Wry Exchange

“Country Specialist”
12-21-08, 11:59 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program | Tags: , ,

Comment from a reader:  I’m a bit curious about your program. Is the country specialist local or national? What qualifies the person to be a specialist to a particular country rather than exchange students in general?

Good question, and it deserves a complete response.  “Country Specialist” is a descriptive term I made up.  I think each program calls them something specific to the program.  I try to stay anonymous.  I’ll explain what ‘country specialist’ does and why.

A country specialist is the person who sets up the exchange with a particular country.    When we have a student who wants to go to Germany an exchange must be set up.  One person here contacts someone in Germany  and they agree to swap students.  The person here should talk to the student to see where in Germany the student should go, which may not be where the student wants.   (Most students know nothing about a country other than “it’s cool”, or “my friend liked it.”)  Most countries are divided into several areas.  When the exchange is set up, we hope that it will be an ongoing exchange, and our exchange partner will take great care of our student.  We also expect hope their student is trained and screened.

A country specialist has to be willing to devote extra time needed to care for their students in other countries.  Some volunteers prefer to deal with paperwork, activities, or meetings.   People specialize in countries for a variety of reasons.   John likes Italy because his wife is Italian.   Sara likes India because she was an exchange student there.  Kevin does Costa Rico because he loves the country and returns as often as possible.  Susan likes Austria because her daughters went to Austria on exchange.   Seth was ‘stuck’ with France because the French specialist resigned, and no one else speaks French or wants the responsibility.

I like South America.   I’ll happily spend hours working on exchanges with Spanish-speaking Americans.   It’s not a duty, it’s fun.  Husband and I plan to retire to South America.  I have no interest in some countries and cultures, and would resent the time spent.  For example, I’ve been to Germany several times, and it’s not for me.  To me, it seems like everything is black or white, and I see everything in shades of grey.    I’m not interested in learning German or travelling there every few years to keep up my contacts.  I believe I’m knowledgeable about South America, and can help the students. I think it takes a good three years as a general volunteer to learn the program before someone can take on more responsibility as a country specialist.


Family Hosting Rules-Part 3

ES Advisor/Counselor The advisor is the student’s guardian in the US. The advisor will enroll the student in school, speak regularly with the guidance office, and monitor grades. The ES advisor is an experienced volunteer The advisor helps you and the student to become a family. Please talk with the ES advisor often, at least weekly for the first month that the student lives with your family. Discuss the student’s progress and behavior. Don’t wait for small problems to grow larger. The ES may honestly not know why you are unhappy with him/her. The only thing many students know about living in America comes from TV and the movies, or previous exchange students. Please judge each student as an individual.
Food/Cooking Don’t assume the student knows how to cook or can even make a sandwich. Show your student where the food is kept and how to work the microwave, stove, toaster, etc. Ask the student what they typically have for each meal. Many countries eat later than us; have lunch as the largest meal, eat lunch-type foods for breakfast, etc. Tell the student what foods he may eat, and which are being saved for a later meal. Respect cultural differences-some foods we eat are not eaten in the ES’s home country. The student may not know the “American’ name for some foods. A cookbook with plenty of photos is a big help in the beginning. So is a trip to a large grocery store, so the student can choose familiar foods. Many students are used to most meals being made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Many have never eaten in a car
Early Return The student will be sent home immediately for several reasons. The student is not permitted to use or be around drugs. If someone is using drugs where the ES is, the student is expected to leave immediately leave or call for a ride home. The exchange students are not permitted to drive. Ever. The students cannot ride in a vehicle with someone that has been drinking. (But don’t scare the student. We had a student stay with us who would not get in the car if my husband had a beer with dinner when we dined out, unless I drove.) The student can’t be at a party where there is underage drinking. The ES is supposed to leave or call for a ride. The student is representing our program, his /her country, and your family. The ES is not to embarrass any of us. The decision to send a student home is a very serious one.
Changing Families If you’re happy, and the student is happy, we are  happy. We strongly recommend leaving a student in place if the student and family wish to stay together. Everyone should have a ‘back-up’ family, just in case of problems. If you want the student to move, or the student wants to move, it’s also fine. We understand the student is here for one year, and we all want it to be the best year possible. Most counselors try to remain fluid. If the student moves, the Counselor must report the new family’s address and phone number within 10 days to the program Chairman, along with the reason why the student has moved. We must send the information to the State Department. The new host family’s Criminal Records check must be completed before the student moves. 
Contact with Authorities If a student has any contact with legal authorities, including truancy officers, police, and juvenile court officials, you must notify the Assistant Chairman and Inbound Chairman immediately. This includes citations, summonses, and arrests.
Language Most students say ‘to learn English’ when we ask why they chose to come to the USA. Please assist your student in that goal. Don’t permit them to watch native language TV. Try to keep native language phone calls and IM chats to a minimum. Please don’t speak to them in their native language; it’s not a kindness. Please require them to speak English after the first month at all times. When other students visit, please remind them to speak English. We can tell the difference between students who speak English all the time, and students who continue to speak their native language.
Natural Family We have no rules for students communicating with their family. (Other than the phone call saying I arrived, and I’m fine). Some ES’s will feel comfortable calling home twice a year; others will talk almost daily. Some students become less homesick when they talk to their family or friends, the opposite is also true. Talk with your student if you detect a problem. The student’s family may wish to visit. We strongly recommend they wait until after 1/1. The student should have a chance to adjust to living here, and become proficient in English.
Termination Students may be terminated for a violation of the “4-D’s” Drinking, Drugs, Driving, and (serious) Dating. Students using drugs will be immediately terminated. Students may be terminated for other reasons, such as shoplifting, running away, physical violence, and school disciplinary problems.
Identification and Passports Please assist your student in obtaining a state ID card. The Ids are less than ten dollars, and may be purchased at a any Driver’s License Bureau. The student will need their Passport, DS-2019, and I-901.They should use the state ID card for identification purposes, and leave the passport and papers in a SAFE location. The only reason students need the passport during the year is if they travel outside the US.