Category Archives: Exchange Students

CIEE false marketing

Too often, host families are not given enough information about what it means to be one. The sending organization tends to promise too much in their marketing. My experience with most of the organizations is that they are glorified travel agencies and like travel agencies, their level of service depends on the guide/local coordinator you get. This review was found on YELP.

I believe in international education, but I do not recommend the CIEE high school summer abroad program. I had a very negative experience regarding the treatment of my child and several other students in a 2017 summer program in Europe. I was dismayed by the condescending and unhelpful interaction I experienced with the high school abroad support team staff based in Portland, ME. If you are considering this program for your child, please go beyond the glossy webpage, rosy reviews, and the lure of scholarship opportunities at your child’s high school and ask lots of questions. Ask for the full names and email and phone information of the local CIEE staff overseas as well as of the support team in Maine. Try to contact them. Ask for the contact information of other participants’ parents in case of emergency. Try calling the 24/7 emergency number in the evening. Ask if your child will be sharing a room with another exchange student or living in a house full of exchange students. Know that there are many high school study abroad programs to choose from

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Abuse

Since its founding in 2005, CSFES has been contacted by students who have been abused. Each and every year. Only a tiny amount of  exchange students who are abused contact us. We know there are many more who need help. At least that is what this study from 1999 shows. I have found no other research regarding abuse against international exchange students.

Anyone can be abused. There is no way to tell who is an abuser by the way they outwardly look or act. Abusers look just like you and me.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse includes pinching, pushing, grabbing, shaking, smacking, kicking, and punching. In 2016 we had a case where the exchange student was beaten so bad he had to go to the Emergency. He was surprised by his host-mother and host-brother, taken out back and beaten. Due to surprise and shock, the student had not been able to defend himself. The host-brother’s fists (nothing else) were marked by the beating. Unfortunately, the exchange organization representative deleted the pictures the exchange student had taken with his phone showing what he looked like. In spite of written documentation of the damage to him, the exchange student was blamed and returned to his parents.

Report physical abuse and tell your parents. ALWAYS tell your parents, take pictures and send them as soon as possible.

Sexual abuse

In 2017 Miami Dade Herald reported on the case of the sexual abuse of at least 12 girls. The predator married two of his victims and had started the process of manipulating the another. The exchange organization, CCI Greenheart, that had placed 11 of the girls, apparently did a background check on the predator but had not found his record of sexual assault from 1985. This predator is far from the only exchange student case that has come to the attention of media.

In most cases, sexual abuse does not go this far. It all depends on how good the abuser is at what they do. Unfortunately, it also  depends on the exchange organization taking the students seriously. In the above case, CCI did not. When that happens, many students give up.

As soon as you hear people tell you that you should keep whatever happens to yourself, contact your parents. ALWAYS keep your parents up to date about what happens to you and what your days consist of. I have worked with some of the students and families who are sexually abused. Sometimes the exchange organization works with the student. Other times, we have to fight to get the student to safety. Most of the time chance plays a part in whether or not CSFES, or other similar organizations, are asked for help.

Emotional abuse

This is the kind of abuse we see most often. Emotional abuse can happen on its own or together with other kinds of abuse. If you are sexually or physically abused, you will, most likely, be emotionally abused. Realizing what is happening can be difficult. Manipulators know how to gradually trap you. Some of the situation can be:

Day by day your situation worsens. Every day you are blamed for something or told that you are not good enough. Nothing you say or do makes things better. You feel the old you disappearing into a miserable person.

Blaming you for what they do. The abuser might say something like “If only you were better behaved, this would not have happened.”

You might be treated as a servant rather than a family member.

You might be kept from having contact with new friends, your family or friends at home or other adults in the area. We often hear exchange students tell us that their coordinator asks them to keep the situation to themselves.

Humiliation seems to be popular. One student told us about her host mother who would say embarrassing and untrue things about her to her friends. That kept her friends away. Others have told us about host-parents or coordinators who spread rumours.

Threats of self-harm happens. One student spoke of a host-mother who depended so much upon their talks that she said she would die if the student was not there. The student stayed longer than was good for them, but fortunately they were able to move.

Telling you that you are ungrateful for your “lovely host-parents who were kind enough to welcome you into their home”. Especially host-parents who are friends with the coordinator can cause trouble. In most cases, the exchange students gets blamed for everything that happens.

Threats of being returned to your home. Another favourite. Particularly exchange organizations use this threat. They might even demand that you sign a document where you are blamed for the situation.

When the exchange student is the abuser

This does happen. Not very often, but when it does, the abuse can be any of the above. Again, tell the exchange organization right away.

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.

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