Wry Exchange

Early Returns – Voluntary Terminations

I wrote about involuntary terminations a few days ago.  There are a few different types of early returns.  One is semi-voluntary, usually because of an illness or death in the family.  (Most of our students have health insurance policies that permit a few weeks of compassionate leave to go home for a sudden illness, emergency, or death.  Some students choose not to complete their year abroad.)  That’s completely understandable, and not what I’m talking about.
  A voluntary withdrawal from the program is a failure for everyone-student, family, hostfamily, and counselors.   The worst part?  Almost every student regrets quitting within 2 days of going home.  If I know a student wants to go home, I’ll do everything possible to change his mind.  I think it’s a huge failure that will stay with the student forever. 

“Expensive Vacation Returns”-I’ve known of kids who wanted to come home as soon as the plane landed.  One boy a few years ago said he knew he made a mistake halfway through his flight.  Some students can tough it out for 3 or 4 weeks then quit.  These are students that perhaps weren’t trained enough, didn’t have realistic expectations, or should’ve been weeded out before they left home.  Sometimes parents can’t let go.  Husband and I had a student once who had never been away from home before.  He never even stayed overnight at Grandma’s house.  He lasted two months until Daddy visited.  We had an early return this year.  I think Mom was a big factor.  Let the student vent, but try to help her be strong.  Most of these students have already graduated from high school.  Generally if a 15 year old goes out, they have a reason to get out of the house.

Voluntary Returns-These are the tough ones.  Some students miss their bf/gf, and spend their time online and Skype-ing instead of building a life in their new country.   Most of the kids who give up just have bad luck.  They have a crappy host family, school sucks, they live in the sticks, and their counselor doesn’t care about them.  These are the kids who just can’t take it anymore.   These kids are the ones who feel alone and hopeless.  Our son P’s year was like this.  We told him he was going to complete his year if it killed him.  We dragged him through it.  I wrote about his year.   These are the kids I want to help.  They can tough it out if someone cares enough to be a cheerleader for them.  They need an adult to look for a different host family, to care if they try new activities, and to listen.   The best advice is to make it day by day or until Christmas.  Make a goal, and then another, and then another one.  Generally, if a student can stay until January 1, they’ll stay the rest of the year.  January first is a big hump day.   Former exchange students who had tough years are great mentors.  P has helped me help many students in the last seven years.   Go hug an exchange student!


2 Comments so far
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this has really helped me out. that last paragraph about the kids that have “bad luck” is describing my stay. i dont even know my youth exchange officer!! i talked to my mom today about coming home, i said i’ve had enough and i’m lonely and nobody understands and nobody loves me. it sounds like such a typical teenager thing to say but that is how i feel. but reading all of the things you’ve written has cheered me up 110% no joke. thank you sooo much. i’m totally adding this website to my favorites.

Comment by sarah wilson

As a former FES who had a bad year, I can tell you that this is great advice. What got me through in the end was the strategy you suggest: “Make a goal, and then another, and then another one”. Make small, achievable goals. This helps you make progress and gives you the feeling that you are regaining control over your life.

Comment by former FES

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