Wry Exchange

Pwnd, End of Story
12-22-08, 1:34 am
Filed under: Exchange Program, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags:

 Anca made it home safely after over 24 hours of travel.  Merry Christmas, kid!   Fearless Leader Flo got her way, and terminated the student.  No rule violation, just ‘a pain in the ass.’  Flo didn’t like the girl, and made it personal.   The second host family didn’t work out, and Anca had a few other homes lined up, including with the family of the student in her Fesland home.   Flo believes Anca is just a bad kid, and a new family won’t make a difference.  Maybe yes, maybe no.  Give the girl a chance.  Anca has changed a lot in the last 4 months. 

Flo didn’t talk to hardly anyone about her plan this time.   She flat out didn’t return calls or emails.   I got into a fight with her about it, she said she didn’t ‘appreciate my interference.’   Husband tried to talk sense into her, but she didn’t care.  In almost 20 years of exchange, I have NEVER seen an adult go after a child like that.  Flo acted as neighbor-didn’t believe the student at all, behaved as counselor, country specialist, and head of our program. 

Beside the injustice, we have two practical problems.
1-We have a student in Anca’s home.  If I was Anca’s parents, or the country specialist, the other student would be on a plane home immediately.   Retaliation isn’t right, and it’s not a situation we see often, but it’s not unheard of.  I warned our student to be a perfect exchange student.  It wouldn’t take much to cook up a flimsy excuse to terminate her.
2-We have two students who want to go to Anca’s country next year.  What do you think the chances are they’ll wish to continue exchanging with us?

Fearless leader Flo screwed Anca, the program, our credibility, and future students with this selfish stunt.  Hope she’s pleased with herself.   Judge, Jury, Executioner, Asshole.


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?

I’m Sending You Home
10-12-08, 12:23 am
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Program, Exchange Students, Inbounds Inbounds | Tags: ,

 “I’m sending you home tomorrow.”  Because I don’t like FES, and I’m the adult.  It happens.  My last post was about avoiding early termination.  I’m still thinking about it.   

I wrote about my nasty neighbor last Summer.  She was an Area Rep for an exchange program.  No other volunteers lived in a 50-60 mile radius, so she was the only contact her students had.  She was the FES counselor, and sometime host parent.  She had the power to send students home early.  I’ve heard stories about some of her students early returns.  I believe some of her students were unfairly terminated.

Could it happen in my program?  Possibly, if no one knew about it.  I think it probably was much easier to wrongfully terminate a student before the internet and cell phones.  With texting, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and online chatting, students can notify their parents, friends, and other adults immediately.

How could it happen?  Let’s pretend. I live in a small town.  I know most people in town.  I want people to patronize my business.  My wife’s church contacts are very important to her, she doesn’t want her reputation questioned.  My kids go to school with the host family’s children.  My husband’s boss is the host-mom.  The hostfamily lives across the street, and I want to keep the peace in the neighborhood.  

Next, assuming there are legitimate problems between the student and host family, the logical step would be to move the student.   But the host family is very prominent in our small town.  Maybe I have a huge ego.  The student is a reflection of us.  We convince ourselvesdetermine the student is at fault, and she needs to go home.   We don’t want to move the student somewhere else in town.  Oh no, what would people think?  What if the student lied about living with us?  We tried everything.   The student could be moved to a different town, but that doesn’t validate our feelings. 

We KNOW FES is a bad student.  No one should question me.  I’m the adult in charge.   If I move quickly, I can have a kid out of the country within 24 hours.  All I need is her passport and airline tickets.  I also have to notify someone in her program overseas and the parents.  I can do it on the way to the airport if I’m really being a bitch.  It’s easy enough to bully a scared teen into packing.

How can we prevent this travesty?  Our program has always had a committee to discuss possible early terminations.  The committee is the President, VP, the country specialist, the inbound student chairman, and the student’s counselor.  The committee speaks to the host-family, student, school, and the Feslandia counselor.  At the end of fact-finding, we vote.  If the vote isn’t unanimous, the student stays. 

This procedure wasn’t followed in two early termination discussions in my program.  One student stayed, and the other was railroaded sent home.   Take us by surprise once, but never again.    I’ve taken kids to my town that other counselors believed were hopeless.   The kids all flourished.  People need to listen to the students, and remember the students are young, emotional, stressed, scared, and have language and cultural barriers.

ETA: If someone really wants to ship FES home, and no one else agrees, it’s best to move the student to a different town.  The adult may just be waiting for the student to ‘screw up,’ so he can be terminated.  Added bonus?  The adult was right about that horrible exchange student.

Avoiding Wrongful Early Termination
10-10-08, 12:12 am
Filed under: Culture, Exchange Program, Exchange Students, hosting | Tags:

 When students are sent home early, I hope it’s for cause.  Because some students are terminated for ‘being a pain in the ass.’  

Who is a PIA?  It’s the kid who is rude, whiny, bitchy, lazy, sarcastic, or passive aggressive.  It’s the girl who won’t get off the computer, or the boy who won’t get out of bed in the morning for school.   It’s the girl who doesn’t believe in God, or the boy who doesn’t enjoy sports.   It’s the student who doesn’t fit in with the host family.  It’s the student who doesn’t make friends fast enough, who isn’t assimilating.  (I hate that accusation the most. Leave the kid alone.  Not everyone is an extrovert.) 

PIAs are terminated because an adult either gave up or made it personal.  Send-home offenses are usually drinking, driving, drugs, arrest, pregnancy, and physically harming someone.   Everyone is a pain in the ass at some point.  (I keep writing ‘pain in the ass’ because that’s what we call them.)    It’s the kid that the family doesn’t like.  Most times, the family is a first-time host family and hasn’t been trained in cultural differences.  Maybe the student dared to stand up for herself when unfairly treated.   The counselor believes the family, without questioning the student for her side.  The counselor just wants the problem to go away.  That’s when the counselor decides the kid is “a bad kid,” “not ready for exchange,” “won’t try,” or “doesn’t want to be here.”   The counselor’s pride becomes involved.  The family and counselor try to convince everyone the student is bad, and needs to go home.  That they’ve tried ‘everything,’ and the student is hopeless.   Most times, if the student is moved, she’ll go on to have a fantastic year. 

Husband and I believe that if we sent kids home for being PIAs, we wouldn’t have a program.   PIAs don’t violate any rules, but they make people angry.  I’ve only supported one student’s termination for being a pain.  FES was shipped home from Europe for going through eight families before Christmas.  FES didn’t break any rules, but just annoyed people to death.  I wouldn’t have sent the student abroad.

If you are a student reading this, and you are threatened with early termination for no clear rule violation, tell everyone.  Call your parents, and tell other sympathetic adults-perhaps a teacher or coach.  Keep your passport with you, so your counselor can’t take you to the airport before anyone else knows what’s going on.  Offer to get out of the house immediately, stay with a friend.  Ask a friend’s family for help.  Maybe you can temporarily stay with them.  The parents can also call your counselor to advocate for you.

Avoiding Early Return

 Students should know as much as possible about their new country.   We’ve had students go to India and be surprised to eat with their hands, and see poor people.   Do your homework.  If you’re going to Taiwan, you should know they study, study, study all the time, and as a result have immature social skills.  Going to Australia doesn’t guarantee you’ll be living near the beach working on your tan all year.  You could be on a sheep ranch in the middle of nowhere.  If you’re a vegetarian, Argentina may not be the best place for you.

Do your own homework.  Don’t go to Fesland because someone else liked it.   What are your goals, hopes, likes, dislikes?  What do you want out of this year?  I interviewed a girl who wanted Australia and nowhere else.  As we got into the interview, her personality didn’t jibe with “Australia” to the interviewers.  She was conservative, religious, serious, wanted to learn a language, didn’t like the beach, and didn’t want a ‘blow-off’ year.  Her reason for wanting Australia?  She watched ‘The Borrowers Down Under’ at age 12, and always wanted to go.   A cartoon influenced her.  We talked to her, gave her time to think, and sent her to Austria.  She loved it, and it was the right choice.  She wouldn’t have lasted a month in Australia.

Parents should watch what they say.  We’ve had too many kids come home early because their parents missed them.  Personally, I think it’s selfish of the parents.  Kids will call home to vent about their new family, school, homesickness, language issues, etc.  It’s the parents job to listen, offer support, and suggestions.  Help them learn how to help themselves.  Please don’t tell FES he can come home if it’s too hard.  I know it’s killing you, but remind FES this is what he wanted, it’s only for 9-12 months and he can do it.   I can’t tell you how many panicked parent phone calls I’ve received over the years only to call FES and they’re fine.   The kids are bewildered until they realize they just tell their parents the bad stuff.  It’s common for the parents and me to have different stories from the kids.

Listen to the exchange volunteers.  We know.  If I tell you Feslandia has no support, and you’ll be on your own, don’t whine that no one is there to help you.  I tried to talk you out of it, but you insisted you were 18, very independent, and fought to go there.   If I tell you Fesica is sexist, don’t whine when people pinch your butt and treat you like a toy.   If I tell you Fesway is homogeneous, and you will stand out because you’re blonde or black, don’t complain because people stare at you all the time.   If you have SAD or depression, know that Northern Europe may make your symptoms worse.  If you’re a free spirit, but insist on going to Japan, don’t complain about all the rules.

Be honest.  I’m not being nosy, I’m trying to help.  Tell me if you have medical restrictions. We’ll work with you.  Depression is fairly common, it doesn’t count against you.  I can tell you which places are easier for gay students.  I want what’s best for you.  If you tell me you want to go to France, tell me why.  I may suggest Belgium to you.  At least consider it.  Belgium placements for our program are more urban with better public transportation, and less hours at school.   If you’ve already graduated high school, you’d probably have more fun in Belgium.

Don’t choose Fesvokia because your friend loved it.  Every exchange student thinks his country is the best.  Do your own research.  Think. Ask questions.

Early Returns – Voluntary Terminations

I wrote about involuntary terminations a few days ago.  There are a few different types of early returns.  One is semi-voluntary, usually because of an illness or death in the family.  (Most of our students have health insurance policies that permit a few weeks of compassionate leave to go home for a sudden illness, emergency, or death.  Some students choose not to complete their year abroad.)  That’s completely understandable, and not what I’m talking about.
  A voluntary withdrawal from the program is a failure for everyone-student, family, hostfamily, and counselors.   The worst part?  Almost every student regrets quitting within 2 days of going home.  If I know a student wants to go home, I’ll do everything possible to change his mind.  I think it’s a huge failure that will stay with the student forever. 

“Expensive Vacation Returns”-I’ve known of kids who wanted to come home as soon as the plane landed.  One boy a few years ago said he knew he made a mistake halfway through his flight.  Some students can tough it out for 3 or 4 weeks then quit.  These are students that perhaps weren’t trained enough, didn’t have realistic expectations, or should’ve been weeded out before they left home.  Sometimes parents can’t let go.  Husband and I had a student once who had never been away from home before.  He never even stayed overnight at Grandma’s house.  He lasted two months until Daddy visited.  We had an early return this year.  I think Mom was a big factor.  Let the student vent, but try to help her be strong.  Most of these students have already graduated from high school.  Generally if a 15 year old goes out, they have a reason to get out of the house.

Voluntary Returns-These are the tough ones.  Some students miss their bf/gf, and spend their time online and Skype-ing instead of building a life in their new country.   Most of the kids who give up just have bad luck.  They have a crappy host family, school sucks, they live in the sticks, and their counselor doesn’t care about them.  These are the kids who just can’t take it anymore.   These kids are the ones who feel alone and hopeless.  Our son P’s year was like this.  We told him he was going to complete his year if it killed him.  We dragged him through it.  I wrote about his year.   These are the kids I want to help.  They can tough it out if someone cares enough to be a cheerleader for them.  They need an adult to look for a different host family, to care if they try new activities, and to listen.   The best advice is to make it day by day or until Christmas.  Make a goal, and then another, and then another one.  Generally, if a student can stay until January 1, they’ll stay the rest of the year.  January first is a big hump day.   Former exchange students who had tough years are great mentors.  P has helped me help many students in the last seven years.   Go hug an exchange student!