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.

                                                                        Sincerely,
                                                                        Robert P. Casey, Jr.



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.



We’re Imploding
10-15-08, 12:29 am
Filed under: Exchange Program | Tags: ,

 We will have a meeting this week for the first time in six months.  Six months.  In a program that deals with teenagers coming and going overseas.  This program is held together with duct tape and dental floss.  I think we’ve used up all residual good will from people in the last 2 years. 

  • We dropped out of CSIET without discussion or a vote.  
  • We’ve lost the members who take care of Fesgium, Fessia, Feserlands, Fence, and Fitaly.  We have students to and from all of those countries.
  • We don’t have anyone in charge of our students abroad.  What’s worse, no one told the students the previous person resigned.  I try to keep up with as many of them as possible to help.
  • We don’t have an 08-09 budget yet.
  • The members don’t have the 07-08 final treasurer’s report yet.
  • A few people tried to terminate a student secretly.  Thank dog we were able to stop it.
  • Interviews for the new outbound students should be next month.  No one has done any recruiting.  We don’t have an interview date, time, or location.   We don’t have an Outbound Student Chairman.
  • We have missing money, probably not with evil intentions, more like lazy and clueless.
  • We don’t communicate.  Everything used to be transparent, and everyone was up-to-date.  Now, it’s all ‘need to know’ and only 3 or 4 people know.
  • We have a person who doesn’t understand the “appearance of impropriety” is to be avoided.

Doesn’t this seem like it’s going to involve a foodfight?  I better get something fun out of this damn meeting.  The last Outbound person announced his resignation in January.  I asked for the position then. (I’ve done it before.)  Nope.  The prez doesn’t like me.  10 months later, and he still can’t find someone else to do it.  Ninny.  Give me free rein, and I’ll whip this back into shape quickly.  It’s appalling, sad, and embarassing how they’ve turned this jewel of an exchange program into a piece of mud.

The program is salvageable, we just have to last until the end of this fiscal year.   The kids are fine, most of them don’t know we’re in a completely unnecessary mess.  The kids just know the adults aren’t very friendly with each other.

I’m feeling better.  I know it’s not a smooth climb, but I blame myself when I go downhill.  Meh.



Orientation for Parents, Counselors, and New Kids

Our Orientation was over the weekend.  I love seeing the bright, innocent, hopeful faces on the new host parents and students.  Many of our host parents are older professionals this year, and we have many first-timers.  They were hungry for information.  Husband spent a lot of time talking with the parents after their meeting.  I skipped the meeting and stayed with the kids for 2 hours-like last year, the people in charge didn’t think to chaperone 25 kids who don’t know each other or much English for 2 hours.  Duh.

We have 75% of our kids in country, and hopefully the rest will be here by next week.  So far, we haven’t had any Visa denials like last year’s mess.

EDIT:  Because I hit ‘post’ not ‘save.’

Ooh, were the parents, counselors, and kids PISSED about the CSIET debacle.  Most of them only found out at the weekend meeting.  All of the students wanted to play sports at some point during the year.  I feel bad for everyone except the people who made the decision to drop out of CSIET.

Other than that, Orientation went well.  Most of the kids seem very nice.  (I think I say that annually.)  We have a few potential sluts.  I had to tell one girl to cover up her thong, but I didn’t have to ask any of them to stop touching.  That was encouraging.  Some of the newbies are fluent enough in English to tease already.  This group will have to speak English early, as we have many languages this year.  We have a lot of singles from several countries.  We also have 9 Spanish speakers.  We’ll have to sit on them, but so many people understand Spanish, it’ll be fine. 

We had several extra students this year.  We had former and potential students, as well as host siblings.  Several gay people attended.  By the time the third or fourth one walked by,  Chef asked if we (or me?) attracted gay students.  I hope so.  I told him we welcome everyone, and he finished the thought by saying exchange is a safe, welcoming place for everyone.   Hurray for Chef!



What is CSIET?
07-23-07, 10:59 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program | Tags:

Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET) is an organization that evaluates high school foreign exchange programs to ensure they adhere to certain practical and safety standards, and lists all approved exchange groups in their annual directory. Some school districts in the United States insist that any foreign students they accept into their schools must travel through CSIET approved programs. Other school districts will not permit the students to play varsity sports unless the program is CSIET approved.  My local school district will permit my students to play sports because we have CSIET accredition.  There are some good programs without CSIET accredition.  It’s a HUGE hassle to be CSIET approved, but it’s a great seal of approval.

 From the CSIET homepage-The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET) is a private, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to identify reputable international youth exchange programs, to provide leadership and support to the exchange and educational communities so that youth are provided with meaningful and safe international exchange experiences, and to promote the importance and educational value of international youth exchange.  CSIET has been promoting international youth exchanges since 1984.  (CSIET.org)