Category Archives: Exchange Students

Should you be an exchange student?

Many factors determine whether being an exchange student is a good choice. No matter which exchange student option you choose, grades, finances, health, diet, religion and politics all influence your ability to fit into a new culture by yourself.

Alone

The most important factor involved in making your decision is that you must realize that once you have left home to travel to a new destination you are all by yourself. Everyone in your new culture will judge you based upon the cultural rules they understand.  No one really cares about the rules you grew up with. Not your host family, not your international coordinator and not the school you attend. Usually people will cut you more slack than their own young people, but theirs are the rules you must learn. Even if the people you live with are related to you, you will still be judged by the cultural rules that apply to their family.

Grades

The schools you attend will be in a completely different language. All of your subjects are in a different way to what you are used to. The grading system might be a bit different. You need to have AT LEAST a C average to even consider going. A higher grade point average makes adjusting easier. If you have a D or F average, you need to forget about going or work hard to change it.

Finances

No matter how you travel as an exchange student, it will cost you. A lot of money. Travel fare, passport, visa, tuition, housing, food, pocket money, clothing, vaccines, and so on. It all adds up. If you travel with an exchange organization, they will take care of the plane ticket to your destination and getting you a representative. In some instances your fee goes up because they pay the host family for having you. Even if you travel with an exchange organization and the host family is free, you still need to pay for passport and visa, pocket money, any special dietary needs, travel to the airport, clothing and so on. If you estimate using at least 10 000 Euro/USD all together, you have a starting point. How will you get that money?

Sometimes stipends are offered in the host-country or by the country you are travelling from. Your parents could be well off. Maybe you need to save up to it. If things turn bad, you risk losing all that money. Especially if you travel with an exchange organization. Are you willing to take that risk?

Health

Any country you travel to demands that you be of good physical and mental health. Some countries require vaccines. You will have to do a physical, pay for insurance and answer lots of questions. Remember to be honest. Allergies, ADHD, Aspergers, dietary requirements, diabetes, epilepsy, and so on. Be honest. It could go very bad for you if you lie.

If you struggle with PTSD, eating disorders, depression or anxiety, it is likely that your mental health problems will increase. Why? New food, new cultural rules, new family rules, and so on affect mental problems. In rare cases I have heard of people becoming better, but in those cases their home family situation has been far from ideal.

If you are travelling with an exchange organization, and have informed them about allergies or other sensitivities, you still risk being placed in a family you shouldn’t be. How would you deal with that?

Diet

Vegans and vegetarians have a harder time being placed. Particularly vegans. You will most likely have to buy and make your own food. Can you handle living with a family that eats meat. Most families you end up with do. If your religion has particular dietary requirements, how will you handle that?

Religion

Many students struggle with this aspect of life, particularly if they end up in a place that has the opposite view of theirs. Sometimes the conservatism is so strong that it becomes abusive. Whether that conservatism is Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jewish or any other choice out there, ending up in a belief system contrary to your own requires a lot of an exchange student. Will you be able to keep your mouth shut and remain polite? Too many Muslims are placed into conservative Christian families who try to feed them pork products. How will you handle an abusive situation?

Politics

New cultures mean new political points of view. Who is to say that yours is better than theirs? They won’t think so. Will you be able to refrain from criticising people who have wildly different political views?

These are some of the things you need to think about before you choose the exchange student life. It could end up being an amazing year but might also end up being terrible.

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Unsanitary conditions

Exchange student life brings with it many challenges. Some you can work through. Some you can live with. And some you must do something drastic about. Changing your host family ought to be OK, part of the learning process of dealing with new people and new cultures. Exchange students are youngish when they are thrown into a completely different culture with rules they do not understand. Host families are supposed to help the exchange student understand the cultural do’s and don’ts.

A common problem is the one described below. Exchange students are NOT in a country to be free labour for the host family. Chores are to be expected, but not being treated as an unpaid worker. As some of the advice at the link states – talk to your exchange organization, your teacher, the school that sent you there or the person in charge of your stay. Most of all talk to your parents about the situation.

In the below post there is one thing that is more of a cultural matter than the host-mother being against the exchange student. There is massive focus on doing well in school in Japan. Comments on the need to choose something more intelligent would usually be meant as wisdom. Exchange students have to remember that cultures are different and they would do well to study their intended culture before they go there. Especially adult-child relationships.

“I will be in Japan for an entire year. I have been here for a month and I have been very unhappy with my host family. They seem to think that I came to Japan only to clean their house and change my personality completely. Here is the thing, they are dirty, 15 years older than my own parents, busy, and confrontational. I cant deal with it anymore. I have cried so many times and its all because of something that one of them said to me or my host father lying about me or something like that. I want to be happy and whenever I even THINK about my host family I feel like crying. I dont want to stay with them any longer or else I will turn into a bad person. My host father is a lier and my host mother thinks that I shouldnt seek my dreams and that I should become a different person. Everyone knows that I want to be either a singer, model or actress but she had the nerve to say, “I dont think you should seek talent Krys, I think you should do something more intelligent.” I need help.(Yahoo answers)

Another student abused in Arkansas

In 2012 the Brian Williams from NBC wrote an article called Foreign exchange students sexually abused in program overseen by State Department. It was about exchange students who had travelled to the United States with the exchange company ERDT. The three boys in the article had all been sexually abused by people who should have been part of their support network. The article elicited a lot of comments. One of those was the below by Alexia Wilder. You can read the original comment at

Rock Center with Brian Williams

I was an exchange student in Arkansas as well under YFU program. I was from Venezuela an 8 million people city and ended up in Cabot, Arkansas, a town of barely 5K people where half of it were Ku Kux Klan! even my host father!

My host mother was an old lady who lost a child ages ago and she pretended I was that child. She never listened to me and wanted everything her way. She used to dig into my things and tell everyone what I had in my closet, the entire town knew about the kind of underwear I had! seriously even kids at the school. When I tried dating she called the parents of my date and started talking about me and counting every minute. They knew that coming from school took 10 minutes, if it took 15 they asked me why it took so long and they called the people I was with. Total espionage.

I spoke to my field agent but the case was not “a danger” and if I kept complaining I was going back home. For the field agent it was too much trouble finding em a new place. So I had to find one myself.

I manage to speak to my Sunday school teacher who was willing to take me. And I do not even remember what happened that I finally moved to my second family but my first host mother called them and spoke to his wife telling her loads of things about me and when I got to my second family there was a big fight between my new host mother and my new host father. I stayed any way and everything went fine until I went back home.

But trust me… things can get very traumatic and when I went back to Venezuela the other people that came back had similar experiences, we became good supportive friends after that and I started to work for YFU as a counselor for the kids that were living or arriving to Venezuela.

2016: STS: Orlando, Florida, USA

Chaotic room 2
Chaotic room 2

When exchange students have had a wonderful or decent time during their language course or exchange semester/year, it can be difficult for them to accept that there are many students who have poor or horrible experiences. Very few students find out about the organizations (like CSFES) that are willing to help them find a way to solve their problems when their exchange agency fails them. Students are even told by some exchange firms that CSFES is not a serious organization.

Most youth who go on some form of language travel have a decent time. Sadly, many do not. They are placed in homes that aren’t prepared to take care of them. One such student is a 14 year old Finnish boy who went on a language trip to Orlando, Florida with STS. Considering the state of the host-house we are shown, CSFES is troubled, once again, by the apparent lack of background checks. It is obvious from the state of the house, that the owner had been struggling for quite some time. However, many students are placed in such homes. Thankfully, the Finnish language student took pictures and filmed the state of the host-house. He, and the the other three students living in the home, had to pay for food that the host-mother was supposed to provide. When he bought food, the host-mother ate most of it. You will see that sleeping space was tight. The rule that most exchange/language organizations follow is no more than two students per room unless the room is very spacious.

Laundry pile in host home
Laundry pile in host home

In addition to problems with the host family, the organization did not keep its promises regarding activities the students had been promised. This student found out that other students in other places and homes had completely different and safer homes and representatives. From the video, pictures and post, what this student went through was a clear case of neglect by the host family and STS.

Finland’s country manager, Mira Silvonen, tried to claim that the boy had not gone on a trip this year. This is how most of the organizations respond to complaints, by denial. That is what frustrates parents, students and helpers most: The complete inability to admit that the exchange service is at fault for choosing the wrong host family.

Towards the end of his recollection, the former Finnish language student informs us that a Swedish student, who had written a poor review, was offered money by STS to remove his review.

Radtke sentenced for sexual abuse

David Edwin Radtke deemed sexual predator

Pastor charged with sexual assault of exchange student
By Paul Walsh Star Tribune | May 27, 2011 — 9:00pm

A 52-year-old Lutheran minister has been charged in Sibley County with fondling a high school foreign exchange student as he massaged her while she nodded off in the family’s home.

The Rev. David E. Radtke of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Gibbon, Minn., posted bond Thursday after being jailed and charged with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Radtke was arrested Monday while working at a Lutheran church in Clyman, Wis., about 50 miles northeast of Madison, and was returned to Minnesota. Assistant County Attorney Don Lannoye said Radtke was not trying to flee prosecution, but was in Wisconsin on business.

“I just can’t handle this,” the student, a 16-year-old from Madrid, said in a text message to the minister’s wife, according to the charges. “What happened is not legal in any place of the world and you know what I mean!”

Radtke, his wife and their son all approached the girl at various times, acknowledged the molestation earlier this month and asked her to forgive him, the charges added.

The girl moved in with the Radtkes in August 2010, upon the departure of an exchange student from Finland, the complaint read.

According to the charges:

The girl told a sheriff’s deputy that Radtke gave her back massages once every two weeks or so between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. At times, she would fall asleep.

On May 17, as she lay on the couch, Radtke rubbed her legs until she fell asleep. She awoke to find him molesting her inside her underwear. …”

The rest of the article may be read at Star Tribune

2006: Polish Exchange Student in US: My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists

2006 Nov 14

When Polish student Michael Gromek, 19, went to America on a student exchange, he found himself trapped in a host family of Christian fundamentalists. What followed was a six-month hell of dawn church visits and sex education talks as his new family tried to banish the devil from his soul. Here’s his story.

'Possessed by the devil': Exchange student Michel Gromek, 19.
Michael Gromek | ‘Possessed by the devil’: Exchange student Michel Gromek, 19.

Editor’s Note: The following story first appeared in SchoolSpiegel, a SPIEGEL ONLINE Web site that solicits original contributions from school kids about their experiences. The site also features first-hand accounts of foreign exchange students.

“When I got out of the plane in Greensboro in the US state of North Carolina, I would never have expected my host family to welcome me at the airport, wielding a Bible, and saying, ‘Child, our Lord sent you half-way around the world to bring you to us.’ At that moment I just wanted to turn round and run back to the plane.

Things began to go wrong as soon as I arrived in my new home in Winston-Salem, where I was to spend my year abroad. For example, every Monday my host family would gather around the kitchen table to talk about sex. My host parents hadn’t had sex for the last 17 years because — so they told me — they were devoting their lives to God. They also wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart.My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops. They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying ‘Michael, it’s time to go to church.’ I hated that sentence. When I didn’t want to go to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn’t allow me to have any coffee.

One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is separated from my father. They were appalled — my mother’s heart was just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her to stay with her husband, they said.

“God’s will”

Then, seeing as we were already on the topic of God’s will, the religious zealots finally brought up a subject which had clearly been on their minds for a long time: They wanted me to help them set up a Fundamentalist Baptist church in my home country of Poland. It was God’s will, they said. They tried to slip the topic casually into conversation, but it really shocked me — I realized that was the only reason they had welcomed me into their family. They had already started construction work in Krakow — I was to help them with translations and with spreading their faith via the media.

It was clear to me that there was no way I was going to do that. The family was appalled. It was a weird situation. After all, these people were my only company at the time. If I hadn’t kept in touch with home through e-mail, I might have been sucked into that world.

It was only after four months that I decided to change my host family. I had kept hoping that things might improve, but it was futile. Telling them that I wanted to go was the most unpleasant moment I experienced in that half year. Of course they didn’t understand — how could they? They had grown up with their faith and were convinced of it, and then suddenly I turned up and refused to fit in.

From that moment on, I counted the days. The two months that followed my decision were hell. My host parents detested me. There were constant rows. I could sense that they just wanted to get rid of me. They didn’t know what to do with me any more.67 days later, I was finally in a new family. They were young, actually more friends than host parents, and I was very happy there. Because my new family was only 50 kilometers away from the other one, I was distrustful at first and afraid that things wouldn’t be any better. But the change was worth it.

Despite everything, I still haven’t come to terms with my experience. I want to write to the religious family soon and explain to them, clearly and calmly, why things went so wrong. It shouldn’t just end this way.”

Adapted from an interview conducted by Magdalena Blender.

2015 Feb 21: Suomalaistytön vaihto-oppilasvuosi Yhdysvalloisa tyssäsi “paljastavaan” somekuvaan

Julkaistu: 21.2.2015 20:34

Vaihto-oppilasmatkan järjestäjän mukaan tyttö ei noudattanut vaihto-oppilasohjelman sääntöjä ja rikkoi koulun pukeutumissääntöjä Yhdysvalloissa.

Suomalaistytön vaihto-oppilasvuosi Yhdysvalloissa keskeytyi vain reilun kuukauden jälkeen, koska tyttö ei matkanjärjestäjän mukaan noudattanut vaihto-oppilasohjelman sääntöjä ja rikkoi lisäksi koulun pukeutumissääntöjä, selviää tammikuussa Kuluttajariitalautakunnan sivuilla julkaistusta ratkaisusta.

Tyttö käytti koulussa pitkiä housuja, paitapuseroita ja takkia. Lisäksi tytön isäntäperheen äiti työskenteli samassa koulussa opettajana ja tarkasti vaihto-oppilaan vaatetuksen aamuisin. Suomalaistytön vaatetus ei silti kelvannut koulun rehtorille, eikä edes isäntäperheen äiti osannut selittää, mikä tytön pukeutumisessa oli vikana.

Tyttö sai koulusta moitteita myös puhelimen käyttämisestä, vaikka tyttö noudatti muiden oppilaiden antamaa mallia.

Perhe uskoo, että todellinen syy vaihto-oppilasohjelman keskeyttämiseen ei liity järjestäjän korostamaan pukeutumiskoodin rikkomiseen tai puhelimen käyttöön. Perhe pitää todellisena syynä tytön sosiaaliseen mediaan lataaman kuvan aiheuttama huomiota, jonka isäntäperhe koki kiusalliseksi.

Isäntäperheen isä nosti sähköpostiviestissään suurimmaksi ongelmaksi kuvan, jossa tyttö oli hänen mielestään puolialaston. Isä sai tiedon kuvasta paikallisen kirkon nuorisopastorilta. Tytön perhe pitää isäntäperheen isän luonnehdintaa kuvasta vääränä.

Kuluttajariitalautakuntaan valittanut tytön huoltaja katsoo, että järjestön vaihto-oppilasohjelman ehto, jonka mukaan yhdenkin säännön rikkominen voi oikeuttaa matkalta poistamiseen ilman maksun palautusta, on kohtuuton ja ristiriidassa yleisten valmismatkaehtojen kanssa, joiden mukaan matkalta poistamisen edellytyksenä on olennainen laiminlyönti.

”Tytölle annettiin kirjallinen varoitus”

Tytön huoltajan mukaan järjestäjä oli koko prosessin ajan laiminlyönyt avustamisvelvollisuutensa ja pyrkinyt johdonmukaisesti löytämään riittävät syyt ohjelman keskeyttämiselle sen sijaan, että se olisi pyrkinyt löytämään keinoja vaihto-oppilasvuoden toteuttamiseen onnistuneesti.

Järjestäjä ei ole perheen mukaan tukenut tyttöä Yhdysvalloissa lupaamallaan tavalla. Järjestäjän aluevalvoja ei ollut perheen mukaan aktiivinen ongelmien selvittelyssä Yhdysvalloissa. Suomen päässä ongelmia ryhtyi selvittämään nuori, vasta-aloittanut työntekijä, jolla ei perheen mukaan ollut tarvittavaa osaamista tällaisten tilanteiden ratkaisemiseen.

Järjestäjän mukaan tyttö rikkoi toistuvasti vaihto-oppilasohjelman sääntöjä, jotka hän ja hänen perheensä olivat allekirjoituksellaan hyväksyneet ennen vaihto-oppilaaksi hyväksymistä. Hänelle annettiin järjestäjän mukaan mahdollisuus muuttaa käytöstään ja häntä ohjeistettiin vaihdon aikana monin tavoin isäntäperheessä, koulussa ja järjestäjän Suomen toimiston toimesta. Toimiston mukaan aluevalvoja ja aluekoordinaattori auttoivat ja tukivat häntä.

Tytölle annettiin kirjallinen varoitus ja hänet asetettiin koeajalle. Varoituksen ja koeajan yhteydessä hänelle annettiin kirjalliset ohjeet siitä, miten hänen tulisi muuttaa käytöstään. Vaihto-oppilasmatkan järjestäjän mukaan tyttö kuitenkin jatkoi sääntöjen rikkomista, jolloin hänet katsottiin sopimattomaksi vaihto-oppilasohjelmaan ja erotettiin.

Reilun kuukauden kestänyt vaihto maksoi tuhansia euroja

Tytön huoltaja vaati järjestäjää palauttamaan 6 972 euroa, mikä vastaa 80 prosenttia vaihto-oppilasohjelman hinnasta.

Lisäksi hän vaati 880 euron vahingonkorvausta, mikä sisältää tytön viisumin (135 euroa), rokotuksen (150 euroa), paluulennon järjestelyn (300 euroa), SEVIS-maksun (144 euroa), varallisuustodistuksen (30 euroa), valokuvat (20 euroa) sekä tuliaiset isäntäperheelle (100 euroa). Lisäksi huoltaja vaati hinnanalennukselle ja vahingonkorvaukselle viivästyskorkoa.

Huoltaja uskoo, että ohjelman hinnalla katettavien kustannusten voisi olettaa jakautuvan melko tasaisesti koko vaihto-ohjelman ajalle. Tässä tapauksessa ohjelma on jäänyt suurelta osin toteutumatta.

Kuluttajariitalautakunta oli kuitenkin yksimielisesti sitä mieltä, ettei se suosita vaihto-oppilasmatkan järjestäjää maksamaan huoltajan vaatimia korvauksia.

Lautakunta pitää todennäköisenä, että vaihto-oppilasvuoden kustannukset muodostuvat järjestäjän esittämällä tavalla suurimmaksi osaksi toimenpiteistä, jotka tehdään jo ennen kuin oppilas lähtee matkalle. Lautakunta ei tämän vuoksi pidä kohtuuttomana sopimusehtoa, jonka mukaan ohjelmamaksua ei palauteta, kun keskeytys perustuu vaihto-oppilaan puolella oleviin syihin. Lautakunta ei myöskään pitänyt pukeutumista ja puhelimen käyttöä koskevia sääntöjä epäselvinä.