Wry Exchange

This Host Family Sucked!
10-09-07, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Students, hosting | Tags: , , , ,

 Polish student Michael Gromek spent 6 months with a ‘Host Family from Hell.’  This isn’t all that uncommon.  I know nothing about this particular student except what is written here.  I’m merely using it as an example.  I see several problems with Michael’s experience and my comments are in red.

“When I got out of the plane in Greensboro in the US state of North Carolina, I would never have expected my host family to welcome me at the airport, wielding a Bible, and saying, ‘Child, our Lord sent you half-way around the world to bring you to us.’ At that moment I just wanted to turn round and run back to the plane.  Where was his counselor?  How did the family pass a background check and interview?

Things began to go wrong as soon as I arrived in my new home in Winston-Salem, where I was to spend my year abroad. For example, every Monday my host family would gather around the kitchen table to talk about sex. My host parents hadn’t had sex for the last 17 years because — so they told me — they were devoting their lives to God. They also wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart.  Giant red flags-he should have been moved as soon as they started talking about their (lack of) sex lives.

My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops. They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying ‘Michael, it’s time to go to church.’ I hated that sentence. When I didn’t want to go to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn’t allow me to have any coffee.

One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is separated from my father. They were appalled — my mother’s heart was just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her to stay with her husband, they said.

Then, seeing as we were already on the topic of God’s will, the religious zealots finally brought up a subject which had clearly been on their minds for a long time: They wanted me to help them set up a Fundamentalist Baptist church in my home country of Poland. It was God’s will, they said. They tried to slip the topic casually into conversation, but it really shocked me — I realized that was the only reason they had welcomed me into their family. They had already started construction work in Krakow — I was to help them with translations and with spreading their faith via the media.  Sneaky bastards.

It was clear to me that there was no way I was going to do that. The family was appalled. It was a weird situation. After all, these people were my only company at the time. If I hadn’t kept in touch with home through e-mail, I might have been sucked into that world.  Why?  Didn’t he go to school? Didn’t he have a counselor or friends?  His parents in Poland should have been screaming to his program sponsors in Poland.

It was only after four months that I decided to change my host family. I had kept hoping that things might improve, but it was futile. Telling them that I wanted to go was the most unpleasant moment I experienced in that half year. The student shouldn’t tell the family he wants to move.  The counselor should tell the family.  Of course they didn’t understand — how could they? They had grown up with their faith and were convinced of it, and then suddenly I turned up and refused to fit in.

From that moment on, I counted the days. The two months that followed my decision were hell. Two months?  Um, just no.  No more than a week should go past, and with freaks like this he should have  been moved the same night.  My host parents detested me. There were constant rows. I could sense that they just wanted to get rid of me. They didn’t know what to do with me any more.

67 days later, I was finally in a new family. They were young, actually more friends than host parents, and I was very happy there. Because my new family was only 50 kilometers away from the other one, I was distrustful at first and afraid that things wouldn’t be any better.  Why so far? He should have been in the same community.  But the change was worth it.

Despite everything, I still haven’t come to terms with my experience. I want to write to the religious family soon and explain to them, clearly and calmly, why things went so wrong. It shouldn’t just end this way.”  Stories like Michael’s make us all look bad.  His host family and program let him down.  I also think Michael should have done something to help himself.  TELL SOMEONE IF YOU ARE MISERABLE!

From Spiegel Online

4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Might you know the name of the exchange agency? Enjoy your website.

Comment by Danielle Grijalva

I looked, but couldn’t find anything on any sites except this exact article reprinted. I wish I knew more.
Thanks for the compliment.

Comment by Wry

I just now stumbled on this but I have a bit of first hand knowledge of this situation with this boy because I was involved. The majority of what he writes about is slanted and simply untrue. 1) He was unhappy because it wasn’t a good fit for him: this was entirely his fault (i will explain this) and 2) his career goal (from my understanding after talking to him) is to be a journalist. 😉

I was hosting during this same time in the general area with a student he came here with, AND his “host” was at that time (and currently still is) the rep for the organization our students were with. This family has very good credentials and have been hosting students for a long time. (how many people would do that???) She (his rep knows very well the pitfalls, risks and rewards and chose to do it anyway. Also, there was always plenty of people up the chain that were easy to get ahold of and that they all were told and knew about through monthly check-up phone calls, meetings, literature and email (they could also call the higher rep at any time).

I only became acquainted with his host (our rep) through hosting with this organization. I no longer host and I also have not kept in touch with her.

Monthly follow-up calls were taken and documented by a higher rep. and the host and student were each asked privately a series of questions about their situation. I can also say that before any student is placed with a family a detailed profile is completed and signed by their parents. Many questions and choices such as religious preferences are asked on this form. It is not taken lightly. The student has the option of checking the box that states they will not stay with a family that is not of their religous faith or attends church, etc. or that it simply doesn’t matter to them. He quite obviously stated on the form that it didn’t matter. He should not have taken this lightly because he could have been placed with any other faith (jewish, muslim, buddhist, etc. My first choice declined because we weren’t Catholic so I had to choose another. Not a problem.

All students and hosts are respectfully given plenty of choices as to the type of people they want to live with. Mine unfortunately lied on her profile (which was signed by her parents btw) that she didn’t drink or smoke. They should have a “hard drugs” question on it too btw. Again, no one is going to be honest with these questions because they cut their chances. They are welcome to go back home anytime however. No one is being held prisoner.

My family and I were at the airport and did not notice his hosts “wielding a bible”. However, when he and our student arrived together they were both a bit arrogant acting which would later become quite revealing. Ours barely looked at us and didn’t want us to touch her suitcase. I don’t know about his friend situation but he could have made plenty at school. I do know he kept in touch with our student as well. He also had his laptop and attended school. His school (different from where ours attended) wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst either. His hosts were very faithful Christians who attended a non- denominational church. I also cannot imagine them talking about personal matters with him. However, perhaps some advice was given to him at some point that didn’t sit well with him. He was living with them afterall and 18 year olds do not like being told anything. Families talk, give advice, and you get to know the family and student very well. Most state that they want to stay with a family to learn the family life, language and culture. We eventually came to realize that ours was already very familiar with the language and culture and was here for her own personal selfish motives.

I absolutely do not agree that a student should be in the same community if they choose to leave. It is bad enough while they are living with you that they have the capability (and often do) disparage you to everyone at school and in your community that they talk to. They also (both) were heavy computer users and I found that mine had a secret web page where she had my family’s pictures up, and was regularly reporting (and disparaging) everything regarding what we were doing, eating, the school, the people..and also only putting up “slanted” pics of weird looking things and stating that was the norm. She came extremely close to getting kicked out when I discovered all the horrible commentary (with only about 9 weeks left). She got very lucky on that one. We have since realized we made a mistake in keeping her. I also discovered Michael’s little article about two weeks after it went out. Let that simply be commentary to the type of person he is. Even if half of it were true, it is horrible and appalling for him to reveal personal details and betray a couple that sacrificed, kept him in their home for 4 1/2 months or so and gave up their privacy in doing so.

Also, I met Michael from several outings and keeping him in our home overnight. Both these two were quite graciously entertained with plenty of travel, dining, field trips and experiences much of which was at the host’s expense (hosts were required to pay for all meals). We personally sacrificed much to keep ours. They were spoiled and nothing we did made them treat us any better. They seemed to be used to getting and doing anything they wanted and did not like being told ANYTHING or having to help around the house or lift a finger. They must see stuff on MTV and they think its going to be like that here…one big party.

I would like to say no one “let Michael down” but Michael. He and anyone else should make sure they state clearly the type of family they will or won’t stay with on their dossiers and profile forms!!! Please do not lie. It isn’t easy to find host families, and I have heard of hosts that aren’t the greatest also, but in this case, I know for a fact he was with good people with good intentions. He lost credibility with me due to some of his statements in the article.

As soon as he wanted to make a move, I was personally asked if I would “take him in” and that wasn’t until sometime around mid to late Dec. If he asked to leave earlier than that, I think I would have known about it since my student was always in touch with him via email. I asked and emailed around and my student asked her friends and teachers if they would take him in and no one obliged. Again, reveals the fact that not many people are willing to open up their hearts and homes in such a huge and sacrificing way. And he did go back home over the holiday, but wanted to return and finish which was his choice.

It is unfortunate that when you open up your home to strangers, give up your privacy, offer them your lifestyle, family, friends, school and resources free of charge one would think you would at least receive a little gratitude in return. Instead all we got was betrayal and a bad impression of Germans.

One more thing, my family had hosted previous to this (short term) and had a much better experience. I would most definitely advise anyone to host only short term and if possible in the summer. Also, I do know that alot of churches seem to be involved in exchange student programs and try to get members of their congregations to host. It seems to be a more successful way for the organizations to solicit for host families which are much fewer than the amount of students that want to come here. Studying here means everything to alot of these students (or at least their parents) because getting into a good university means everything to them and studying abroad is the path to it. I hope this helps explain this terribly slanted story.

Comment by fedupwithhosting

[…] Exchange Students | Tags: Blog, FES I posted an article about a strange host family, called This Host Family Sucked! a while ago.  A friend of the host family left a comment on Christmas Eve about the student and […]

Pingback by This Host Family Sucked!, Part 2 « Wry Exchange

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