almost every day, so I don’t have to just sit and watch the trees change.

It has been only two months since I arrived in Boston, but my classes are in full swing, with midterms due in the next two weeks.  Starting school in social work has been exciting, fun, stressful, busy, and sometimes confusing.  Since I’m taking all the intro classes, there are a lot of new things to learn.  Here are some things that have surprised me so far.

  • Social work is a much broader field than I thought.  Social workers can work in non-profits and social service agencies, but they can also open private practices as therapists, work in emergency rooms or elsewhere in hospitals, work in pastoral care, or get a PhD and do research.
  • Social workers are really nice.  This makes sense in a profession whose aim is to empower people, but I’ve still been surprised by how helpful everyone has been.
  • The program I am at is extremely liberal.  Social work as a profession is of course very inclusive and sensitive to diversity, but some of my professors have shocked me with what they assign.  In one class, we watched this video that explains why gender is a social construct: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRcPXtqdKjE      After watching this, I was expecting a debate, but everyone agreed.  I have just spent the last several years trying to wrap my head about why so many cultures have such clearly defined gender stereotypes, and now I’m told to forget that because it’s wrong.  Are there any other MSWs out there who have an opinion on this?
  • Boston has a big Caribbean population.  I knew there were a lot of immigrants in this city, but I did not realize how many were from the Dominican Republic or Haiti until starting my internship.  My husband and I are appreciative of this, because in one neighborhood we can get plantains 4 for $1.

    plantains

    We’re hoping to get through the winter on plantains and peanut butter.

 

He Made It!

My husband finally got his visa and made it to Boston.  I think you will be able to tell how happy we are about this from our photos.

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We definitely will never lose each other in a crowd.

matching2We have a big challenge ahead of us because we have so many stylish matchy outfits, but they are all for warm climates.  Hopefully our love will keep us warm, because we’ve got a lot of Matching in Boston photos left to take!

Will I Ever Get a Visa?

My husband and I are currently going through the process of getting him an immigrant visa to come to the U.S.  The process is long, complicated, and often unclear.  I hope this guide will be useful for anyone else who is going to go through the same thing.
In this post, you will find a description of the process we went through, some tips I have, and links to other guides.
Getting Started
-Choose if you want a spouse visa or a fiancé visa.  The fiancé visa allows you to get married in the U.S. and live there while obtaining the green card.  If you chose this option though, you have perhaps only a six-month window in which to get married.  We chose to marry and apply for the visa in Morocco because we knew we were going to stay there for at least another year.
-Fill out the Petition for Alien Relative Form (I-130, https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-130.pdf)
-Submit all forms required.  Some need to be translated, so make sure you start early.  This is also the point at which you submit recommendation letters, bank info, or housing contracts to prove that you are really married and are not trying to commit marriage fraud.
TIP: A lot of people submit photos, which are fairly useless since they are so easily faked.  It is much better to submit concrete financial evidence, such as proof that you share a bank account and housing.
TIP: Make sure to fill out the form that says you want email updates.  If you do, you should get an email when the form is received.
-At this point, both you and your spouse should get letters with the case info and number which tells you whether your petition was approved in order to continue to the next step.  These got sent to us by mail instead of email (twice!), so we decided to call, at which point they finally recorded that we would get email updates (they ignored the form we sent in saying the same thing).
-Next you must declare the agent, or the person filling out all the forms, which is generally the American spouse.  You can do this over the phone to save time waiting for mail.
-You must submit fees (several hundred dollars) at this point.  Once they have been received you can start the Visa Application Forms.
Visa Application
-The Visa Application primarily asks for financial information.  You’ll have to look up your tax info for the last three years.  You’ll also declare yourself as a financial sponsor for your spouse.  You have to send in all of the sponsor form, even you you have nothing to write on the last page (which is just used if you have an interpreter).  You can actually start working on this before you are approved the previous step to save yourself some time.

TIP: In order to be a sponsor, you earn more that %125 of the poverty line (about $20k/year). You most likely cannot meet this requirement if you have been working abroad for several years, since you will prove your income using U.S. tax returns.  The reason for this requirement is that spouses cannot go on welfare while they are being sponsored because they are not supposed to burden the American economy.  If you do not meet that requirement, you can get around it by having a joint sponsor who does have that income.  A joint sponsor has legal obligations to support you if you should need it, so if that’s your plan make sure you have discussed the options with whoever is helping you.

-Police records need to also be sent with the sponsorship forms, so make sure you have records from all the countries where the applicant has lived.  Once all of the needed documents have been received, you will be able to move on to the interview.

TIP: We had a terrible experience with this step, because the NVC asked us for a document that applies only to Moroccan citizens (which my husband is not).  We called, emailed, and sent letters, most of which were completely ignored.  We lost more than three months in the process.  It seems that applications are read by a machine, not a person, so if the NVC does make a mistake, keep sending in complaint letters and emails as often as you can!

-Once your documents are all received, you will be given an interview date at your local embassy.  You do not get to make any choices about your date, so you just have to be ready for anything.  Once the interview is scheduled, you might have more documents to gather, and you will have to do a medical exam at an approved physician.

 

The Interview!

I had heard a lot about how the interviewer asks a lot of questions to determine if your marriage is real, but this was not the case at my husband’s interview.  They did not ask for photos, proof that we live together, or receipts from vacations taken together.  Perhaps if you are actually married, it is obvious enough.  They do, however, require every original document, and not having one will postpone getting the visa.  If you do have all of the documents, you will find out on the spot whether you have the visa.

Finally, the visa can be picked up.  In Morocco, it is picked up at an agency called Aramex and is supposed to take two weeks from when all your documents are in.  This is the step we are currently on; we were missing one document in the interview so we were not told whether we had the visa, but now the documents are in and Aramex said to wait 14 days.  So far it has been a very, very long eight days….

 The whole visa process is not easy, and the NVC and embassy are difficult to contact and do make mistakes.  Give the whole process at least a year (we’re going on a year and four months now), and don’t make any major plans while you’re waiting since you cannot know when you will have the visa.  The process will not make you feel good about the American Dream, so brace yourself.
This is only a description of our visa process.  Here are links to a couple more blogs that give excellent descriptions of what to expect:

If I go running again, I’ll get hungry!

City

Good job, Boston!

I just arrived in Boston a few days ago, and am still getting adjusted.  I have been walking a lot, and everywhere I go I am surprised by how many joggers there are at all times of day.  On Saturday I was walking home at noon in bright sun and 90 degree weather, and it started raining…and there were still people out jogging!  A woman running by herself on the street wearing shorts is already something you would never see in Morocco, but to add being in the rain and heat makes it all the more impossible.  I felt like one of those men who sit in cafés and watch people all day because I could not stop staring at all those joggers.

 

 

 

I’m actually pretty happy that running at all times is acceptable, because that was something I really missed in Morocco.  I’ve been running on a beautiful tree-lined path each morning, and have been breathing in as much fresh air as possible to counter all of the polluted air I took in during the past few years.

Reservoir

I guess this is sort of pretty

However, the one thing I still have not figured out is where people are getting their food.  Of course, there are plenty of restaurants all over the city, and some major supermarkets along with convenience stores.  But compared to Casablanca, Boston feels like a food desert.  Where are the vegetable stands with all of the fresh produce I could want?  How will I know where I can buy fresh meat if the sheep heads aren’t hanging up in front of the shop?  Where is my neighborhood fig man who yells out what he is selling so I can always find him?

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How it’s supposed to be

My family has suggested using Peapod to deliver groceries, and I was told that there is a good produce store not too far from where I live.  I also found that the man who works at the nearest convenience store is Moroccan, so maybe he has some tips about where to get pomegranates and sheep heads.  But I better figure something out soon, because if I keep going out to run, I’ll only get hungrier!

Don’t Cry!

This morning it has been raining a little bit despite the shining sun and warm summer weather.  Last winter there was a drought in Morocco, so it is unusual to have any rain at all.  It has rained maybe a total of eight times all year.

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I hope they got their laundry inside!

When I saw the rain I told my husband that it must be because Morocco is crying.  It is a sad day, because it is my very last day in this country!

My husband told me that in Central Africa, when there is a sun shower, they say that an elephant is giving birth.  So I’m glad that even if Morocco is sad to let me go, there is at least another baby elephant in the world.