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The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lessons at the coffeeshop

TODAY I VENTURED OUT to study with my new homework pal. We went to a coffeehouse and with steaming cups of java in hand, we settled into big comfy chairs. Soon we moved outside where it was quieter and easier to concentrate.

I had noticed a beautiful and friendly Chinese woman when I was inside. She had seemed to want to communicate with me, but just waved. I waved back. After a couple of hours, she also came outside. She sat for a while and, just as I was deep into reading Dennis Saleeby's textbook about the strengths perspective -- specifically a paragraph about the suspension of disbelief, she approached me.

In broken English she explained to me that she has only been in the United States for two days (from China). She handed me her cell phone to show me that she is getting text messages. I was amazed at my ability to mostly understand her because we exchanged very few words. Her concern was that her money was being eaten up by these unsolicited text messages. They appeared to be spam-type messages. I was able to ascertain her carrier, which is the same as mine, and I dialed on her behalf.

I told the T-Mobile representative that I was a social worker(!) and that I was trying to help a Chinese woman who spoke very little English. In a reasonable amount of time, the rep was able to decipher the woman's name and number and, altogether, the three of us determined to disable the text messaging capabilities. The woman was very much in agreement with this and understood what was going to be done.

The very professional T-Mobile rep also credited the woman's account with a couple of dollars to help defray the cost of the texts. I thought this was really quite wonderful. It's amazing what $2 can mean to someone who is in a foreign country with seeming limited resources.

I may have been reading about the the strengths perspective, but my real lesson came in the form of a trusting Chinese woman who must have seen the social worker in me.

~Ms. T. J.


  1. Social Workers send out signals of some type -- one's that say, Yes, I'll try to help.  All of my classmates talk about this.  We are the ones always approached in the street for directions, who strangers in the checkout line bring up their life crises to, who's friends call at 3 in the morning just to vent. My husband says I attract helpless people.  I say I attract people who don't realize their own strengths.

  2. TJ, I'm sure she appreciated what you did for her more than you can imagine. It is good that you got a very cooperative T-Mobile rep on the other end of the line!  The fact that you identified yourself as a social worker (although I would be careful about doing that, until you have the full credentials to do so) shows that you are beginning to self-identify within yourself as a social work professional.  And I agree with Amy...you must have been sending some strong "helper" vibes to the woman in the coffee shop.

  3. Spoken from the lips of a tried and true worker!

  4. I know I must be careful; the title flew out of my mouth because I wanted to help her and thought it might get me further! Thanks for the reminder.

  5. I absolutely love this story!


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