Wry Exchange

Not My Kid-No More Starving Exchange Students
03-05-08, 12:51 am
Filed under: Depression, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: ,

 This post is for parents of new outbound students.  Horror experiences are rare, bit it’s cold comfort if it’s your son or daughter with the problem.  What can you do to minimize risks?

Before your child leaves the states
Sign up for Facebook, MySpace, and MSN Messenger.  Add your child to your friends/contacts lists.  NEVER embarrass your child online, just read and message privately.   He may not keep in close contact with you, but he will with his friends.    Never agree to distance yourself from your child so he can immerse himself more completely in his new culture.  (It’s different for each family.  Some people feel comfortable with once a week calls, some with daily IMs or emails.  We had one French student who didn’t speak to his father until the man came to visit in June.  He talked with his mom every few weeks though.)    Investigate the program, hell, investigate several programs.  Exchange programs are not “you get what you pay for” purchases.  Some of the best ones are the cheapest because they use all volunteers.  Ask  questions about training, experience, problems, etc.  Ensure your son studies the language starting yesterday.  Collect email addresses and phone numbers for contacts here and abroad in case of emergencies.  Contact the host family, just to thank them for hosting your son even if you don’t speak their language.

After your child arrives at her destination-First 24 hours
Have her call you for a quick chat when she arrives at the host family’s home so you know she arrived safely.  Then call late that night or early the next day for a longer talk to get her first impressions.  Have a code word she can use if she can’t speak freely.  (probably overkill, but you never know.)  Is she with her host family?  Will she go to language camp?  Can she set up her laptop?  Does the family have high speed internet access?  Is the house clean? (yeah, not mine. shh.) Does she feel safe?  Did the counselor or area rep meet her at the airport or house, or at least call?

First Week in-country
Have your child buy a cell phone and minutes so you and he can speak at anytime.  I like Rebtel, it’s a VOIP that works for cell phones.   Your student may not be permitted to go out alone for the first 2 or 3 weeks.  It’s normal for a host family to start off strict, and loosen the rules later. It’s also normal for first-time host families to be nervous about hosting a student from the states.   How does your child feel? safe? well-fed?  cared for?  nervous? a burden? Homesickness comes and goes in waves, it’s normal for moods to change swiftly.  It’s also completely normal for your child to piss and moan vent to you.  You’ll feel horrible, and will want to bring him home, and he’ll be off happily exploring.   You’re a safe person for him to talk to, and be aware that FES’s are moody.  They all get headaches the first few weeks from the language difference, have sleeping problems, and are stressed from all the newness-food, routines, schools, families, pets, and loss of home friends, families, jobs, pets, and their cars.

Check my previous posts:
Deciding on a program
Where to go
Country Assignments
Passport advice


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

It’s a tricky business being on exchange. What is the correct amount of contact with home? I’ll put forward that a delicate balance must be maintained.

Some limit on contact is necessary or the student should not be on an exchange in the first place. A student calling and emailing home in their native language everyday is not involved in an immersion; they should have used their money to take an extended tour as a tourist. As a host parent, I would be insulted by such a student as I have no interest in being a hotel manager for a student looking for a cheap way to spend one year abroad. Neither am I interested in having a “helicopter parent” (see…I read and remember your blog!)try and run my household. The student may have spent a lot of money to get here, but I am spending an equal amount or more having him or her in my home and a part of my family for the year. As a volunteer, I believe there should be a partnership between the student and the host parents. Excessive contact with home may indicate a one-sidedness on the side of the student in this partnership.

But, back to my theme, it’s about balance. A student who buys into immersion and exchange and who actively seeks to integrate into the host family and community might call home very regularly with no problems (balance). On the other hand, for a student whose life is being run from home despite being on the other side of the world or who may be on exchange in body but not mind, every contact with home is a nail in the coffin of an unsuccessful exchange (out-of-balance.) Therefore, limiting contact with home should not be seen as an attempt to cut students off from their parents, rather it is an attempt to help the student find the correct balance.

OK, this is not the best prose I have ever written, but I do hope I have expressed my opinion.

Comment by Theo

Well, how’s about enough contact so the parents know the kid doesn’t look anorexic? The only parents who want DAILY calls have been Indian moms. We always have to have a talk with them. Most of the South Americans seems to call Sunday nights and talk for maybe a half hour. I would think a weekly 15 minute call is enough to let mom and dad know you’re alive and well, and to get caught up on what’s happening at home.
I am also assuming the kids have access to a computer daily, and if they can IM with friends, or leave a facebook message, the parents can read those, or just have a 3 or 4 sentence chat. “hi, what’s up?’ “nothing, just school” “Ok, we miss you, and will talk Sunday.” I really like webcams so parents can see what their child looks like, and the host parents and parents can wave and say ‘hi’ to each other.
I also think people relax after the first month or so, too. I hate the only time most people hear about teens leaving the country is when something like this or Natalee Holloway happens. I probably hit it a little too hard, but I wanted parents to know they should be able to keep in contact WITH THEIR OWN CHILD. That’s just common sense; the damn kid isn’t in the French Foreign Legion.

Comment by Wry

Thanks, Theo for reading the blog. Since the starving afs kid hit the news last week, my hits have triple, and I think I’ve been writing with an eye to new people who don’t understand youth exchange programs, and think their precious snowflake will just be dumped off in the middle of nowhere to fend for herself.

Comment by Wry

I really don’t think any (decent) exchange organization would advocate zero contact between parents and child. In the articles about the McCullum case, it’s made to seem that way, but we don’t know from the information that he didn’t have contact. In fact, it seems like he had the ability to contact his parents but chose not to reveal important information about his health. It’s one of several things that has us all scratching our heads. It doesn’t matter which way you lean, this story is bizarre on several levels.

Comment by Theo

Keep up the good work!

Comment by Theo

When I first started with exchange students, the ‘wise men in charge’ felt strongly that the students should phone home upon arrival, with a 10 minute call on Christmas, and another on Mother’s Day. That’s it. NO other contact except perhaps a monthly snail mail letter. The parents weren’t supposed to contact the kid. We’ve worked with 2 programs, and they both used to be like that. I don’t know, maybe some still are.
The old guys had to loosen up since kids have their own cell phones and laptops now-they’ve lost that control over the kids. I think flexibility is the key.

Comment by Wry

Exchange is certainly changing. When I hosted my first student back in about 1993, she called home maybe three times, and snail mail really was slow (6 weeks)because she was from the NIS. Now students return home from their exchange and may be in simultaneous contact with other exchangers in four or five countries in chat. I recently read a very interesting book by Sir Ken Robinson titled “Out of Our Minds.” Though primarily concerned with the teaching of creativity, he goes into great depth about the changes in technology (and how the younger generation is going to leave us behind.) As I read the book, I was stimulated to think about how student exchange would have to change, or perhaps how exchange would one day become obsolete.

Comment by Theo

Hi everyone,

My names is Alex and I work at Rebtel.
First of all, it’s a very nice blog you have here and I’m very happy that you find our service useful for keeping in touch with your loved ones when they go abroad.

I spent 2 years at Uni in Australia myself before I started working here at Rebtel and this option for calling home was literally priceless for me. Before, I restrained myself from calling home due to the ridiculously high rates and kept the conversations down to once a week but when I found out about Rebtel I spoke to my family on a daily basis.



Comment by Alex Drewniak

Yeah, it’s a shameless plug for Rebtel, but what the hell. I use Rebtel and like it.

Comment by Wry

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