1-866-283-9090 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) The Department of State activated the helpline to ensure the health and safety of its exchange participants. Students have a right to be treated fairly and to report abuse without retaliation or threat of program cancellation. (Dep of State)
Program: Study Abroad
Posted: August 18, 2012
My daughter went to China for a year with AFS in high school. As an overall experience, it was incredible and changed her life for the better. She was adopted from China, and always felt “different”, and after this year she was a changed child from knowing that she was accepted, recognized as beautiful, and “fit in.” She loved her Chinese high school experience, and loved the general experience of being in China. She was changed for the better as a person. And our local city AFS chapter is wonderful.
AFS China, on the other hand, and the support she received from AFS USA while over there, were a different story. Her host family had a frequently drunk father who hit his daughter, greatly upsetting my daughter. She did not want to leave the family because she felt very close to her host sister. There was quite a bit of heavy drinking and sex from the European AFS-ers, and minimal supervision from AFS China. Whoever was supposed to be supporting them over there was not supportive, and when I called the US person, he would take sometimes weeks to answer my calls and was unresponsive. (I was later told he was sick, but needless to say they needed a replacement.) So that part of it was not at all well done.
AFS is an old and extremely well established organization, and it is difficult to do a great job in so many countries working only with volunteers. On the other hand, at the least they could have good and responsive US staff.
So a mixed story.
Submitted: Fri, January 20, 2012 | Updated: Fri, January 20, 2012
Reported By: Frank — West Dover Vermont United States of America
There are a lot of excellent foreign exchange student programs out there. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. We paid approximately $10,000+ for our son to go to the Netherlands and be emotionally abused by a crazy woman. He required medical attention because of the abuse, and AYUSA used that as a reason for kicking him out of the program. Their policies require them to provide a warning letter and probationary period before removing kids from the program for any reason, but the only policy they follow is pretty simple: No refunds.
Bottom line: Your child’s safety and well-being aren’t their concerns. The bottom line is. Stay away. Run, don’t walk.
…Who had been baptized in Japan while he was there as an exchange student.
His parents were unaware this had happened…I broke the news to them by showing up (his records somehow found their way to us in the US some while after he got home).
They were indignant, and justifiably so. We didn’t argue this one. The bishop did a name removal I think. Even as TBMs we thought those missionaries and that host family were way out of line to convert a minor without the knowledge and consent of his parents, especially when they had him isolated in a foreign country.
EQP – Mormon Elder’s Quorum President
TBM – True Believing Mormons
©Gloucester County Times | By REESA MARCHETTI Staff Writer
Guzel of Sterlitamak, Russia, 15 years old, plays basketball and enjoys running. She likes music, literature and dancing and is in the choir. She has two younger brothers. Her teacher says, “She is rather modest, kind, polite and ready to help others.”
As described in a foreign exchange student agency brochure, inviting a youngster like Guzel to stay in your home may sound like a wonderful way to promote international goodwill and expand your cultural awareness.
But recent problems encountered by a host family in Pittsgrove Township have led many people to wonder who regulates the agencies that bring in these students — and what is the cost, to the families, the students and the school districts.
Gitte Hommelgaard, 18, of Denmark has become the object of controversy since she arrived in Pittsgrove last month to stay with the Pokrovsky family and attend Arthur P. Shalick High School there.
Because the school had recently changed its exchange student policy to require 90 days notice to register a foreign student, Hommelgaard was denied admission. Her host mother, Sandy Pokrovsky, appealed the school board’s decision to the state department of education and won emergency relief to enroll the Danish teen at Schalick.
According to the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET), the agency that placed the Danish student should have secured written acceptance from a school official before sending her to the Pokrovsky’s home.
The CSIET, however, is a strictly voluntary system of self-monitoring to which exchange agencies may apply. Adhering to such standards is not legally required in order for an organization to place students from other countries in U.S. schools — and homes.
There are no regulations that control how or when foreign exchange students attend New Jersey’s public schools.
Rich Vespucci, a spokesman at the N.J. Department of Education, said those issues are handled by local boards of education.
“It is a local decision,” Vespucci said. “There aren’t any state regulations that apply to it.”
Nationally, exchange agencies are self-regulated via several voluntary programs. The United States Information Agency (USIA) designates non-profit organizations that meet their requirements, and authorizes them to issue applications for one-year student visas.
The national Association of Secondary School Principals’ CSIET sanctions both non-profit and private agencies who voluntarily submit to their guidelines. Many agencies, such as the Cultural Academic Student Exchange (CASE), which placed Hommelgaard in Pittsgrove, are designated by both the USIA and the CSIET.
Legally, agencies do not have to register with either one in order to arrange student exchanges. Students do not need an agency to get visa applications — they may obtain the visas for themselves, or school principals here or abroad may arrange for the student to get them.
The USIA has a booklet with more than 40 pages of regulations, and operating and financial criteria, that organizations must meet in order to become USIA-designated.
So how does this federal agency monitor its 1,100 exchange programs, of which approximately 70 deal exclusively with high school students? USIA public liaison Bill Reinckens said the only way his office can regulate them is when a complaint is received.
“It is handled on a case by case basis until the situation is resolved,” he said. “We don’t have the staff and resources to be pro-active in our monitoring.
“However, we do a lot more than respond to complaints. We handle the general administration and procedures involved in conducting these exchange programs. As part of this effort, there is constant dialogue and a regular relationship between the USIA and the program organizations we designate.”
Reinckens stressed that contrary to what many of the agencies imply in their advertising, they cannot issue student visas. They are only allowed to supply the application forms.
“The USIA issues application forms that the organizations complete for the participants,” he said. “Then the participants take them to the U.S. consulate in their home country. The students pursue the visas in their country.”
Reinckens suggests that people thinking of hosting an exchange student check with their local better business bureau or department of education. Unlike New Jersey, he said that some states have adopted laws governing exchange agencies.
“Various states, among them Washington, Minnesota and California,” he said, “have passed laws and regulations regarding these kinds of organizations.”
According to Reinckens, 23,000 to 25,000 foreign students attend public school in the U.S. annually on J-1 visas, assisted by USIA-designated agencies. One of the provisions of J-1 is that there are no repeat visits allowed.
“Students on a J-1 can be here for a minimum of one semester to a maximum one-year stay,” he said. “There’s another kind called an F student visa, where a student can stay as long as a high school issues an I-20 form. The high school is responsible for issuing that form.
“Another kind of visa is a B-visa, which is a visitors visa for short-term visits. For example, a student may enter the U.S. on a B-visa if they are just going to attend a class for a few weeks.”
* * *
Some of the methods used by exchange agencies to locate and screen host families for foreign students can cause problems for all parties involved.
Robert Bender, the superintendent of the Carneys Point-Penns Grove district said he has been troubled to see ads for host families on telephone poles just prior to the start of the school year.
“That caused part of the problem,” he said. “They didn’t find families until late in the summer. I think it’s a worthwhile program, but they need to find host families first before bringing the students over.
“Once they do that, it will eliminate a lot of concerns the schools have.”
Bender said that although having a foreign student can be a benefit for the school, it is difficult for administrators to prepare for the student’s needs on short notice.
“A foreign student is a living social studies lesson right in the classroom — there’s so much to be gained by our own students,” he said. “But at the end of summer where you have transfer students coming at the last minute, exchange students make it a little more difficult. We need to review their transcripts and find out where they should be placed.
“You want them to be successful when they’re here. If you only have a day or two, that’s not the way we like it to be. It’s better to do this in time to properly place them.”
Danish student Hommelgaard recently got a lesson in the problems school officials have to deal with when placing a student from another country. Although she is 18 and is taking mostly Grade 12 courses, she had to be placed in junior level history when she started classes at Schalick on Wednesday.
“It’s a bit difficult when you don’t know it,” she said. “I know more Danish history than American history.”
According to Bender, a girl from Russia who attended Penns Grove High School last year didn’t work out and ended up going back home.
Penny Tarplin, the Pittsburgh area CASE director, said that it is not unusual to have to place a child as late as August.
“Sometimes a placement falls through,” she said. “In May, the father of a family here had a heart attack and died.
“Or sometimes a student cancels. I’ve been doing this for 24 years and we learn everything the hard way.”
Ads seeking host families by the Pittsburgh CASE organization can be found in locations as diverse as local newspapers to a page on the Internet.
Tarplin said that except in the few states that require police background checks for host families, her organization is not allowed to request them. Instead, she said she relies on her instincts at an in-home interview with all family members, and three letters of recommendation obtained by the host parents.
“A police check has not been necessary so far,” she said. “We expect the references to take care of that — someone will spill the beans if there are problems.
“I went to visit a potential family once, and all over their wall, they had guns. Needless to say, we did not place a student with them.”
Ellen Battaglia, who is the president of the national CASE organization based in Middletown, agreed that CASE representatives have to use their “professional experience” to find a safe, compatible match between a student and a host family.
“If a student calls and has the slightest qualms about a family, we take the student out,” she said. “We’ve never had any sexual or physical abuse from the host family.”
John Doty is a member of CSIET’s board of directors, as well as the director of Pacific Intercultural Exchange, a West Coast-based student exchange organization. He agreed that being able to do police checks on potential families would be ideal, but not possible in most cases.
“I would feel more comfortable if we had access to criminal background checks,” he said. “We would love nothing more than to tap into a database to find this out.”
According to Doty, even in areas where host families are required by law to agree to a background check, the cost and length of time it would take — up to six months — can be prohibitive.
“Our program’s application form asks if anyone in the family has ever committed a felony,” he said, “but if you ask and the answer comes back no, what good is it? We have to assume that it’s answered correctly.”
Doty said his agency checks with the schools, as well as asking potential host families for personal references.
“If the school says, I wouldn’t place a student with that family, we listen,” he said. “Our program brought in 20,000 students in the past 20 years and never had any reported abuse.”
Tarpin said that to facilitate the student and family getting along, she holds an orientation meeting within 10 days of the student’s arrival in the United States.
“There usually are little things that are cultural that they have to get used to,” she said.
As a local representative, she is expected to stay in close contact with the student and the family, by phone and in person, to help them through any problems during the student’s stay.
Battaglia said that CASE workers are independent contractors who receive $20 a month for each student they supervise.
* * *
The CASE organization is currently under scrutiny by the USIA and the CSIET for its actions in placing the Danish student with the Pokrovsky family.
“We look for patterns of concern,” said Anne Shattuck, CSIET director of operations. “Is this an isolated incident or is this a pattern? Our standards require written acceptance from the school prior to assigning a student to a family, but there may be extenuating circumstances where a phone call worked.”
Because each organization must reapply annually to be CSIET-designated, the incident will not be considered until the CSIET board’s regular meeting in January, Shattuck said.
Doty said that the majority of companies placing foreign students are not regulated at all.
“The USIA has stringent rules, but for-profit agencies are not regulated,” he said. “There are problems of screening issues because programs don’t have to comply with any standards.”
Doty said that when he helped push for legislation in his home state of California, one of the biggest problems faced was identifying organizations that are not designated by the USIA or CSIET.
“It’s impossible to know how many programs are out there,” he said. “Some are here today and gone tomorrow.
“Part of the problem comes from schools being unaware of the nature of this business. If the schools were more selective and knew what to look for in an exchange program, I think they would be diminishing their potential for problems.”
Doty said that non-designated, for-profit agencies are not necessarily bad.
“Some are excellent and have wonderful reputations,” he said.
Woodstown High School Principal Steve Merckel said being a non-profit agency doesn’t exclude everyone involved in it from making money.
“Non-profit doesn’t mean that the people who head them up don’t get big salaries,” he said.
To some school administrators, the addition of a foreign exchange student to the class rolls can be a culturally enriching experience for the entire student body, but others don’t accept them.
Kathleen Carfagno, administrative assistant to the Gloucester County Superintendent of Schools, said districts differ in their views on exchange students.
“We’ve talked about it with the local principals group. There are some schools, by policy, who say that we are not going to accept them,” she said. “Others say it’s a good opportunity to learn from someone from a foreign country.”
Merckel cited good experiences with students placed by both the 4-H and the Youth for Understanding organizations in the school district.
“They do an excellent job of monitoring students and working with families,” he said. “They usually take families known within the organization. I’ve worked with agencies before that don’t screen the kids or families well, and don’t give support when you have problems.”
Merkel said the school’s foreign exchange student policy, which was revised to limit exchange students to four per year, has helped the district avoid problems.
“Limiting the number you have in one year,” he said, “allows you to better give assistance to the students.”
* * *
The expense to the school district for enrolling a foreign student for a year is difficult to determine, but appears to be minimal. Henry Bermann, the board secretary and business administrator for the Pittsgrove district, said that the cost per student to attend Schalick is budgeted at $6,500.
“But we won’t know the actual audited cost until the following year,” he said.
One of the reasons the cost can’t be determined immediately is that state aid, which is granted per student enrolled, is often based on enrollment figures for the previous year. So in many cases, having an exchange student could result in increased state funding to a district.
An average of four or five exchange students a year may attend Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich Township, according to Superintendent Terence Crowley.
“The biggest thing in my opinion,” he said, “is that it allows our kids to meet with other students from other countries.”
Crowley said there is another benefit to the exchange programs — Kingsway students have had the opportunity to study in other countries including Japan, Brazil and Ecuador.
Staff writer Cynthia Collier contributed to this report
Color added by editor | Aside from USIA being replaced by Department of State, the same issues raised in this article keep on occuring today. John Doty’s Pacific International was taken off CSIET’s approved list as late as 2012 due to severe breaches. This is not by any means a naive or innocent industry.
Alexis Stevens | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
12:01 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012
Traveling to Indonesia was just the beginning of what Morgan Lide had planned.
The 17-year-old Cobb County girl wanted to travel the world, learn another culture and later study international affairs. Morgan was a talented artist, and her spirit of adventure led her to give up her senior year at Wheeler High School, opting instead for a prestigious study abroad program.
But over the weekend, a knock on the door at her parents’ home in east Cobb brought worse news than the family could ever have imagined. Morgan had drowned off the coast of Bali while swimming at Kuta Beach.
A very good swimmer who had spent many summers on the swim team, Morgan was pulled under by a rip tide and her host family lost sight of her. She was later found on the shore, but could not be resuscitated by lifeguards.
Tuesday night, Morgan’s parents and sister spoke of Morgan’s legacy and passion for life, vowing that how she lived should serve as an inspiration to others.
“She wanted to travel,” her mom, Lori Lide, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “She was looking for something to do for the summer.”
But when she learned of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Abroad Program, her mind was made up. The program sends students from non-Muslim countries to Muslim areas, but Morgan didn’t care where she was going.
“She just said, ‘I just wanna go,’” Lori Lide said.
Morgan left in September and never looked back, her family said. She blogged about her experiences abroad, posting pictures of life with her host family.
“Life as I know it is about to end in just one day,” Morgan wrote in September. “Tomorrow morning I leave my family, friends and hometown, something that I should be completely overwhelmed by, but that somehow I feel strangely calm about.”
For her older sister Catherine, Morgan’s last day in Cobb County lives on in the form of dozens of pictures taken at the county fair. Catherine Lide, a mechanical engineering student at Georgia Tech, said her sister wanted to go to Tech, too.
Morgan was an honor student in the math and science magnet program at Wheeler, her parents said. But she didn’t just excel at academics in high school.
“While she was there, she discovered she had a passion for art,” her mother said.
The “passion” for drawing, painting and sculpture led Morgan to be selected for the Governor’s Honor Program in art, an honor she had to pass on because of her plans to study abroad.
Since learning of Morgan’s death, her family said they have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from neighbors, friends and classmates. Her father, Chuck Lide, said it was a small comfort to know how many lives his younger daughter touched.
Thu Mar 15, 2012 12:58 PM EDT
By Anna Schecter Rock Center
Fifty high school foreign exchange students reported being sexually abused or harassed by a host parent during the 2010-2011 school year, according to data released by the State Department in response to an NBC News probe.
The Department says that this number is a tiny fraction of the 29,000 students who came to the United States as exchange students last year.
NBC News requested the data as part of a Rock Center investigation that aired Wednesday night.
Watch the full Rock Center investigation HERE.
Three students who said they were sexually abused by their host parents were featured in the report, which was the culmination of a six-month investigation into problems with the exchange program.
NBC News found that a lack of oversight can allow sexual predators to take advantage of the program. And when sexual abuse did happen, there is evidence that the students go back to their home countries with little or no support from the exchange organizations or the State Department.
Over 200,000 students from around the world have come to America to experience the culture and attend a U.S. high school over the past decade. They are placed with host families by non-profit organizations that are approved by the State Department to find homes for them.
There is an office of 60 people in charge of monitoring the more the 25,000 students that come each year, according to State Department spokesperson Toria Nuland.
Critics say that number is too small, and the Department’s push to bring in as many students as possible has made it impossible for it to ensure each student is placed in a safe and nurturing host family.
“Over the past decade the people at the State Department who were responsible for managing this program were praised and encouraged because the size of the program was growing. If they reduced the number of students, the program would be safer,” said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, a non-profit research organization.
The program dates back to the 1960’s, but the Department said it only started compiling data about allegations of sexual abuse and harassment in 2009 after the Inspector General issued a scathing report on the program.
Stanley Colvin who used to be in charge of youth exchange programs left after 2009.
Of the 66 total cases of sexual harassment or abuse involving a student, nine did not involve a member of the host family, but rather a classmate, friend, neighbor or stranger, and one allegation was against the exchange student.
In all allegations involving the host family, the [organization] must remove the student immediately to a safe home and notify local authorities–police and/or child protective services–and the Department of State, according to the Department’s regulations.
There is no language in the regulations about getting counseling for the teens that do get abused, or staying in contact with the teen after he or she goes home.
Parallel to any law enforcement investigation, the Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is supposed to gather information to determine whether the sponsor has violated any regulations.
Nuland said that ECA has terminated a number of exchange organizations over the past six months and exacted fines on organizations that failed to conduct background checks on host families, as required by law.
“When they have cut corners in other ways we have fined sponsoring organizations, we’ve cut back their access to the program, et cetera. But these are the kinds of measures that we’re continuing to hone and reform,” Nuland said.
“The vast majority of these kids have a rich, enormously gratifying experience that lasts with them for a lifetime, said Nuland. “That doesn’t change the fact that we have to have zero tolerance for any of these cases, even one child abused is one too many. And it is our job to fix this and we will.”
Editor’s Note: Click here to watch Kate Snow’s full report, Culture Shock, which aired on Rock Center with Brian Williams.