Wry Exchange

“Everything’s a Test”
12-07-08, 2:57 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags:

  We recently had our interviews for all potential exchange students for next year.   It was the first time we met many of the students.  Local counselors and high schools tell the potential outgoing students about our program, then forward the applications on to me.  Since we’re all volunteers, nothing is ever done on time.   (Someone told me this week another student wants to apply, but he asked the kid to send him the application, not me.  No sense of urgency.)

We tell the students “Everything’s a test.”  We observe all interactions and behavior.  They of course have memories like goldfish-three seconds-and forget.  We watch to see if they sit alone, talk with anyone new, stay close to their parents, and how they interact with their families.   

It’s very telling when students are rude or condescending to someone they don’t think is important.   As volunteers, we all pitch in to help.  The receptionist or food server for the day may be the group’s chairman.

We also pay attention to how well they take direction.   The students know I am our outbound student chairman.  You’d think they would be sucking up since they don’t know yet if they have been accepted or where they’ll be assigned.  You’d be wrong.  I’ve asked three times for information from some of them without results.   I have applications without transcripts, photos, medical records, or signatures.  If I can’t get a student to comply with a request now, how can I expect them to follow rules in another country?


11-30-07, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Depression, Home | Tags: , , , , , , ,

 I grew up watching ´Bewitched’ and ‘I Dream of Jeannie.’  The superpower I most wanted from them was the ability to go anywhere in just a blink of an eye.  If I had the magic power, I’d blink myself home now.  I miss Husband, my rotten dogs (who peed on my pillow, grrr.), and home.  I’ve been gone 17 days, and DO NOT WANT any goddamn lectures about ‘It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.’  I rationally know it.  Emotionally, pfff.  I’m still sick, and had to buy more Kleenex today.  Lemon-scented ones. Cool, huh?   I still have a fever, goosebumps, sweating like mad, stuffy nose, and diarrhea.  I’m trying to stay hydrated.  It’s tough in the heat and humidity.  It feels like New Orleans in August here in Santa Cruz. 

I never heard of identity theft on Facebook.  Someone made a page with one of Sparky’s brother´s name, photo, school info, birthdate, etc.  The person then set up a group trashing their school and friends.  Once someone does it, you can be sure others will soon follow.  It’s caused a few problems with people thinking this nice boy is writing mean gossip.

Sparky and Jon’s graduation ceremony is tonight.  They have the traditional cap and gown, but each class can choose the color and a motto.  They are wearing green, and the motto is in white on a sash that goes over their shoulders.   The boys are out buying dress shoes, and their mom is getting her hair done.  I’m just hanging out.  I was going to the salon, but she’s getting her hair dyed, and that takes a while.  I wasn’t sure what to have done to my hair so I backed out.  The best haircut I ever had was in Chile.  The woman didn’t speak any English, she was deaf, and cut my hair with a straight razor for $3.00.

Husband will go to outbound student interviews on Sunday to talk to the potential students about going to South America.  Since the person who handles Brasil and I are out of the country, Husband is the only one knowledgeable about South America.  We’re afraid if he didn´t go, the kids would end up being funnelled to Europe and Asia.  Good friends of ours will be interviewers, and they will be able to speak to the potential students about South America as well.  Many times on Interview Day, the students tell us they want to go to ‘France, Italy, Spain, or Germany, because I’ve heard of those countries.’  Or they’ll say it because their language teacher recommended those countries.  People have to be able to talk to them about other options that may be better for the students.

I made my ´Mexican Stuff’ recipe today for lunch. (the recipe is  posted on the blog.) I actually started it yesterday, and finished today.  It was a funny disaster.  The rice was buggy.  A lot of bugs, not just a few.   I wasn’t going to cook it, but Sparky skimmed the rest of the bugs off, and was cooking it for the dog.  I put my stuff away, and went to my room.  He thought I was still watching the pot, and I thought he was cooking it.  When I finally smelled something burning, the entire bottom was black, and so was the bottom inch or more of the sides.  I scrubbed the sides clean and most of the bottom.  When my arms were too tired to do any more scrubbing, I asked Sparky to take over.  He scrubbed for about 30 seconds, rinsed it off, and said it was good enough.  ok.  Today, we made fresh rice, but the pan was too big for the stove.  Jon and I slopped half of it into another container and shoved it in the oven.  Jon loved it, but I didn’t even try it.  I’m too hot and sick to eat.  Sparky didn’t say anything, so I don’t know what he thought.  We seem to be speaking on an as needed basis.

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.

The All-important Interview
10-03-07, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Students are usually interviewed by a team consisting of program volunteers, experienced exchange parents, and former exchange students.  The interview teams have a prepared list of questions, but are free to deviate at any time.  Students should expect to be interviewed for 30-40 minutes, and parents are interviewed for approximately 10 minutes.  What are the interviewers looking for?

Student: First impression, attitude/demeanor during interview, appealing personality, thoughtfulness of answers, answers relevant to questions asked, ability to express self, ability to think under pressure, intelligence, flexible, adaptable, tolerant, leadership activities, service activities, maturity level, potential, be a great US youth ambassador? Does student have or had a job? What do you think are the student’s strengths and weaknesses?
Parents:How does the family interact?  Why do the parents think their child will be a good FES?  Why do they think their child wants to be a FES?  Do both parents support the student?
Interviewer: Do you think the student should be a FES?  Where do you think the student should go? Shouldn’t go?  Do you have any reservations?

Practice at home in front of a mirror.  Look at your face as different thoughts cross your mind.  Remember-EVERYTHING is a test.  The interviewers may try to see how you react to stress by asking tough questions.  How you answer is as important as what you say.  You will be observed from the time you enter the building.  People will watch how you interact with your parents, how and if you interact with other students, if you pay attention during group discussions, and how well you comply with instructions.

What to wear:  Dress to respect the interview.  This is important, so take care of yourself.  Wear khakis or nice pants/skirt/dress with a non t-shirt top.  A suit is nice, but not necessary.  If you aren’t sure, ask!  The person scheduling you will be happy to answer your questions.  What is appropriate in Appalachia may not be appropriate for the West coast.   I used to say “Wear what you’d wear to church or for a job interview.”  Kids would show up in ratty jeans and dirty flip-flops.
What not to wear: Anything wrinkled or stained.  Anything with sequins, rhinestones, or sparkles.  We’ve interviewed girls who look like they are on their way to a school dance.  Don’t wear evening clothes.  The interviewers don’t want to see bare tummys, cleavage, tattoos, or facial piercings.  PLAY THE GAME.  The interview isn’t really the place to express yourself.  Get accepted, then put your piercings back in, and take the makeup off your tattoos.   You are going to represent the US abroad as a youth ambassador.   Dress as you would on your first day teaching at a Catholic school, or interning for John McCain.

Edit to add personal note: This was my 100th entry.

Outbound Application Hints-Why 3 Countries?
09-13-07, 8:40 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program | Tags: , , ,

We ask students to list 3 countries they want to go to as part of their application.  The students must write a paragraph about why they chose each country.   We ask for 3 countries for many reasons. 

  • Most important to Husband and me are flexibility and ability to follow directions.  We think it’s a red flag if a student wants one country only.  Exchange students can’t be rigid.  We tell the students upfront that ‘Everything is a test.’   Even if your heart is set on Slovakia, you should have the Czech Republic and maybe Hungary as your second and third choices.   If you can’t remember to write 3 paragraphs for an important interview, how can you survive abroad? 
  • We also try to group the students by country or continent for interviews.  If we only have one slot for Japan, the person who interviews the best and has the strongest application will go to Japan.  We’ll probably have someone familiar with Japan on that interview team, too.
  • We want to see your thought process.  Why did you choose those particular countries?  What links the countries?  Don’t write something generic such as ‘I like history’, ‘My friend went there, and loved it’, ‘My Spanish teacher told me it’s the best’ or ‘I heard the culture’s great.’
  • Have you done any research? Brasil is a great place to explore your African-American heritage.   Argentina is NOT in Europe.  Brasilians don’t speak Spanish.  Don’t embarass yourself.  We don’t expect you to be an expert, but we do expect you to spell the country’s name correctly.
  • We want to see a sample of your writing.  Can you express yourself clearly and concisely?

The students are not held to their country selection even on interview day. They typically have 2-3 weeks after interviews to finalize their country choice.  We try to place each student in their number one choice.  (More on placements in a later post.)

Part 2: Where Should I Go?
09-11-07, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Program | Tags: , , , , , , ,

 We covered physical environment in part one.  Let’s focus on your personality in part two.  I have a few anecdotes about country choices. 

  • I interviewed a girl a few years ago who listed her country choices as Japan and The Netherlands.  I don’t understand how she thought she could be happy in both of those countries.  They are as opposite as possible.   Japan is all about rules and fitting into the group, and Holland is ‘do what makes you happy.’
  • I interviewed a girl several years ago who told me she wanted to go to Australia since she was 12.  During the interview, she said she had just returned from a week-long retreat, and that she was very religious.  She wore a very large cross, and came across as a serious person.  Her application was strong- great grades, glowing recommendations, she was a promising candidate.  She didn’t want a ‘fun only’ year, she wanted to go somewhere and study.  She liked history, languages, and touring old churches.  Australia just didn’t fit.  We asked her why she chose Australia, and she replied that ever since she saw ‘The Rescuers Down Under’, that’s where she wanted to go!  She ended up going to Austria, and LOVED it.  Perfect match.  She would’ve been miserable in Australia.  (People asked her about kangaroos all year, anyway.)
  • Many times students reply ‘France, Italy, Germany, Spain’ when asked where they want to go.  When asked why, they respond “Those are the only countries I know.”  Happens annually.  Don’t be that idiot.  Have a good reason why you chose 3 particular countries.

What do you want out of your year?  Do you want to become fluent in another language?  Will you be helping your future career?   Do you want to explore your roots?  Do you want somewhere exotic?  Do you want something as far away from daily life as possible?  Do you want to be a beach bum?  Do you want to study voice in Austria?  Design in Denmark? Anime in Japan?
What makes you happy?  Order? Chaos? Stringent rules?  Laissez faire attitude? Are you liberal or conservative?  Are you religious, and would you be ok living in a country without your religion?  Do you mind being stared at?  Would you enoy living in an apartment in a crowded city?  Would you be happy living in a country where women aren’t treated as men’s equals?  (About 4 years ago a female pilot sat next to a student and me.  The girl asked “Women can be pilots in your country?” with awe.)
 You have to talk with current and former exchange students both here and abroad.  For example, you wish to learn French, so you put France as your first choice country.  You’ve already graduated high school, are very gregarious, and want a fun year.  I may try to tell you that perhaps Belgium is a better choice for you.  The Seniors in France are all studying like mad for the BAC’s, they have to do well to get into a good college.  Students in France may go to school 5.5 days a week, from early morning until 5 or 6, then they study.  They may go out with friends once a week.  Most students are placed in small villages, so it’s difficult to make friends or go anywhere.  In Belgium, school isn’t so difficult, the placements are in urban areas with public transportation, and it’s a more ‘fun’ exchange.   Perhaps the people are more flexible, patient, and tolerant with Americans as well.  You have to do research to find what is right for you.  As a longtime volunteer, I’m pretty good at talking to kids and telling them ‘You’re an Asia’ or whatever. We do NOT place students in countries that they don’t want to go to, and we will place students in countries that we feel isn’t a good fit.  We explain to the student and parents why we don’t recommend a country for that student, but it’s the kid’s year, and his/her choice.