Wry Exchange

6 Host Families-P’s Horror Story
02-29-08, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students, Home, hosting, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: , , ,

 I’ve written about P a few times before.  It’s time to introduce him.  P was an exchange student several years ago, and is one of our favorite people in the world.   P had a tough year.

Let’s meet the families:

  1. Kicked out of the house after just a few weeks.  His hostsister accused P of trying to rape her.  (If there was ANY truth to the allegation, P would’ve been on the first plane home.)
  2. Counselor’s home until a new permanent family is found.  
  3.  The hostfather wasn’t home much, and hostmom and hostbrother fought loudly all the time.  Hostbrother also had a good part-time job selling weed.   Back to counselor’s house.
  4. The crunchy-granola family.  They were vegetarians who didn’t watch TV, and weren’t interested in eating meals regularly.   No one liked to cook, so they ate pasta 3 times a week.  P was hungry and cold in this house a lot.   Back to the counselor’s home.
  5. Nice family, but too late for P to trust or bond with a family.  The hostbrother blamed P for the gay porn on the computer.
  6. US!   We went and picked up P the day after graduation, brought him home, and kept him.  Husband and I cared much more about him than the people responsible for him.   P wanted to return home so many times, and we wouldn’t let him.  We pulled that boy through the year.

What went wrong? 

  1. I think P should’ve been moved to a different high school after the first family didn’t want to host him.  The sister was popular in school, and I’m sure she ruined his reputation.  P didn’t have any other friends in school except exchange students the rest of the year.
  2. P’s counselor was in her first year, and let pride get in the way.  She didn’t want to be wrong.  Husband and I are younger, what could we possibly know?  She rejected all suggestions.
  3. The families weren’t chosen for P.  I think they just found people to pass the background check who would take a kid.  Some of the families didn’t host for the right reasons.  Exchange students aren’t in the US to teach your family a language or be a live-in babysitter.
  4. Husband and I would take P into our home on weekends.  P’s counselor told us to stop.  The host families liked having him out of the house.  We offered to keep P all year, and weren’t permitted.
  5. At the time, Husband and I didn’t have enough clout to force the issue.  Since then, the counselor apologized to me, but never to P.  We now move students when problems that have the potential to ruin their year come along.

I’ll write more about P in the future.  I last saw him in November, and chat online almost daily.


Exchange Student Starved
02-28-08, 12:06 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Program, Exchange Students, hosting, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: ,

This is a horrible example of exchange.  Where was the student’s counselor in Egypt?  What about his counselor from the US?   Why didn’t someone help him?  Why didn’t he scream for help?

From AP
Exchange Student Starved While in Egypt
HALLOWELL, Maine (AP) — Jonathan McCullum was in perfect health at 155 pounds when he left last summer to spend the school year as an exchange student in Egypt.
But when he returned home to Maine just four months later, the 5-foot-9 teenager weighed a mere 97 pounds and was so weak that he struggled to carry his baggage or climb a flight of stairs. Doctors said he was at risk for a heart attack.
McCullum says he was denied sufficient food while staying with a family of Coptic Christians, who fast for more than 200 days a year, a regimen unmatched by other Christians.
But he does not view the experience as a culture clash. Rather, he said, it reflected mean and stingy treatment by his host family, whose broken English made it difficult to communicate.
“The weight loss concerned me, but I wanted to stick out the whole year,” he said in an interview at his family’s home outside Augusta.
Friends and teachers at his English-speaking school in Egypt urged him to change his host family, but he stayed put after being told the other home was in a dangerous neighborhood of Alexandria.
After returning to the U.S., he was hospitalized for nearly two weeks. The 17-year-old has regained about 20 pounds, but his parents say he’s not the same boy he was when he left under the auspices of AFS Intercultural Programs.
“He was outgoing, a straight-A student, very athletic. Now, he’s less spontaneous and more subdued,” said his mother, Elizabeth McCullum, who was shocked when she met her son at the airport on Jan. 9 and saw he had lost one-third his weight.
Jonathan McCullum’s parents said the exchange program should have warned them that students placed with Coptic families would be subject to dietary restrictions.
Marlene Baker, communications director at AFS headquarters in New York, declined to discuss McCullum’s experience. She referred calls to the program’s lawyer in Portland, Patricia Peard, who said she could not comment on McCullum’s case because of the potential for a lawsuit.
McCullum said his host family gave him only meager amounts of food, and his condition worsened during the last seven weeks, when the family observed a fast limiting the amount of animal protein he was given.
The host family was a couple with two younger boys and a daughter who was in the U.S. on an AFS exchange. McCullum said the parents gave him the smallest food portions, hid treats in their bedroom and complained that the cost of his upkeep was more than they spent for their daughter when she was home.
The host father, Shaker Hanna, rejected McCullum’s story as “a lie,” suggesting that he made it up because his parents were hoping to recover some of the money they paid for his stay as compensation.
“The truth is, the boy we hosted for nearly six months was eating for an hour and a half at every meal. The amount of food he ate at each meal was equal to six people,” Hanna said. He added that the boy was active, constantly exercising and playing sports.
Hanna, an engineer, said his family went out of its way to prepare special foods, including fish and chicken, for McCullum during the fast periods.
McCullum disputes that. The family served meat early in his stay, he said, but that ended during the fast period.
He said he never got breakfast and his first food of the day usually was a small piece of bread with cucumbers and cheese that he would take to school for lunch. There was a late-afternoon dinner consisting of beans, vegetables and sometimes fish, and a snack of bread later in the evening.
McCullum sometimes bought food, but at one point was reduced to stealing it from a supermarket. He was caught, but the store accepted the small amount of money he had and let him go.
Still, McCullum did not complain to his parents. His father suspects he may have fallen victim to Stockholm syndrome, in which people start to feel a sense of loyalty to those who victimize them.
McCullum’s parents first sensed that something was amiss shortly before Christmas, when they got e-mails from their son and one of his teachers about seeking a new host family. They also saw a picture of him on Facebook indicating he had lost a lot of weight.
In early January, the teacher sent another e-mail saying McCullum was “in bad shape” and “really, really NEEDS to go home.”
The McCullums said AFS provided false assurances that he had seen a doctor and was in excellent health.
AFS, a nonprofit formerly known as American Field Service, is one of the largest and oldest organizers of student exchanges. Since its founding as an ambulance corps during World War I, the agency has arranged exchanges for 325,000 American and foreign students from more than 50 countries.
The McCullums said AFS discourages parents from telephoning or e-mailing their kids abroad, believing the distraction would run counter to the program’s goal of immersing them in local culture.
“They told us to have as little contact as possible, and we bought into it,” Elizabeth McCullum said. She said she had confidence in AFS, regarding it as “the gold standard” of exchange programs, but now is aware that things can go terribly wrong.
The Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the exchange programs are rampant with instances of abuse and neglect.
“This is not an isolated incident. I’m aghast but I’m not shocked,” the committee’s director, Danielle Grijalva of Oceanside, Calif., said after hearing McCullum’s story.
The McCullums are considering a lawsuit. David McCullum expressed concern about the long-term physical and psychological effects on his son. “Someone needs to be held accountable, and I would like someone to say, ‘I’m sorry.'”
Jonathan McCullum is recovering and recently went snowboarding with friends. He plans to return to school in the fall, rejoin the soccer team and eventually study to be a doctor.
Despite the ordeal, he has not soured on foreign travel: He wants to visit Zimbabwe this summer as part of a volunteer program to build homes and trails.

Associated Press Writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo, Egypt.

The two parts that really stuck out for me were “Friends and teachers at his English-speaking school in Egypt urged him to change his host family, but he stayed put after being told the other home was in a dangerous neighborhood of Alexandria.”  and “The McCullums said AFS discourages parents from telephoning or e-mailing their kids abroad, believing the distraction would run counter to the program’s goal of immersing them in local culture. “They told us to have as little contact as possible, and we bought into it,” Elizabeth McCullum said.”    Husband said ‘Sucks to be stupid.’  It’s a sad story, but we think it would’ve been easily avoided.   Students should keep in close contact with their families and TELL SOMEONE-SCREAM if you have to-when there is a problem way before it becomes life-threatening.  Why couldn’t the boy have moved in with someone from school?  Why didn’t they feed him at school?  He didn’t even have enough money to buy emergency food for himself?  I don’t know any more than what I’ve read, but there are a lot of red flags for me.

You’ve Been an Exchange Student if……
02-27-08, 12:48 am
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Students | Tags: , ,


before waiting to see if anyone understood what you meant, you start acting it out.
 you think 100 pounds to pack up your entire life is plenty of space.
 you don’t have preferences anymore, especially when it comes to food. Nothing tastes familiar, thats for sure.
 you spend a lot of time smiling, nodding, and pretending you understand what’s going on.
you classify “doing your homework” as translating half of it. And that alone took three hours.
 when your grandma asks you what you’ve been learning, you tell her something general, instead of “how to open beer bottles with a 50 cent coin.”
you sometimes use the excuse “Sorry, I don’t understand” to avoid answering a question….even if you do.
they offer cocktails at the back-to-school party.
 you want to hug the people who attempt to speak your native language to you.
 you’ve called every person who says “hi” to you your friend… because you don’t really have any yet.
you’ll read anything in your native language just to have something to read…even packaging labels.
you’ve got on the bus and had the driver say “you don’t want to be on this bus” because you got on the same bus the night before and it was wrong then, too.
you sometimes walk around the school during breaks to act like you’re doing something, because you don’t see anyone you recognize and don’t want to stand there awkwardly.
you know the answer to a question in a class but don’t raise your hand because you don’t want people to expect to much from you.
you’re better than your teacher in your foreign language class.
 you are a master of pantomime and circumlocution and still can’t have a conversation.
you actually think the language barrier is a good thing when it comes to things like lying to your host parents.
 you’ve ever mispronounced something in your native language (for example, names of products, TV shows, companies) because you know the others will understand it better if you say it with an accent.
you’ve tried so many different foods due entirely to the fact that you cannot understand the person asking you what you want so you just nod your head, say “yes”, and hope to god it tastes half-decent.
you’ve tried to order something in your host country’s language only to be answered in english because you did it so badly.
you’ve gotten annoyed with said people that automatically answer you in English when you try to speak to them in their language.
after you come back everybody tells you that you have a weird accent.
your dreams are bilingual.
sometimes it takes you about 5 minutes to remember a word in your native language that you were going to use.
 you automatically use words in a foreign language that you cant even translate but they just seem to fit the context.

 you watch television shows and movies that you know in your native language, just to understand it for once.
you begin to enjoy foods that you had previously despised at home.
 you’ve gotten out of a punishment or being yelled at because you didn’t understand the language, or at least pretended you didn’t.
it becomes a habit to introduce yourself by saying: “I am from (country) and my name is (name).”
you’ve gotten upset because someone assumed you wanted to do something…and then were told you were asked if you wanted too, and you said yes!
 you’ve said something like ‘oh yes’ or ‘not thanks’ only to have everyone laugh because your answer made no sense compared to the question.
you actually got a high five when you understood what someone said to you.
 you’re never sure if someone’s being your friend, flirting, seducing you, or sexually harassing you.
 while you’re having a nice conversation with your Gastopa and Oma, your host sister is making out on the same couch. Then her and her boyfriend are always sure to announce when they are going to take a bath together.
you’re not sure whether it’s a children’s book or porn.
you get a little scared before starting a sentence with big words in it in another language.
you have been put in a one or more classes with the fifth graders, because you’re supposed to understand more there.
 you are always counting the time difference between where you are and home.
 you always forget the time difference when you call a friend or family member back home…..sorry for waking you up at 4 AM mom.
 you do something wrong and people look at you weird, your excuse is “That’s how we do it in my country” even if it isn’t.
 you have gone in to greet someone with a shake of hands and find yourself being pulled into an awkward hug/double kiss on the cheek or the other way around.
 you carry a dictionary and a camera in your bag.
you get so used to broken English you finish people’s sentences even though no one else can understand them.
 you get into arguments with the foreign language teacher (English) over how to pronounce something.
you try to speak in the native language and everyone immediately knows “You’re not from around here”.
you can get into the strictest clubs with your ID from you host country, because most people get confused and just let you get in.
 you know every cuss word in your host language, but still cant conjugate into past or future tense.
peoples stares don’t bother you anymore.
you’re ready to drink anytime of the day.
you have mastered the arts of deception and sneakery.
you’ve spent more than one night getting drunk with your host parents.
everyone thinks your playing the tough guy when you say you haven’t called your mom yet and don’t miss her too much.
a conversation is going fine, before it suddenly get stuck on some word or phrase which makes you completely forget what you were talking about.
 you buy clothes in your country so you don’t look so much like a foreigner.
*From the Facebook group “You know you’ve been an exchange student if”

Basic Exchange Student Wardrobe
02-26-08, 1:41 pm
Filed under: Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: , ,

Classic. Timeless. Versatile. Uniform. Ubiquitous.    I think there are some basics that all exchange students should take with them.  This list isn’t complete, students need more than what I’ve listed.  This clothing should be appropriate for  Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Jacket-basic jean jacket
Shoes-Converse Chuck Taylors, flipflops.  The flipflops can be used as slippers or house shoes as well as Summer wear.
Dressy-Black suit
Jeans-Pair of dark blue basic jeans
Pants-Black slacks-Dockers wrinkle resistant, Ralph Lauren, or other brand that wears well.   Don’t buy a cheap, flimsy pair that won’t hold up. 
Shirt/Blouse-white dress shirt, long sleeved.  Useful for uniforms, costumes, photos, weddings, funerals, etc.
Cargo shorts
Lounge pants in heavy t-shirt material for sleeping, lounging or as warm coverups in blue, grey, or basic black.  A plain color is more versatile than plaid flannel, Adidas stripes, or a college team.
Hoody-again, plain and dark.

Just for Girls
Pants-Black yoga pants-for exercise, sleep, lounging, or outerwear.
Skort-A skort is a skirt with attached shorts underneath. Buy one that looks like a skirt from the back, too.  Some just have a flap in the front, and look like shorts in the rear. ick.   A skort is good for hot travel days where you’ll be hiking and touring a church the same day.   It’s also appropriate for many different occasions if you’re unsure what to wear.  It’s great if you pass out fall asleep without worrying about the skirt riding up.  Buy a sturdy skort in either denim or cargo style.

EDIT to add: White t-shirt, black or white polo shirt. 
I think black and white is the most versatile, but you may prefer navy and khaki, browns, or all greys.   Whatever you take with you has to mix and match with as much as possible.  Stay in one color family to get the most out of a limited wardrobe.

Tacky….yet Funny
02-23-08, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Culture | Tags: ,

 I came across a new blog.  It’s called “Stuff White People Like”   I rolled my eyes, but had to click on the link.  The posts are numbered up to 73 as of today.  #72 is ‘Study Abroad.’   From the post-If you need to make up your own study abroad experience, they all pretty much work the same way.  You arrived in Australia not knowing anybody, you went out to the bar the first night and made a lot of friends, you had a short relationship with someone from a foreign country, you didn’t learn anything, and you acquired a taste for something (local food, beer, fruit).  This latter point is important because you will need to be able to tell everyone how it is unavailable in your current country.

Blogroll Addition
02-23-08, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Culture | Tags: ,

I put up a new blog addition called ‘Jumping Overboard.’   Jo is ‘just a twenty-something rural Ohio girl living in Tokyo.’  She teaches middle school students.
  What is it about Ohio that makes so many people want to escape leave?  Aside from the shame of being the state that decided the last presidential election?

“I’m going to make you a girly girl”
02-22-08, 3:16 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Students, Home | Tags: , ,

 I *thought about one of our former students this morning.  “Princess” lived with us for four months.  She is the only student we have ever moved out of our home.   Princess’ family was prominent and extremely wealthy.  She was also the baby of the family.   Can we say entitled?  She was used to going to a salon weekly for mani/pedi-including acrylic nails, massage, placenta hair treatment, etc.   Um, I cut and color my own hair, have never had a manicure or a pedicure, and am super low maintenance.  Princess ‘needed’ her toes done about a week after arrival, and I handed her the polish and remover.  She just looked at me. 
Princess wouldn’t leave her room until her heavy full makeup was perfect in the morning.  Her long hair had to be minoxidil-ed, and brushed to perfection-she liked to swing it all around.   (Can you imagine a 17 year old girl with thick, full hair using minoxidil?) Her earrings, barrettes, belt, purse, and shoes all had to match her outfit.  I was exhausted just watching her get ready.
Princess said “I’m going to make you into a girly girl before I leave.  I promise you.”  Yeah, not so much.  Husband laughed and laughed.   I like timeless, plain clothes in black.  I’m happiest wearing a twinset or 3/4 sleeve v-neck top,  jeans, and either ballet flats or my beloved Havaianas.
Princess and I were at a restaurant when she spied a hot guy.  She was going on and on about how cute he was, and then she snapped ‘never mind.’  She said he obviously wasn’t hot since he had on brown hiking boots with a black belt.  Huh?  I pointed out that he was a guy, and most teens don’t have the money to buy multiples of hiking boots and belts, and did I mention he was a guy?  She said a boy would know better in her country.    

* While I shovelled the walk in a green and tan ballcap, olive barn jacket, black socks, pink Timberland hiking boots, and cropped -CROPPED- jeans.  I’m just too sexy.  Princess would’ve died!