Wry Exchange

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.


Foreign Exchange Student Blogging
10-01-08, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Program | Tags: , , ,

 I love FES blogs.  It’s amazing that I can keep up with students in almost real time.  It’s incredible reading about Bolivia, France, or Korea.  The descriptions of daily life aren’t available anyplace else.  I think the small insignificant details are what I most enjoy.

When I first started volunteering, students wrote home.  I’d get a letter 3 or 4 times during their year.  Kids phoned home on Christmas and Mother’s Day or in case of a disaster.  Exchange program rules and advice haven’t changed quickly enough to keep up with technology.

Students can now publicly share their experiences with the world.  I don’t think the students realize everyone has access to the internet.  They seem to think only friends and family back home will read their blogs.  That misperception causes problems.  Problems for me, them, and the program.

“They can’t read English.”  “She doesn’t know how to use a computer.”  “He doesn’t have internet access.” “How could they ever find it?” “They’ll never find it.”  All false.  Host families and counselors find the blogs.  If they can’t read English, they’ll find someone to translate for them.  Sometimes they don’t like what they read.   Can we say “causing an international incident?”  We had a student in Asia write (mildly) about how boring school was to him.  You would have thought he wrote his family was sacrificing goats in the living room and virgins in the garden.  His host parents, school, program chairman, country chairman, and counselor all complained to our country chairman here.  Many people were involved, trying to smooth things over.  The student was close to termination.   We’ve had problems with devious hostfathers.  Some of them spend hours looking for their student’s blog.  Then they complain when they find it.  It happens more often than you’d imagine.

Feelings get hurt.  People become angry.  I get bitched at.  It could all be avoided if the students would just follow my advice.   I don’t want to hear “I’m just being honest.”  That’s fine, but you don’t have to tell everything.   I believe you can either be honest with your writing, or honest about your identity. 

  • Don’t blog under your real name. 
  • Change the name of your school.  People here in the states don’t know or care about the school’s name.  
  • If you’re the only student in your town, change the name slightly.  
  • Change the state where you’re from online.  Your friends at home know you’re from Illinois, not Indiana. 
  • Someone ‘knowing’ you write a blog, and proving you’re the author are very different. 
  • Never name your program.   “Don’t bite that hand that feeds you” comes to mind.  The program sent you abroad.  In return, you have to put up with rules and boring inconvenient meetings.  
  • Don’t write about your wild night making a porn movie while you were drunk, and how difficult it was to drive without dropping your bong. 

I’ve written about anonymity before.

Dear Wry, I’m Homesick
09-16-08, 12:03 pm
Filed under: Depression, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: ,

 Dear Wry,
Hi, im 17 Im in France on exchange at the moment, and im feeling really homesick! Ive been here six months already without any major problems, but now, with my return to school, and change of host families, Ive become really low, physically and mentally. I changed classes at school, and talked to my host family to help me, but nothing seems to make me feel better. I feel like going home, but I know that if i do Ill regret it for the reqt of my life. Can you help me? i feel like Ive tried everything!
Katie in France

Dear Katie,
STAY!  You can do this.  You’re over halfway through your year.  Are you getting bored?  Have you travelled?  Can you go visit other exchange students you’ve met?  You didn’t mention your counselor in your letter.  Is s/he helpful and concerned?  You didn’t mention friends in your letter.  Do you have a few close friends to talk to and hug?  You’re on a mid-year exchange, they’re tougher.  Are you with a new class of younger students at school now?  Can you find something to do to challenge your mind at school-helping a teacher or younger students?  How is your new host family?  Are you comfortable with them?  Have you already graduated back home, and your friends are going off to college?  Maybe you feel left behind.  Can you volunteer to help someone else?  It would take your mind off of yourself.  Can you find a job a few hours a day?  You need to do some type of physical activity, if you exhaust your body, you’ll sleep better at night.  I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say to help you from so far away.  I can point out possible problems, and suggest solutions.  Most of all, I can offer virtual hugs, and chats by MSN Messenger. 

*Actual reader letter.  Please remember I’m not a professional, and I don’t play one on tv.  I’m just a caring, experienced volunteer. 

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.

The Hygiene Speech
10-29-07, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Students, hosting | Tags: , , ,

 ~Sigh~ I gave the hygiene speech last weekend to one of our students. 
I spoke to the man who should’ve given FES the speech back in August at Orientation, and at the September meeting. (Didn’t want to overstep.) The guy said he held up deodorant, and told the kids ‘You must used this daily.’  Um, yeah, that worked well.  No one thinks he or she smells.  Everyone thinks it’s someone else.
I really like this kid, and pulled FES aside to quickly and quietly say that the deodorant isn’t working, perhaps you need something stronger.  I apologized for bringing it up, but said “I’ve been able to smell you each time I’ve seen you.  Even when I’m not walking too close, I can smell you.’  The poor FES probably wanted to hide, but someone had to tell the student.
If you have to give the speech, do it quietly and privately.  Keep it brief, because the student is going to want to escape before s/he dies of embarrassment.  Be blunt, this isn’t a chat you want to repeat.  You have to tell the student, otherwise the other students won’t want to be friends, or will tease, and your house will start to smell. 
See also: Stinky Exchange Students, Eau d’Exchange Student

More on Student Interviews-a TEST?!?
10-24-07, 12:24 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students | Tags: , , ,

 As I said before concerning potential outbound students-everything is a test.  I made up a test we handed to the potential outbounds as they walked in the door for their interviews.  I told them to complete the test, don’t speak to anyone while working on it, and give it back to me when they completed it.  A different person is charge now, she still mostly used my test last year.

I wrote my comments down as I observed the students.  Many of the kids didn’t know who I was; some may have thought I was just a secretary, and treated me rudely.  Others ignored my instructions, and asked their parents or inbound students for assistance.  Some would try to ‘forget’ to complete it and hand it in.   Last year, I caught a mother completing the test for her daughter while speaking to the new outbound student chairman.  She was pissed when I took it out of her hands, gave her daughter a new test, and walked her to the interviewer’s lounge.  The daughter was pissy, too.  (Hey Mom, Guatemala isn’t in South America.) 

Please complete the following statements:

Five current US Senators include ____, _____, ______, ____, and_____.   This should be a gimme.  I can’t tell you how many kids leave this one blank, or put in their local congressman.  I had 2 sets of parents last year tell me they don’t ‘follow politics’ and couldn’t even help their son.  They didn’t know any of the answers.   Hillary Clinton is the first person to go from First Lady to Senator.  I thought they’d all know her.  Kerry, McCain, Kennedy, Reid, Byrd, Dole, or the 2 from our state. 
The population of the USA is _____, and our state’s population is _______.  This is a fun one.  Estimates range from 400,000 in the USA to 54 million in our state. 

Five countries in South America include ___, ____, ____,____, and _____.  Uh, not Mexico or Australia. If you want to go to South American, you should know the countries.  Same with Europe.
______countries border Germany, and they are__________________and  ___.  C’mon, guess something.  Bluff.  Try.  Write a few European countries down, some of them have to be correct.
0 °F is equal to __°C     1 pound = __ kilos.    1 mile = __km     One Euro = $__  Another difficult one, many times with calculations on the back.
Short Essays: You may be asked about the following topics while abroad. Tell me about Hiroshima, Separation of Church and State, Iraq war, Gun Control, Abortion, United Nations, and  Our exchange student’s parent organization.    These change slightly year to year depending on what is in the news.  I included the Electoral College one time.  The students are asked to write a few lines, either fact or opinion.  We wanted to get a baseline to know where to begin January’s training.  Some of these answers are scary-Separation of Church and State are illegal, and the UN is bad.  All time funniest response was about Hiroshima.  (Never thought you’d see that sentence)  The girl wrote: “It helped end the Vietnam war, but the entire family was killed.” 

I think it’s telling if the student at least tries to complete the test.  Many students hand in papers two-thirds empty.  Just try.  Blank means you are lazy, you didn’t take it seriously, didn’t respect me and my directions, or think you’re too important.

Gay and Lesbian Exchange Students
10-22-07, 10:58 am
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Students | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear potential Gay FES,

 Please apply to be an exchange student.  I see you’re worried about being accepted in other countries and cultures.  You Google ‘gay exchange student’ ‘gay FES in’ Argentina, Austria, Australia, all through the alphabet.  We’ve sent gay FES’s to all continents, so you won’t be the first.  I hear there are gay people everywhere in the world except Iran.

You may not wish to tell more than one adult in your program.  If it was me,  I don’t think I’d mention my sexual orientation at my interview, as many adults aren’t ready to accept teens have any sexual thoughts at all.  I certainly wouldn’t tell any adult in your host country before I arrived, or put it on my application.  Look for someone sympathetic in your program, s/he can give you advice.   I tell my students they can go anywhere in the world, just be discreet.  (I actually expect all the kids to be discreet.)  Our program’s volunteers like to assume the students are built like Barbie and Ken dolls.

Being gay is fine, but swanning about with a feather boa is not.  I me a potential FES recently who was stereotypically gay.  Everything screamed flamboyant flamer from his mannerisms, way of talking, and behavior. (he probably should lay off the caffeine, too.)  It was like the kid watched an old tv show to learn how to act, or the Fiesta, Fiesta video.  Please don’t be that person.  You don’t have to hide your personality, but you don’t need to express your entire personality, either.  Play the game.  

  I don’t know what I’m writing about. I’m just a well-meaning married, old lady volunteer.  If I’ve offended any of my gay students, I apologize. 

Another gay FES post.