Wry Exchange

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.


Psycho Hostmoms
04-06-09, 12:49 am
Filed under: Culture, hosting, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: ,

 Lent must be tough this year, or the worldwide recession, or maybe because they can’t find the right color of peeps.   We had a cluster of Psycho Hostmoms™ this week.

One down in Bolivia.  FES has spent all year with HM, and she flipped on him to PHM in the car.   They were driving back from Argentina, and had some problems crossing the border on the Argentine side.  HM mentioned how racist the Argentines are, and it’s just terrible.   FES said well, that Cambas hate Collas, and isn’t that the same?   (Remember, Cambas are the people from Santa Cruz, generally lighter skinned, and with money and education.  Collas are the Indians from La Paz, thought to be poor and not too bright.)   She went into full Psycho, screeching that it was NOT the same,  Bolivians are NOT racist, what is wrong with him? and then she quit talking to him for a few days.  She wants him out of her house.  The kid is actually afraid of her, of what she might do to him.   He is level-headed, with common sense, so I want him moved like yesterday.

Same day, another PHM.   This one made her own problems.   She’s never hosted before, but knew everything.   She started breaking rules immediately.  We had 2 mandatory training sessions for the kids, she didn’t bring, something else was more important-school dance.    She spoiled the kid rotten, making the other FESs jealous.  No, not all host families take the kids to Disney for Christmas, paying for everything, buying all her clothing and shoes, never saying no, giving her everything, while her child had to follow the rules.     Well, the girl had a problem, and PHM screamed to get the kid out of her house.  She was really pissed at me when I said she could NOT put the girl on a plane.  That she is not the legal guardian and doesn’t have the right to ship her home.  The girl did something stupid, but not termination worthy.  She bought a hookah, charcoal, and tobacco while visiting relatives.   Mom called the police to come inspect it because she thought it was drugs.  Didn’t ask the kid, didn’t ask her husband, just the police.   Didn’t just take it away from her,  didn’t pitch the tobacco, called the police because it looked suspicious.  I found another family, and the girl should be able to live out her time here in peace, if not luxury anymore.

Push, Push, Push
03-18-09, 2:07 am
Filed under: hosting, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: ,

 My phone was off, Husband fielded the first call from an unhappy hostparent, FT.  FT left a message on my phone telling me to call IMMEDIATELY.  I shook off the sleep, and called.  He immediately started in on me.  Let’s remember, I am a volunteer.  I don’t work for him.   FT used to be a volunteer, on the committee.  These days, he is a counselor and host father.   We’ve known him for years.    

He complained ab0ut his exchange son a few weeks ago.  He didn’t want FES’s parents or counselor back in FESland notified.  Husband was just supposed to have a Come to Jesus meeting with the kid.  Typical stuff, too much time on the computer, on the couch, with the girlfriend, and sleeping.  Not enough time spent with the family.  Problem with one teacher.   We told FT to get the kid out of the one class, sit him down, go over your family’s expectations, and have him sign a contract.

Back to yesterday,  I call FT, and can’t say much for the first several minutes.  He went on about not getting calls returned.  I apologized, said I had my phone off, and was sick.  Still yapping.  Said the kid was going to be there in an hour, ‘What should I tell him?’  “I don’t want to see him.”  “I want him out of here now.”  “I could stay with friends, HE doesn’t have friends.”  “I want him gone.”  “I don’t want to see another exchange student.”  “I want him out of my home, my school, my  area.” “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?”  

I have to call the school to see what they think of the kid’s attidude, behavior, and grades.  I need to contact the Inbound student chair and set up a meeting with us, family, and FES.   FT didn’t like that.  He told me everything I needed to know.  Now WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

What happened?  FES doesn’t get along with one teacher.  She’s been sending the kid to the library during her class with an assignment.   He disrupts the class.  Not in a bad way, but in a bored way.  He had a substitute teacher who let him stay in class on Friday; he acted up.  Teacher came back, read note, called hostdad.  (wouldn’t the principal or guidance office call the counselor or family?)  Kid had to wait until principal agreed to dropping the class.  He was given permission yesterday.

“WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? I want him sent home.”   I said let me make some phone calls, and I will call you in an hour.  Called the kid, ask him what’s going on, told him to find a place to stay tonight and for a few days with friends.  Tell him there’s a good chance he’s going home.   Call Inbound student coordinator, no answer.  Call my counterpart in FESlandia, leave a message.  IM someone in FESlandia, tells my counterpart to call me immediately.  I call back within the hour, tell him what I’ve learned.  He’s   pushing hard “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?”  I say “I’m not coming to get him.   I’m sick and dizzy.  I only called back to tell you what I’ve done in an hour, and will keep you informed.  You know me, and know I will take care of the situation.”

He calls about an hour later  “I do not appreciate you talking to the kid before I was able to speak to him.”  WTF  He pushed hard for me to do ‘something.’   He said he’d talk to me later when his blood pressure went down.  He was nasty, and I couldn’t say more than ‘huh, uh-huh, bye’   He was so demanding that I lost it and started crying really hard,  so hard I dry heaved.

Kid texted me last night; he can stay in the house.  Called the school today.  In the other classes, good grades, good attitude, makes effort, and completes assignments.

Husband told me to give him the phone if FT calls back.  I understand venting, but demanding to ship a kid home immediately without a meeting or confirmation? NO.

I’ll Do It
02-14-09, 2:12 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: ,

  I can’t wait until this year is over.  How many times can  I say it?  Every week, we find a new train wreck.  Today’s mess is creative.   Someone who isn’t a program volunteer set up an exchange.  How’s that for different?

Instead of passing along the inquiry from the other country, or responding that he hasn’t been a volunteer for almost a year, he corresponded back and forth to set up next year’s exchange for a student. 

The problems include-

  • We have 2 students for Feslandia, not one.  We have to scramble to put the other student somewhere else.  
  • ExVol doesn’t have our students’ applications, nor access to them. 
  • ExVol never told anyone about his meddling; we found out accidentally.  Thank heavens we were able to divert the Feslandian student’s application to our house before it disappeared to ExVols house.
  • We look like morons to our disappointed student, and to the Feslandians.

Now we have to find a way to see if ExVol has set up exchanges with other countries.   The worst part is he’s being vindictive to us by playing games with students’ futures.

Pwnd 3
12-18-08, 12:45 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: ,

 Recap:  Arrogant student Anca, poorly prepared first time host family, no counselor, no country specialist, and conflict with next door neighbor running our program.  

Problems started immediately.  There wasn’t anyone to mediate or advocate for Anca.  We stress to host parents to tell someone so we can help the family.  We want to prevent small issues from growing into large problems.  Very soon, Anca was labelled a problem student.   Our fearless leader, Flo, was much more concerned about the next door neighbors and her relationship with her.   The neighbors were ‘wonderful’ people, it must be the student’s fault.

Anca was always sweet and respectful to me.   I called her on rude behavior towards others a few times, and she stopped.  If that girl had stayed with me for a week, she would still be here.  No one told her what was appropriate behavior here in Appalachia.

Flo wanted to send Anca home.  She was planning on sending the girl home quietly without anyone else knowing until the girl was in the air.     Good thing Anca came with a wifi equipped laptop.   She sent out an SOS.   We called Flo asking what’s going on.  Was she pissed!  When a student is terminated, we have a group meeting to discuss the student.  The members are the President (Flo), VP (not notified), Inbound student coordinator (a minion), Outbound student coordinator(didn’t have one), the student’s local counselor (didn’t have one, just Flo), and the country specialist (didn’t have one, Flo handled that as well.)

Once we found out about the plot to terminate Anca, we started making phone calls.  Flo backed down, and found a second host family.  All during this time, Anca broke no rules, the worst anyone could say was ‘rude and disrespectful.’    Hell, we could ship them all home for being rude and disrespectful.

That mess was mid-October.  More tomorrow.

Pwnd 2
12-17-08, 11:44 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: ,

    Remember this from a few months ago?   A few people tried to terminate a student secretly.  Thank dog we were able to stop it.  They did it.  The kid is gone. 
Background-“Anca” arrived in August.  Typical European, sniffs that everything is better in Europe, and her county is the best in the world.   We host students like Anca fairly often. 
Step 1-We can only stand that for a week before we want to explode or kill the kid.  We can’t kill the kid; too much paperwork. 
Step 2-So, we start showing the similarities between Feslandia and America.   Yes, the lettuce is fresh, we picked it this morning.  Yes, it’s organic, we try to eat healthy.  Yes, we recycle.  Yes, we can find you cheese and bread that will be acceptable to you.
Step 3-We then go to “Why are you here if everything at home is so much better?
Step 4-Tell FES to knock it off, she’s being rude.
Step 5-Tell FES if she can’t adjust, she’s going home.
Step 6-FES discovers the joys of Abercrombie, Oreos, chicken nuggets, and milkshakes.  Student joins us on the dark side.

Anyone who has hosted a French student knows the French sniff and lower lip jut while the face turns up and away.  French students believe they come from the best country on earth.  They and the US are about the only countries who KNOW this is true.  We have to gently remind the special snowflakes they chose to come to America, and they have to adapt to us.  Then we remind them bluntly.   Most students and host parents understand this is part of the process.  Certainly, all volunteers have to know, and they should assist the student and family.

Anca was placed with a first time host family with minimal training.  Anca didn’t have a counselor, or country specialist to help her or the family.  They were just thrown together.   Problems started almost immediately.   Duh.   Anca’s next door neighbor lady runs our program.     How many problems do you see with this situation?

12-17-08, 2:53 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students | Tags: ,

  For years students have referred to Husband as god. His motto is “Losing is not an option.”  He’s arrogant, but not so much that the G is capitalized.   He’s the  neutral, fair, honest, calm adult who always gets results.  He’s a good listener, and wants to hear all sides of an issue.   He’s good with discipline, and encouragement.  He spends a lot of observing the students. He stays in the background, and I’m in a swirl of activity.   I interact more with the students, and we compare experiences.  We work well as a team.  I’m intuitive, he’s left brain.  He’s god, he can do anything.

Not this time.   We lost, but the FES lost more.   Husband told me to double up on the happy pills for the next few days.

I’ll write about it in the morning.