Getting to know the tax man

There have been many positives to coming back to my home land and re-introducing myself to the British idiosyncrasies that I had forgotten about.  Believe it or not I find it, literally, refreshing being able to walk home from work every evening with my eldest son Jonah – as we both get excited as the evenings gradually get lighter, although the Irish Sea wind does not get any warmer!  On the flip side though there has been a few aspects of British living that I did not fully comprehend and had never really acquainted myself with, even before I left these shores back in the late 90s.  One of these slight annoyances is the fact that I seem to be spending a lot of my time on the phone trying to pay bills or to set-up direct debits – it is definitely a world of monthly transaction out there – monthly wage in to be slowly eroded by a string of outgoing payments to just survive British routine.  In a perverse kind of way, this is one of the reasons we came back to learn and experience a ‘normal’ life, how to account for and budget for family living.  I never expected to be on the phone so much though, and finding it so hard to get answers to questions.

Challenged with a sense of personal adventure

Challenged with a sense of personal adventure

There is a vast amount of information on the internet but that doesn’t always make life easier or getting things done straight forward. These are just a few of my observations, but I do get the general feeling that large companies and organisations want to make processing information and helping the general public as difficult as possible – why are they so averse to speaking with people on the phone or doing e-mails, how many people do they (or not) employ in their call offices?  Why can’t you just e-mail someone and get a straight forward answer and piece of advice?  Everybody is different and everybody has a different background and circumstance, whether it be; cultural, social, financial, personal and even educational.  Surely these service companies should be providing the best possible customer service to ensure there is no ambiguity or areas of vagueness… a cause of concern or doubt (legally or financially) can really loom over someones head for weeks on end until it has been sorted out.

Being reflective

Being reflective

We all have an impression of the ‘tax man’ in our minds, the perceived baddie of the financial accountability world.  Tax is something you can’t avoid and nobody should.  I believe in taxation and I am proud to be living in a democratic country that has a safe and reliable infrastructure that my family and I can take advantage of on a regular basis. That much makes sense and I have no quibbles over my tax rates and outgoings from my monthly wage. What I do have an issue with is that it is a complete minefield out there and you could spend your entire time trying to negotiate the abyss of the tax world just to make sure you are doing things right and can sleep at night.  This is a perfect example of lack of advice or guidance and keeping things simple, and I am (supposedly) an educated, native English speaker, think what others must be going through.  The website is like a maze of dead-ends and loops that bring you right back to where you started – just give me an e-mail address to get a straight forward answer!  No, you have to ring a certain number at a certain time, listen to a monologue of automated options and make a pot luck guess at which one to choose before being put on hold for half a day!  This is obviously an exaggeration, but it is claimed that average waiting times are around 11 minutes, but this is a lottery and you do actually have to dedicate at least half a day to get this done and hope that your questions are answered, which they are often not and you are then advised to phone someone else, with a different job title at another time.  In fact last week, I was told I needed a technician to answer a certain question and that they would phone me back within 7 days at a time that suited me – I said after 6.00pm would be great.  Walking home from work later that week I checked my answer phone messages and there it was a polite but brief message from the technician saying that they had called me back but I did not answer – that would be because it was midday when they phoned and I was fully engaged in my work, back to square one!

What can you do though?  They have you right where they want you, a captured market. You either have to persist with deadlines looming, the dreaded 31st January – it is like the ‘Day of Judgement’, or pay someone to do your tax forms and write off a substantial amount of well-earned income.  It can be quite depressing and distracts you from your work commitments and home life as I said before – it looms over you.  That is until you get through to Colette.  After negotiating the automated responses and listening to Greensleeves again on loud speaker phone whilst replying to some e-mails for however many minutes I am put on hold and trying not to waste the time, suddenly Colette’s angelic voice like a miracle reaches out to me and says, “Hello, my name is Colette, how can I help you today?”  There is a sudden mass release of frustration as I connect with Collete and say, “Am I glad to hear from you Colette, please don’t go any where – promise (?), I really need your help, this tax business is like a minefield.”  I hear Colette giggle down the phone as she becomes even more human and normal as I picture her helpful persona and sympathetic smile on the other end of the phone.  “Don’t worry Mr. Crouch, tell me what I can help you with and I will talk you through it, are you logged onto your computer?”  “Yes, yes I am Colette, are you really going to help me step-by-step, are you sure you have got the time(?), please don’t go anywhere!”  “It really won’t take that long Mr. Crouch, I am not going anywhere, are you ready?”

Community partnerships

Community partnerships

For the next 20 – 25 minutes Colette guided me and reassured me as I over-dramatically (not wanting her to disappear) plugged in what I needed to submit.  She was just herself and very personable but most of all she laughed and was supportive of the difficulties this process may create for some people.  She didn’t rush the conversation or sound frustrated at all, no mention of referring back to the website.  I don’t know if the time and guidance Colette dedicated to me was above and beyond her job description, I don’t know if this is profitable for her organisation to commit that amount of time per individual call, I don’t know if others had to wait even longer as Colette was dealing with me.  What I do know though is that in 2 months of trying to get this done she was the only person to actually take the time to engage with me and treat me as a normal person who just wants to do the right thing.  I hope they did record our conversation for training purposes and use Colette as a shining example at their next training day (picture that!), I would also like to put forward Colette for employee of the month and give her a pay rise for going above and beyond – which is surely what working in the service industry is all about.  If not then I would like to put Colette forward for Global Citizen of the week, thank you Colette.

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The Comedy Carpet

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Sometimes you have no idea what you are going to find or come across.  Your preconceived impression of a place often does not do it justice.  There are gems of brilliance, beauty, imagination, innovation, quirkiness, weird and wonderful everywhere. You just have to have your eyes open and be prepared to get out and about and explore the world you live in.

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Today we ventured into Blackpool and took on the bitterly cold wind to find out a bit more about our new home and what the promenade had to offer on a Sunday in January.  It was not a democratic family decision and the sight of us defiantly picnicking in isolation next to the central pier did cause a few aggravated protests as red numb hands tried to claw crisps out of their fragile packets.

photo 2 (17)We packed up our picnic and deposited our rubbish and headed up towards the tower to get a family photo to confirm in the archives that we were here.  Glum faces trudged up the promenade in single file like a Tour de France break away group using the lead rider as a wind shield.  Surely nothing could bring a smile to their faces not even those dreaded words, “say cheese!”

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How wrong can one be though, and who would have thought that for the next hour the cold wind and frozen bones would be forgotten. Suddenly, underneath our feet the promenade erupted into an impressive spread of quotes, stories, catch phrases and jokes, known as The Comedy Carpet, created by Gordon Young and commissioned by Blackpool Council.  It is a superbly well presented collection of comedy genius that encapsulates the very best of British humour.

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We all went off in our own directions, heads down and reading the vast array of reflections and chuckling to ourselves.  You would actually need hours to read them all and one day I will go back and start from a different angle and note new favourites, some old and some never heard before. Everyone likes jokes and loves to share them, and it wasn’t long until Jonah was tugging me over to listen to his favourite jokes that he had read inscribed on the Blackpool promenade – one being something to do with horses playing water polo!  (You can read some of Jonah’s very own jokes here.)

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On the way home in the car it was interesting that nobody complained how cold they were or had been, instead everybody was still sharing their favourite jokes and even Zoe and Sam were trying to make up their own ones.  It is a real hidden gem and I am glad that we discovered it so early on.  The Comedy Carpet will now be a regular feature on future Crouch tours – you have be warned when you come and visit!

 

 

Setting targets to achieve identities

Thailand

Post contributed by Eline Postma

Target: To be fluent in at least two languages.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to be exposed to three different languages: Dutch, English and Thai. It is difficult to pinpoint which language would be considered my mother language, because it all depends on what definition is given to the concept of ‘mother language’. If it entails the first language that was spoken, it might even be Laotian because I lived with my Thai grandparents for a while, who live in the North of Thailand and speak with a Laotian dialect.

Speaking more than one language

Speaking more than one language

During my time at The Regent’s School Pattaya (2000-2006), I became fluent in English. This caused my knowledge of the Dutch language to diminish, because I never practiced speaking it. As a result, I had to spend a summer reading Dutch children’s books before I returned to a Dutch secondary school at the age of 16. Going back to a Dutch school before university has helped me tremendously, since most of the lectures were given in Dutch. At present, I am proud to claim that I can speak and write both Dutch and English at an academic level.

I want to enrol in an online course to learn how to read and write Thai. I think this will be beneficial for my career, since I want to work with marine conservation NGOs in the Southeast Asia region.

family

Target: To complete a bachelor’s degree at university

In October 2013, I received my bachelor’s diploma in Marine Biology from the University of Groningen. There have been points, especially in the first year, that I doubted my abilities to participate at such a high academic level. At first, I feared that I wasn’t good enough, but later on, I realised I had to change my ways of taking notes in class as well as adjusting my study methods. I also learnt that it made a huge difference whether I had an affinity with the subject; I preferred ecology over bio-medical subjects and received higher grades in the former.

Academic achievement

Academic achievement

I am currently working on completing my two-in-one Master’s degree. What I mean by this, is that I am actually completing two degrees, but at the end I will have one diploma. This means I will have a Master’s degree in Biological Sciences, with a track in Limnology & Oceanography, and a major in Science Communication. I hope I haven’t lost you there! To complete my first year of Limnology & Oceanography, I still have to hand in my research paper, which I’ve been procrastinating on, because I’ve stopped believing in the project. In short, I researched the nutrient uptake dynamics in a particular species of seaweed, but because my lab results weren’t very good, I’ve lost all my motivation to complete my internship. My goal is to finish it before the end of the year and work with what I have!

Creating a string of useful habits

Kyu Bak preparing a presentation for the Global Issues Network Conference

Kyu Bak preparing a presentation for the Global Issues Network Conference

Post contributed by Kyu Bak Lee

I am a Korean national who grew up in Thailand. During my time in Thailand, I attended an international school that largely followed the British model. So, one can say that I saw the meaning of the word “education” being used and explained in many different ways. For the most part, due to my exposure to three different “worlds” (in a nutshell) from such a young age, my immediate answer to the question of ‘what makes a good education’ would differ tremendously in different cultures. However, now that I have gone through the likes of university, first job and now at a point where I can safely say that I have a career ahead of me, I have yearned for the ‘simple’ things in life.

A good education provides a student with a clear definition of what they are studying. Having a clear understanding of what they are studying provides not only guidance but fosters curiosity. Being curious is, and always will be, the pillar of human innovation.

A good education encourages the student to ask why and how.

A good education shows the student real-life case studies of what they have studied, so that they understand from the beginning that there are external and indirect factors that need to be considered.

A good education provides questions, discussions and potential scenarios for the student to show their understanding, and their ability to apply their knowledge.

A good education provides feedback that opens up a dialogue to foster more discussion with the interested parties.

Kyu Bak and Nics, a great Head Boy and Head Girl team - student leaders

Kyu Bak and Nics, a great Head Boy and Head Girl team – student leaders

I believe my time in University had the most profound impact on my life. You are at a place where everyone was a star pupil in their high school, the quarterback, the debate champion, the community leader, the superman of their respective school and organization. It was a place where I knew I had to challenge myself constantly. Not only that, but the responsibility that life threw me during my days as a university student was also a great lesson for me. From having your teachers, parents and friends help you one way or another to having nobody in a foreign land and culture put me on survival mode 101. I was excited to see myself change and adapt and I also learned to be appreciative of the people that I have in my life. I saw a new me that was scared, excited, sad and jubilant. Some turbulent times that proved that without education, there really is no basis in life that you can turn to. Another thing that I want to mention here is to look at “failures” differently. A profile in failure is as important, or even more so, than a profile in success. Failure should be welcomed if you want to better and further yourself in any given situation.

In Europe at the Global Issues Network Conference with friends

In Europe at the Global Issues Network Conference with friends

So far, my greatest achievement that I have experienced thus far is surrounding myself with awesome people. I have always believed in the power of storytelling and discussions. If you are able to surround yourself with people that not only carry different experiences but also are able to effectively communicate that with you, then you have all the tools you need to succeed. Human beings have always seen each other as part of a collective unit; part of something much larger than them. It only makes sense that we are able to draw out the best of ourselves through the collective help of people and their diverse and dynamic experiences. Finding the “right” group is always hard and I am not saying that it will always come naturally, but how do you know what works for you and what doesn’t from the beginning? You always need to fail, to succeed and to achieve.

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My next challenge is to push myself and become the owner of my own business. One of the things that I learned about myself in university was that I liked the responsibilities, I liked the leadership, and I liked the fast pace and ever changing environment that I found myself in. This all pointed to one thing, and that was entrepreneurship. I tested myself with a few serious projects here and there during my time in university, but those all failed. They were absolutely fun and enriching, but they all went up in flames. The failures only cemented my view that I would need to be my own boss and it only made me content that I was fortunate enough to do what I wanted and fail at it, and be okay.

Being reflective

Being reflective

I would like to share what I wish I had heard when I was a student at school; which is “to create a string of useful habits from a young age.”

Get in to a habit of carrying a small notepad around to write down your thoughts and opinion at any given time. In this day and age, it could be an app on your mobile device, but I like my piece of paper and a pencil. People could argue that they have diaries that they keep but having to recollect your feelings and ideas at the end of the day is a daunting task. So, why not keep it simple by writing it down throughout your day? By doing this, you will find your own efficient way of note-taking and drawing diagrams that you can always go back to and reflect on your days, weeks and years.

Get into a habit of reading. Whether they are books, magazines or online articles; find your interest and passion, and read about them and other people’s, take them on to help you gain an all-round understanding of your interests and passions. This will not only put you closer to your interests, but it will also surprise you as it will expose you to thoughts and ideas that you would not be able to generate on your own.

Get into a habit of playing sports. Playing sports is a great way to make new friends and to learn more about yourself as well. How are you different to playing team games to individual sports? What is it that gets you motivated? Was it the spirit of competition and sportsmanship? Was it the chance to win something? If you play sports, you will always learn more about yourself.

Get into a habit of joining social clubs. If you are a part of a club, then you start experiencing different responsibilities that will be different to finishing your group project, or your homework or your class presentation. It gives you a glimpse of life outside of school that we all need to prepare for.

 

Was it worth the wait?

What a day...

What a day…

Good things come to those that wait…

Plastic bags in between double layers of socks, thermos flasks filled and rations packed away, we are all ready for a full day of family sledging for the first time. There can’t be many better days than this…

The snowman is still there!

The snowman is still there!

I think Jonah’s reflection on the day sums it up:

Snow, snow, snow

I just can’t believe it’s snowed when I’ve been in England for just six weeks! I LOVE SNOW! (well nearly everything about snow) I made two snowmen with my dad. The big one is Sniggles and the child is Snuggles. I said “The snowmen are at a pub drinking beer.” because Sniggles was holding a can of Guinness beer. 

Advice from two older generations of sledgers - who to listen to?

Advice from two older generations of sledgers – who to listen to?

I'm just going to go for it!

 

It was also fun going sledging at the countryside in a field. I had the speed record and the longest distance record.

Why is the sand white mummy?

Why is the sand white mummy?

Don’t worry, I made loads of snow angels and I think the first one I made was the best. We didn’t do many snowball fights.

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There’s nothing but my iPad and Yellow Ted that will stop me from playing with snow.

You can follow Jonah’s blog here.

We were so lucky to experience snow during our visit to Derbyshire two days after Christmas.  It didn’t snow at all in the north west where we are living now and apparently, as I have fed back to colleagues back at work our Christmas highlights, it very rarely does along the Fylde coast – once in the last four years.  I have also realised that there are no slopes or hills for us to access by foot if by some miracle it did snow. Although I am considering an alpine dash up the M6 to the Lake District for some extreme sledging if the conditions and timings are right!  Realistically, it could be some time before we have a day like this again but I think that is what makes them extra special and a must for taking full advantage of.

What will you achieve in 2015?

Public speaking

Public speaking

As we begin 2015 I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the the Global Citizenship Award website and to review some of the statistics so far.  I would like to thank everyone who has followed the development of the site and award over the last six months and especially to all those people who have contributed, commented and (especially) achieved their award – 9 amazing global citizens so far.  I am sure that there will be many more in 2015.

Patrick and a piano

Patrick and a piano

A London underground train holds 1,200 people. The GC Award website was viewed about 7,850 times in 2014. If it were a London underground train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.  The busiest day of the year was November 11th with 328 views.

The most popular post / blog was: One Man and a Piano.  This post was inspired by a talented young man, called Patrick, who we met at Heathrow Airport back in November.  He was playing one of those stand alone pianos and instantly caught the imagination of my two oldest kids.

A Christmas Gift

A Christmas Gift

The next four most popular posts in order were:

2. Thailand Reflections

3. The Rice Challenge – A Scottish Perspective

4.  A Christmas Gift

5.  Congratulations to Karen Partyka on achieving the Global Citizenship Award

 

Where are you reading about the GC Award?

Where are you reading about the GC Award?

 

People who have viewed the GC Award website are from 101 different countries; with the UK, Thailand, US, Australia and Brazil the top five countries that have made the most views.

The New Year has arrived and what better time than to make new targets and to challenge yourself to bigger and better things through learning and reflective practice.

Personal target setting

Personal target setting

The GC Award team would love to hear from you and will monitor and celebrate your progress as we bring new ideas and developments together through a global citizenship approach to education. Remember you can choose to submit all 16 Identities together once completed (see these Global Ambassadors for example) or submit them one at a time as individual reflections / posts (see this post by Manoj on service learning).  You can submit your post / reflection/s here.

We will always give individual constructive feedback and can guarantee that your achievements and experiences are inspiring others elsewhere around the world at the same time helping you to build a digital portfolio of personal achievement through global citizenship learning – something you will always have and use in the future.  Don’t let those amazing opportunities and experiences be wasted.  2015 is your year – go grab it!