Wry Exchange

30 Days to Go
06-01-09, 12:12 am
Filed under: Exchange Program | Tags: , , ,

 One month to go until my program has a new leader.   I hope we make it.  That’s not hyperbole, either.   Every time I think we hit rock bottom, we go deeper. 

The latest disaster is losing our program’s State Department certification.   I was too upset to write about it, or blog about anything.  It’s taken care of now, but it was a nerve-wracking few weeks.  

Our current President didn’t send in the re-certification paperwork.  It’s the government; how many reminders do they send out?  She’s been trying to kill this program, and almost succeeded this time.  The State Department employee in charge sent out one final reminder that we lost our certification a month earlier to several people, not just our President.  That’s the only way we found out-by accident.

Can you imagine being so vindictive?  We wouldn’t be able to host the 30 incoming exchange students.  The State Department wouldn’t issue DS-2019’s to those kids if they weren’t coming with a ‘real’ program.

The CSIET paperwork wasn’t completed in time, so the kids can’t play sports again this year.  We haven’t had an audit since she took over, either.   She’s not going out gracefully.  She’s not doing anything, not coming to meetings, but not sharing any information.  30 days to go…


Thanks, Aspect & Bob Casey
05-28-09, 9:34 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program, hosting, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: , ,

  Dear Aspect Foundation and Senator Bob Casey,  

Thanks for making all of our jobs a little tougher today.

Do we think it’s a coincidence that Bob is from Scranton?

Dear Secretary Clinton,
I am writing you today out of concern for foreign exchange students who were placed in unsanitary homes in Pennsylvania and what it means for the welfare of our nation’s youth exchange programs.  It has recently come to my attention that nine foreign exchange students between the ages of 15 and 18 are now in the care of the Department of Human Services in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania because they were placed with unsuitable host families.  According to Lackawanna County officials, some children were in need of medical attention due to malnutrition and dehydration while others were living in unsanitary conditions and in a home recently condemned. 
The stories from these children are disturbing.  One story was of a 15 year-old girl from Nigeria who was living in a house surrounded by dog feces.   According to news reports, this exchange student was living with the Area Coordinator of the sponsoring organization, the same person responsible for ensuring that other host families were living up to their obligations. The investigative reporter visited the house and confirmed the exchange student’s allegations and found dirt and feces throughout the house.  The situation this student found herself in is simply unacceptable.
It is my understanding that both the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), under the Department of Homeland Security, share responsibility for overseeing and implementing youth exchange programs.  Through an independent third party – the Council on Standards for International Education Travel – the State Department provides accreditation and audits for private and non-profit international educational travel and youth exchange programs (also referred to as sponsors) on an annual basis.  The USCIS Student and Exchange Visitor Program is responsible for tracking and monitoring foreign exchange students, schools and programs as long as they reside in America.  When allegations of abuse arise, according to the secondary school student guidelines issued by the State Department, it is the sponsor’s responsibility to report and notify the incidents directly to the Department of State.
I am concerned that the current oversight system is reactive not proactive and permits the ongoing abuse of foreign students without any effective intervention until the situation is dire.  The situation these students found themselves in only came to attention once teachers voiced their concerns.  Therefore, I request answers to the following questions:
•           The Council on Standards for International Education Travel (CSIET) is the independent nonprofit organization that reviews sponsors on an annual basis and provides a public list of those who have received accreditation.  How does the Department of State determine whether the audits performed by CSIET meet agency regulations?  How often, if at all, does the Department of State perform checks on the various sponsors approved by CSIET?
•           Sponsors are required to “exercise due diligence” to ensure that the host families are screened properly and are found satisfactory. The Department of State has previously stated that “a mere superficial compliance with this regulatory requirement will not be tolerated.”  If it is determined that an approved sponsor has failed to demonstrate due diligence in their host family selection process, what are the consequences for that sponsor?
•           How much contact, if any, does the State Department have with sponsors?  With CSIET?
•           Are sponsors required to make home visits with students and their host families?  If so, how many times must a sponsor visit the home during a student’s stay? 
•           If a sponsor loses its accreditation, is the sponsor allowed to reapply for accreditation the following year, if at all?  If so, what steps must a sponsor take to have its accreditation restored?
•           How many Department of State employees work on youth exchange programs?
I am supportive of the cultural and educational exchange programs the Department of State promotes and funds.  Such exchange opportunities assist in dispelling negative images of the United States and helps convey our nation’s best attributes.  It is for these reasons that I am deeply concerned about allegations of abuse and mistreatment of foreign exchange students.  Stories like those emanating from Lackawanna County tarnish our reputation and undermine the mission of youth exchange programs.  I look forward to hearing your responses and working with you on guaranteeing the safety and welfare of foreign exchange students in the United States.

                                                                        Robert P. Casey, Jr.

System Works
04-07-09, 11:22 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds

  We’ve gone back to the old new-way of training our outgoing students.   (rigorous and without romance.)  The students have been encouraged to drop out now if they have doubts, rather than terminating early during the year abroad.    A record number of students have returned early this year, and we still have 3 months left.   A good American exchange student should want this year more than anything.

One of the new students withdrew this week.  He did it right.  He talked with his parents and other current and former exchange students.  He took a few months to make certain this was the right decision for him.   He should remember this time fondly, without regrets.  He met and made good friends through the program.

The exchange is already agreed upon, we will honor our commitment to hosting the other student.   It’s not FES’s fault our student resigned.  FES is already placed, just this morning actually.

Is This a Joke?
03-20-09, 1:45 am
Filed under: Exchange Program | Tags: ,

 A girl emailed me last night asking for help.  She lives nearby, and wants to be an exchange student next year.  

 She’s late, we are too far along in the process.   She completed her application in December, and sent it to Fearless Leader.  Fearless Leader acknowledged receipt, and told the girl she’d let her know where and when to go for her interview.  She’s still waiting.  She’s called a few times, and has been told ‘soon.’

We can go a few ways here.  It’s a prank to see what I’ll do.  It’s a trap for me somehow.   Ms. Fearless Leader is losing it, or just wants to kill the program.

Husband and others say it’s too late.  I’m inclined to say it’s not her fault.  The student did what she was supposed to do.  She has missed important training sessions.  I would be willing to train her one-to-one.  She shouldn’t be penalized just because ‘we’ screwed up.  We need more information.

Every time I think we hit bottom, we find another level.  I’ll see China by the time this year is over.   Another outgoing student is coming home for family illness reasons.  

And people wonder why I just like to hide in bed with BadLab and GoodDobie.    They both puked this morning.  We think I walked them too far yesterday.  GoodDobie is probably 12, and BadLab is 8½.  At least they didn’t barf in bed.

CSIET Update
03-09-09, 2:49 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: ,

 I’ve written several posts about CSIET membership.  (Council on Standards for International Educational Travel)  See my ‘What is CSIET’ for background.   

Please don’t comment that CSIET is a false seal of approval.   I DON’T CARE.   In my state, exchange students may play school sports only if their sponsoring organization is listed as an approved program with CSIET.   My program dropped out last year.  (It wasn’t a group decision.)  Our students couldn’t play on sports teams this year.  Not being part of a team greatly impacts their ability to make friends.  It retards it by several months.

 Some of our kids have been on their schools’ sports teams.  I don’t know how or why.  It’s good for the students, so I haven’t asked questions.  The penalties for ineligible players are forfeits if the other team reports it.   If the schools are willing to risk their entire season to let my students play, I won’t stop them.  I assume they are listing the students under other programs, and their teams aren’t going to make playoffs.  Does that make me a bad person? 

Fearful Leader and the CSIET person haven’t done anything useful for 7 months.  We’ve had a few group meetings during this time, and the updates consist of how hard they are working, it’s impossible to do under 10-15,000 dollars, and they don’t have the right information.    Last month, they did a huge push to get all the info together for an audit by the end of February.  Guess what? Accountants are too busy in February to do pro bono work.  Shocking, huh?  No CSIET for us again next year.  The rest of us weren’t surprised a bit.  They are trying to ruin next year for us, and make us look bad.  We have to warn the students that sports aren’t an option.  Let’s hope we get a lot of artists, musicians, martial artists, and computer geeks.


Previous posts on CSIET-Not Important?, Telling people we aren’t certified, and imploding.

Preparing for 09-10
03-03-09, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students | Tags: ,

    We are chugging along for next year.   All of our new outgoing students are placed.  Hurray!    To have everyone placed by the end of February is wonderful.   They don’t have host families yet, but that won’t happen for many months.  They have all been placed in countries and regions of their country.  

We’ve received 6 or 7 applications from other countries already.  We will start placing them next week.   It takes pressure off when we can place them over 3 or 4 months instead of panicking in August.

I am setting up next year’s schedule.  I am almost finished,  just waiting on a few date confirmations.   We haven’t had a completed schedule for the last few years.  We do the same activities annually, it almost writes itself.   “Someone” just has to do it.    I am also nearly finished with compiling the local volunteers.  The last volunteer list was from 3 years ago when I did it. 

I like it so much better when I’m in charge of paperwork issues like this.  I am not  responsible for the calendar, placing everyone, or setting up the volunteer list.  But I want it done, and it is for next year.  I am quietly working around current uh, leadership.  It’s common sense to take care of as much as possible as early as we can. 

 We have new volunteers who want to help for next year.  I think we are back on track.

I Forgot to Share Happy News
03-03-09, 3:37 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds

  Remember I wrote about the former volunteer who set up an exchange for some twisted reason?   I was so worried about placing the disappointed student that I FORGOT TO TELL MY OTHER STUDENT SHE WAS ACCEPTED.  For over a week.  That was embarassing.

I got the student in a nearby country with the same language (think Belgium instead of France.) 

Husband asked Ex-Vol’s spouse if he set up any more exchanges, and the reply was “Not to my knowledge.”   That’s not a ‘no.’  The games aren’t ending until they go away at the end of this year.   I don’t want to be responsible for illegal, backdoor exchanges.  We could lose our certification to operate.  They’ve already blown through all of our savings, we haven’t had a budget since they came on board.  We’re counting down the days.