Wry Exchange

FES Updates
03-26-08, 11:49 pm
Filed under: Exchange Students, Inbounds Inbounds, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: , ,

 My program has about 40 students this year; half in the states, and half scattered across the world.  (We are a true exchange program.  FES goes out, FES comes in.)   The students have been in their new countries approximately seven months now.  Students choose when they want to return home.   Anytime from May 1st to 364 days from when they entered their host country. 

I want to give a general update without losing my anonymity so I won’t tell  you if the FES’s are inbound or outbound students.   The problems are typically the same all over the world.  They’re kids, and this is an incredibly difficult stressful year.

Two students quit because of homesickness.  One returned home early because of  family illness, and another because of family issues.   We have a few on probation because of alcohol or school problems.   Three of them had serious Visa issues.   Many had severe homesickness, it showed as depression and loneliness.  We have the annual psycho hostmoms and controlling hostdads.  We had a sexual harassment incident.   Some of the kids were asked to move out of their hostfamilies houses.   Some students have changed cities and schools.   Many have travelled far from their hostfamily’s home on vacation.  Students have won awards and been voted school royalty.  Several wisdom teeth have painfully erupted.   Of course, there aren’t any new tattoos or piercings.

I would say almost all of them are NOT experiencing the year as they imagined it.   We try to tell them, former students try to share, but nothing sinks in.  These kids are smart, they know everyfuckingthing.  It’s nice to see them changing, becoming humble, and open to new experiences. They are resilient and maturing.  At this point, many of them are starting to identify with their new countries, and would rather stay than return home.

No one has been arrested, maimed,  pregnant, or kicked out of a country.  Whoohoo!


They Know Everything!
03-20-08, 12:11 am
Filed under: Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: , ,

 Nothing amuses me as much as brand new exchange students.   No creature is more delusional hopeful or self-confident.   They haven’t left the country yet, and They. Know. Every. Freaking. Thing.  

They each have to research their new countries, and present their findings to the people who are intimately familiar with the assigned country.  The kids going to my countries did not contact me, the US kids currently in the countries, or the inbounds from the countries.  They were given the CIA fact-sheet website, and that’s about all they researched.  One had the wrong president, even the gender.  One FES told me “I am confident I know all I need to know.” 

We have exchanges with a few countries that aren’t strong.  Our program is a true exchange; one kid goes out, one kid comes in.  Those 2 countries exchange with us solely so their students can come here.  They really don’t care about our kids.  We put up with it because they’re important countries, let’s say Australia and France. (not really) We warn the students, and we only send one student to each of those countries.  The student must be a graduating Senior, 18 years old, and very independent.   We warn students and parents that FES will be on his own, without much of a support system over there.  Basically, we try to talk them out of it.   We ensure FES knows that host family or school problems will have to be handled from here or by the student, and if the student wants to go on any end of the year trips, she’ll have to book them herself with another country’s group.   It’s not the way we like to run our program, but every year we have takers for “Australia” and “France.”  This year, “France’s” mom is upset that Snowflake was just dumped, and left to fend for herself.  “We told you this.”  “But I didn’t think you meant it.  It’s not like here at all.”  “We warned you.”  (We don’t hear from Snowflake directly, just Mom.)  The program will help them in an emergency, or if we ask for their help.  We just try not to ask too often.

They know which country they’ll be in, what area, and in a few cases the city, but that’s it.  It’s too early to have details.  They tell me “I want to be in Paris because my teacher told me it was fantastic,  then in a few weeks it’s ” I must be in Lyon, the other exchange students said it’s the best.  After that, it’s “I simply have to be in Bordeaux, I met some cool people on Facebook.”  I can’t tell the French people where to place the kids, it’s up to them.  They will decide over there, and we decide here.

I have to say that I am thrilled later on when the kids tell us “You were right.  I didn’t think you knew what you were talking about, but you do.” 

Two Former FES’s
03-11-08, 11:49 pm
Filed under: Exchange Students, Home, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: , ,

 I have favorite exchange students.  Some people think that’s bad.  Some of the students never speak to us until they need something, while others look to us as mentors.  Guess which ones we keep in touch with?  I had updates from two of our past favorites last weekend.  One update was delightful, the other-infuriating.

Will and I met for dinner.  He is amazing.  He never turns me down when I ask him to help me with current students.  He volunteers to help people.  He’s from a small town going to a huge university.  Will has a triple major.  He’s a Junior even though it’s his first year in college.  The school credited him with enough language credits to complete his language major without taking a language class.  He has lofty career goals, and Husband and I have no doubt he’ll achieve them.

Husband and I have found many friends through our program.  Stephen’s mom is one of them.  She told us she wanted to strangle Stephen.  We were shocked because he always seemed to be the perfect son.  I think of him as one of those kids that relates better to adults than to his peers.   He was always quiet, dutiful, and helpful.  While on exchange, his hostmom complained that he was drinking excessively, skipping school, partying, and was rude and wild.  We all stood up for him.  The kid’s favorite past-time was singing old Broadway show tunes.  Stephen was the last student we would expect to cause trouble. He finally told his mom it was all true.  His explanation was he wanted to be someone else.  She told him he shouldn’t have told her, and she was really upset.  We were too.  It doesn’t do anyone any good, and it will just make us doubt the next kid that swears he didn’t break the rules. ~sigh~

Not My Kid-No More Starving Exchange Students
03-05-08, 12:51 am
Filed under: Depression, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: ,

 This post is for parents of new outbound students.  Horror experiences are rare, bit it’s cold comfort if it’s your son or daughter with the problem.  What can you do to minimize risks?

Before your child leaves the states
Sign up for Facebook, MySpace, and MSN Messenger.  Add your child to your friends/contacts lists.  NEVER embarrass your child online, just read and message privately.   He may not keep in close contact with you, but he will with his friends.    Never agree to distance yourself from your child so he can immerse himself more completely in his new culture.  (It’s different for each family.  Some people feel comfortable with once a week calls, some with daily IMs or emails.  We had one French student who didn’t speak to his father until the man came to visit in June.  He talked with his mom every few weeks though.)    Investigate the program, hell, investigate several programs.  Exchange programs are not “you get what you pay for” purchases.  Some of the best ones are the cheapest because they use all volunteers.  Ask  questions about training, experience, problems, etc.  Ensure your son studies the language starting yesterday.  Collect email addresses and phone numbers for contacts here and abroad in case of emergencies.  Contact the host family, just to thank them for hosting your son even if you don’t speak their language.

After your child arrives at her destination-First 24 hours
Have her call you for a quick chat when she arrives at the host family’s home so you know she arrived safely.  Then call late that night or early the next day for a longer talk to get her first impressions.  Have a code word she can use if she can’t speak freely.  (probably overkill, but you never know.)  Is she with her host family?  Will she go to language camp?  Can she set up her laptop?  Does the family have high speed internet access?  Is the house clean? (yeah, not mine. shh.) Does she feel safe?  Did the counselor or area rep meet her at the airport or house, or at least call?

First Week in-country
Have your child buy a cell phone and minutes so you and he can speak at anytime.  I like Rebtel, it’s a VOIP that works for cell phones.   Your student may not be permitted to go out alone for the first 2 or 3 weeks.  It’s normal for a host family to start off strict, and loosen the rules later. It’s also normal for first-time host families to be nervous about hosting a student from the states.   How does your child feel? safe? well-fed?  cared for?  nervous? a burden? Homesickness comes and goes in waves, it’s normal for moods to change swiftly.  It’s also completely normal for your child to piss and moan vent to you.  You’ll feel horrible, and will want to bring him home, and he’ll be off happily exploring.   You’re a safe person for him to talk to, and be aware that FES’s are moody.  They all get headaches the first few weeks from the language difference, have sleeping problems, and are stressed from all the newness-food, routines, schools, families, pets, and loss of home friends, families, jobs, pets, and their cars.

Check my previous posts:
Deciding on a program
Where to go
Country Assignments
Passport advice

New Exchange Students-Passports & Visas
01-28-08, 12:52 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: ,

Congratulations, and welcome to the world of exchange.  This next 18 months will be exciting, scary, and life-changing.  What’s first?

  • Get your passport.  Now.  It takes time to get your passport, and if it’s your first one, it’s not cheap.  You can find applications at post offices and information online.  You’ll need your passport so you can obtain a student visa.
  • If you already have a passport, check it’s expiration date.  My program mandates that your passport be valid for 6 months past your return home date.
  • The difference between a visa and a passport is the US government issues you the passport, and the country you’re going to issues the visa.  The visa will be a permanent part of your passport, and you’ll have to send your passport to the foreign consulate or have it stamped in person. 
  • You may have to go to the nearest consulate for a personal interview.  Not all countries require interviews.   Google for your nearest consulate.  You MUST use the consulate listed for your state.  If you’re supposed to go to New York for Chile, but will be on vacation in Chicago, you can NOT make an appointment for the Chicago consulate.
  • You won’t be applying for your visa for several months.  If your exchange program works with a particular travel agency, they will be specialists in exchange student travel.  Our students receive large packets of information helping them through the visa application process.   If you are applying for your visa by yourself, follow the directions on the consulate’s webpage step-by-step.  If you call for information or advice, write down who you spoke with and the date.
  • Consulates are very picky about photos.  Your photos must be the exact size specified.  If they require front and side shots, or you unsmiling, do it.  Otherwise, you’ll just waste time, and end up doing it their way later.
  • Visa rules change often.  Keep checking the consulate’s webpage for updates.  I was in Bolivia last month.  Their visa requirements went into effect 4 days after I arrived, and had only been posted a week or two before I left home.
  • Don’t be upset about all the documentation you may need for a visa.  Some countries require HIV tests, others may require a police background check.   These are all formalities, and must be followed precisely.
  • One or both of your parents should also apply for a passport.  “Just in case” something happens, and they need to get to you quickly. 

Outbound Country Assignments

 Well, surprise, surprise.  At our exchange student meeting last Saturday, we (people who set up the exchanges with other countries.)  expected to meet the students who are going to our countries.  The kids didn’t know where they were going!  It’s January! 

The students are usually told to write down their top three country choices, and write a paragraph defending and explaining their choices.  That paper is included with their application.   After interviews, the kids are usually advised to go home, think about it, and let us know your final choices within 2 weeks.   The countries are assigned after the updates are received.  Almost all of the students change at least the country order, and many of them change countries and continents completely.   Two of our committee members speak with each student and family individually on interview day explaining choices and making suggestions.    I’ve said before that a lot of the kids initially want to go to France, Germany, Spain, or Italy because they’ve heard of those countries, or their language teacher suggested it.

This year, the students didn’t email in their final choices.   When we all arrived for the meeting, a paper was passed around with the students’ names, and one, two, or three countries listed.   I walked around looking for the students who wrote any South American country, and each kid changed their answer.  The students near them who heard me ask changed their countries, too.    The students were asked for their final choices three times Saturday night.  What a mess.   (I was just twitching to jump in and fix everything.  Repeat itsnotmyjobitsnotmyjob.)

I left the meeting with applications for seven students.  Four of them have been assigned  a country.  I have three students, and they will be assigned between Argentina and Chile.   I couldn’t make a decision based on who handed their application in fully completed the earliest as suggested.  I have to read the applications, and see who would have the best year in the best country for the student.

New Potential Outbounds
01-10-08, 11:21 pm
Filed under: Exchange Program, Exchange Students, Outbounds Outbounds | Tags: , ,

 Our first meeting with all the new kids was over the weekend.   I loved it because it was so crowded.  We have our smallest group of inbound students ever this year.  We have over 2 dozen new outbound applicants.  Husband and I have looked around saying ‘Where are the rest of them?’ when they’re all right there.  (We have to keep an eye out for ‘culture sharing.’)  This meeting was big, noisy, and chaotic; just the way I like it. 

I have several students assigned to my countries.  I’m happy to say they all mingled well.   A few of the new kids kept to themselves, and didn’t try to integrate or meet new people.  That’s a warning sign for exchange students.  FES’s spend an entire year with new people and situations.   I haven’t read through all their applications yet.  I have concerns about one or two of the students.   I’ll watch them at the next few meetings, and monitor their Facebook and MySpace pages.   The kids don’t understand everything is a test.   I learn a lot from Facebook and MySpace pages.   Even though I’m anonymous,  I don’t have references to hangovers and skanky behavior on here.  (I know, you’re all disappointed.)