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Originally posted on my blog Trygghetforutvekslingseleven. Please remember that Erika Insurance is part of the EF/Hult Empire and that there is a potential danger of a conflict of interest if a problem arises that EF is responsible for.
Erika Försäkringsab (publ) / Erika Travel Insurance and Finance
- Student Insurance Information (do’s and don’ts)
- To find a doctor covered by Erika/Aetna
- In case of medical emergency:
- German, Swiss, Austrian or Dutch students should contact AXA Assistance – 1-800-847-3948
- Italian students should contact Inter Partner Assistance – 1-800-472-6705
- All other nationalities should contact Falck TravelCare – 1-800-871-9211
- Manager: Lars Anders Lundquist
Chairman: Staffan Gunnar Ericsson
CEO: Bill Erling Andreasson
Board: Åsa Elisabeth Staffansdotter Blendow
Board: Karin Maria Elisabeth Ström
Board: Per Jonas Kjerfve
EF has worked with Erika Insurance for 17 years – it’s our strong recommendation that all students have the Erika insurance while attending an EF school.
Erika is a tailor-made insurance including everything from medical, property, delay, interruption and liability coverage. (EF)
Subject to change. Insurance plans are provided by AETNA for US locations, Erika Medical insurance for London, Dubai, and Shanghai.
Erika insures the following EF programs:
- Academic Year Abroad
- Cultural Care – Au Pair
- EF English First
- EF High School Exchange Year
- Language Courses Abroad
Efekta Insurance International, Ltd.:
(Reg.no: 35879): Bermudiana Arcade – 3rd floor, 27 Queen Street, HM11 Hamilton Bermuda: Tel: +41.41 417 4500 / (+1) 441-296-9080 / Fax: +41.41 417 4671 / (+1) 441-296 0772: http://www.efektainsurance.com/
- Tobias Sjöberg (Director of Operations)
Health Claims/Appeals for the Aetna Student Health Travel Insurance-EF (Erika Insurance): Aetna, PO Box 14101, Lexington, KY 40512: Tel: (+1) 781 219 9100 / Fax: (+1) 441 296 0772
- Efekta Insurance Claim Form
Efekta’s policies are governed by Bermudian laws. Efekta has listed as their customers:
- Go Ahead Tours
- EF Educational Tours – US
- EF Educational Tours – Canada
- EF College Break and
- EF College Study Tours
Emergency Assistance while on tour: AXA Assistance: Garmischer Str 10, D-80339 Munich, Germany: Tel: (+49) 89 500 704 849 (24 hrs) / +1 (800) 847 3948 (24 hrs toll-free, USA and Canada) / Fax: (+49) 89 500 70 394: E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Efekta Group, Inc (Reg.no.DE: 4838748 – Jun 23, 2010 – Domestic)
- Efekta Group, Inc (Reg.no.MA: 001031180 – Jun 24, 2010 – Foreign)
One Education St, Cambridge MA 02141
- Martha Dolye (President), Bruce Strong (Treasurer/Secretary), Rosa Gyllenhaal (Director), Susanna Pesteny (Director)
Efekta International Language Schools, Inc. (Reg.no.MA: 043078199 – 1989 – Domestic): 1 Memorial Dr., Cambridge, MA 02142
- Peter Nilsson (President), Robert Tejme (Secretary)
Efekta Institute, Inc. (Reg.no.DE: 043414628 – 1998 – Domestic)
- (Reg.no.MA: 043414628 – 1999 – Foreign): One Education Street
Cambridge, MA 02141
- (Reg.no.FL: F00000007136 – 2000 – Foreign): One Education Street
Cambridge, MA 02141
- Jens Appelkvist (Director/President/PD), Louise Hellestam (Director), Rosa Gyllenhaal (Secretary/Treasurer)
Efekta Schools, Inc. (Reg.no.MA: 043337221 – 1996 – Domestic): One Education St.
Cambridge, MA 02141
- Colorado: 17 Chateau Ln, Avon, CO 81620-0000
- (Reg.no.CA: C1995267 – 1996 – Foreign): 2710 Gateway Oaks Dr Ste 150n, Sacramento, CA 95833: Lawyers Incorporating Service
- Jens Appelkvist (Director/President), Louise Hellestam (Director), Rosa Gyllenhaal (Secretary/Treasurer)
Efekta Academy, Inc. (Reg.no.DE: 5366655 – 2013 – Domestic)
Efekta House, Inc. (Reg.no.DE: 4838749 – 2010 – Domestic)
- (Reg.no.MA: 001031175 – 2010 – Foreign)
- Martha H. Doyle (President), Rosa Gyllenhaal (Director), Bruce Strong (Treasurer)
Efekta Cabrillo, Inc. (Reg.no.DE: 5593695 – 2014 – Domestic)
- (Reg.no.CA: C3708223 – 2014 – Foreign): 2710 Gateway Oaks Dr Ste 150n, Sacramento CA 95833
- Lawyers Incorporating Service
Efekta IA, Inc.
- (Reg.no.NY: 4440109 – 2013 – Foreign): One Education Street
Cambridge, MA 02141
Aetna Life Insurance Company
All Erika Travel Insurance Claims while in the USA/Canada, regardless of nationality. Health Claims/Appeals for the *Aetna Student Health Travel Insurance-EF (Erika Insurance): Aetna, PO Box 14101, Lexington, KY 40512: Tel: (+1) 781 219 9100 (business hrs) / 800-783-7447 (toll-free in USA and Canada) / Fax: (+1) 859-280-1269 / Fax: (+1) 441 296 0772: email@example.com – https://www.aetnastudenthealth.com
Aetna Student Health Agency, Inc. : (Reg.no.MA: 042708160 – 1980 – Domestic)Principal address: One Charles Park, Cambridge MA 02142 / 1010 Commonwealth Ave,
Boston MA 02215-1201 Mailing address: 151 Farmington Ave., Hartford CT 06156-0001, USA: Tel: +1 (860) 636 4460 / Fax: +1 (860) 636 2303 / 111 Eight Ave, New York New York 10011
- (Reg.no.ME: 20090807 F – 1980 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.MD: F04133617 – 1995 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.OH: 1123139 – 1999 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.NY: 2347105 – 1999 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.AZ: F09735990 – 2000 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.VA: F145375 – 2000 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.RI: 000120086 – 2001 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.UT: 4966721-0143 – 2001 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.FL: F01000005292 – 2001 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.IN: 2003101500969 – 2003 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.NC: 0672881 – 2003 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.GA: 0362729 – 2003 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.CA: C2850413 – 2006 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.MT: D915906 – 2008 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.OK: 2312168499 – 2008 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.PA: 3879741 – 2009 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.KY: 0727744 – 2009 – Foreign)
- (Reg.no.NV: E0334752011-9 – 2011 – Foreign)
Officers: Chekesha C. Kidd (CEO/President/Director), Scott Albert Champagne (President/Director), Maryellen Pease (Chief Financial Officer/Vice President), Alfred Paul Quirk (Treasurer), Jerry John Bellizzi (Secretary), Edward C. Lee (Secretary), Valerie B. Sideris (Assistant Secretary), Jan Penney (Controller)
AXA Assistance Deutschland GmbH
All emergencies, and all claims (except claims while in USA/Canada) for travelers from Austria, Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic while in the USA/Canada are handled by:
*Aetna Student Health
c/o IPAS GmbH, Grosse Scharrnstr. 36, D-15230 Frankfurt/Oder, Germany
AXA Assistance, Asia
All emergencies, and all claims except while in USA/Canada (= Chickering*), for travelers from Asia except Japan and Korea.
4-08 Amoda Building, 22 Jalan Imbi, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Tel: (+60) 3-205 357 57 (24 hrs) / Fax: (+60) 3-214 589 89 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inter Partner Assistance S.A., Italy
All emergencies, and claims for travelers from Italy, except for claims while in USA/Canada which are handled by Aetna Student Health for long-term students.
Via Bernardino Alimena 111, I-00173 (RM) Roma, Italy: Tel: (+39) 06-42115 551 (24 hrs) / 1 800 472 6705 (toll-free in US/CA) / Fax: (+39) 06-42115 243 / Email: email@example.com
Falck Travel Care
All emergencies, and claims except for claims while in USA/Canada for travelers from Scandinavia, Latin America, North America, Asia and all other nationalites not specified elsewhere. Claims while the USA/Canada are handled by Aetna Student Health.
P.O. Box 44024, SE-100 73 Stockholm, Sweden: Tel: (+46) 8-501 001 60 (24 hrs) / 800-871 9211 (24 hrs toll-free in USA and Canada) / Fax: (+46) 8-505 939 13 / Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Chickering Claims Administrators, Inc.
Chickering Claims Administrators, Inc. operates as a subsidiary of Aetna Health Holdings, LLC.: 25 First Street, Cambridge MA 02141, United States / : Telephone: 617-679-9768, Founded 1991, Frederick H Chicos, president
Chickering Claims Administrators, Inc.: P.O. Box 15708, Boston, MA 02215 / 1 Charles Park, Cambridge, MA 02142-1254: Medical Providers Call: +1 (866) 639-1334 [Toll Free] / Insureds Call: +1(888) 308-7320 [Toll Free] / +1 (817) 809-4700 [DFW Metroplex] / +1 (817) 479-2155 [Fax].
Call anytime (United States only). Nurses are available 24-hours a day. To reach a nurse, call 1-800-556-1555. TDD for hearing and speech-impaired people only: 1-800-270-238, (619)298-7575 / Email: email@example.com / Website: http://www.chickering.com takes you to Aetna Student Health
Officers (see Aetna’s): Katharine Begley (President), Alfred Quirk (Treasurer), Edward Lee (Secretary), Maryellen Pease (CFO), Jan Penney (Controller), Katharine Begley (Director)
Articles and reviews:
2004: «Since the divestment of third party business in 2003, there has been a significant increase in the credit and liquidity risk associated with Erika as it cedes 85% of the gross premiums written to Efekta, (EF’s reinsurance captive based in Bermuda). Credit and liquidity risk is further exacerbated by a non-callable loan arrangement between Efekta and an EF group subsidiary.»
FAYETTEVILLE : Agency dumps coordinators of foreign teens
BY ROBERT J. SMITH, Northwest Arkansas’ News Source, June 3, 2008
“State Department investigators learned that EF Foundation failed to ensure that foreign exchange students had appropriate host families and homes before they arrived in the U. S. The foundation also allowed some students to live in the Drummond home, a violation of federal regulations that forbid company representatives from serving as a student’s host family, State Department officials said.”
Education First Foundation of Foreign Study on Monday fired a Fayetteville couple in charge of finding host families for foreign exchange students arriving in Arkansas.
EF Foundation’s decision to fire Gerald and Sherry Drummond came hours after Fayetteville High School said that it will no longer accept foreign students brought to Arkansas by the Cambridge, Mass.-based company.
“They called us this morning and told us with the decision of Fayetteville High School that they were going to ask us to not work with them anymore,” Gerald Drummond said Monday. “I go with what they ask.
” We’re just ordinary nobodies, but I enjoy life and I enjoy meeting people. We get things written about us like we’re trying to take advantage of exchange students instead of it being a positive thing.”
Alan Wilbourn, the Fayetteville School District spokesman, said high school counselors spent too much time resolving difficulties encountered by EF Foundation students. That led to the decision to stop working with the company, he said.
“They’ve spent days handling living situations, and that’s supposed to be taken care of before they get here,” Wilbourn said.
The school district’s ban of EF Foundation students comes five months after the U. S. State Department began investigating EF Foundation’s Arkansas operation. The Drummonds accepted their first foreign exchange student as a host family eight years ago and eventually became the company’s Arkansas coordinators.
State Department investigators learned that EF Foundation failed to ensure that foreign exchange students had appropriate host families and homes before they arrived in the U. S. The foundation also allowed some students to live in the Drummond home, a violation of federal regulations that forbid company representatives from serving as a student’s host family, State Department officials said.
The findings in the State Department’s investigation, which involved six students at Fayetteville High School and one each at Fayetteville Christian School and Missouri Boulevard Baptist School, have not been made public.
Counselors and school administrators in Fayetteville interviewed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in December said foreign students associated with EF Foundation felt isolated, scared and appeared to be malnourished.
Those characterizations are unfair, Gerald Drummond said Monday. He said there are students who lived in his home who remain in contact with him. Over the eight years, 14 foreign exchange students lived with the Drummonds, he said.
“I’m just sad to see it come to a crashing end,” he said. “We’re not the terrible people the world thinks we are.”
EF Foundation spokesman Ellen Manz wouldn’t say why the Drummonds were let go. A replacement hasn’t been selected. The company knew the Fayetteville school was considering banning EF Foundation students from enrolling, Manz said.
“Although this is a disappointing decision, it will not have a material impact on our program either in Arkansas or nationwide,” Manz writes in an e-mail. “We will certainly visit Fayetteville High School in the fall to discuss their experiences with EF, and see if we can give them the confidence in our program to consider accepting our students in 2009-10.”
Heather Slinkard, a Bella Vista woman who is area manager for a foreign exchange student company called Peace 4 Kids Inc., said EF Foundation’s troubles in Arkansas hurt the overall image of foreign exchange programs.
“They did give us all a black eye, but more than that, they hurt students,” Slinkard said.
State Sen. Sue Madison, DFayetteville, who wants the state to more closely monitor the placement of foreign exchange students at high schools, said she was pleased to hear the company fired the Drummonds.
“I’m happy to see EF take some firm action,” Madison said. “Maybe they’ll get somebody good.”
Copyright (c) 2001-2008 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.
Student Exchange Agency: Education First Foundation of Foreign Study (EF)
DANVILLE – A former Danville teacher with no record of complaints from the local school system has been exposed as a possible sexual predator with a history spanning decades in multiple states.
Kevin G. Ricks, 49, was arrested in Prince William County in February and was indicted on felony charges of aggravated sexual battery, sodomy and two counts of indecent liberties stemming from a December incident, according to court records. Ricks has a court hearing Thursday in which he is expected to plead guilty to one count of indecent liberties with a minor under his supervision, according to The Washington Post.
In a massive four-month investigation, The Washington Post uncovered Ricks’ history in a story Sunday, revealing the former teacher spent time living and teaching in Danville from 1995 to late 2000. According to the Post, Ricks continuously hosted “dozens of students” through a foreign exchange program at his Marshall Terrace home.
Juliet Jennings, assistant superintendent of human services for Danville Public Schools, began working with DPS a few months after Ricks was hired as a full-time teacher in 1997, although she said she did not remember him. According to DPS records, Ricks worked as a substitute teacher from 1995-97 before the school system hired him to work as a full-time teacher for the 1997-98 school year.
“We had no complaints about him,” Jennings said, “in terms of his interactions with students as a substitute or a teacher. That never came to us.”
Jennings said the foreign exchange program, Education First, had no affiliation with DPS, and the students Ricks hosted did not attend Danville Public Schools. School officials’ first inkling of any problems with Ricks came in March when a Post reporter called about his employment history here, Jennings said.
Ricks worked as a high school English teacher at Langston Focus School, where at the time the campus was split into four “schools” of focus areas, such as literature or science. That structure was disbanded more than eight years ago and the Langston campus currently serves as an alternative high school for at-risk students.
Although Ricks did not have his teaching license, Jennings said, it was policy at that time to grant a new hire one year to obtain his or her full license. But Ricks failed to get his license by the end of the school year, and DPS dismissed him. Jennings said he continued to work for the school system as a substitute teacher until November 2000.
Jennings noted that the district’s current policy for obtaining a teaching license gives new hires 30 days to obtain a license.
Hiring procedures require extensive background checks, which include running a candidate’s fingerprints through the FBI database and conducting Child Protective Services checks. Jennings said Ricks passed both checks.
“Looking at it from a human resources standpoint,” she said, “the only other way the information could have been shared is from reference checks. Reference checks were made (on Ricks), but the information, were it known, was not shared.
“… Without a conviction, unless information is shared (through references), we wouldn’t know. That’s what hurts school systems.”
Although there were no allegations on record during Ricks’ tenure with Danville Public Schools, Jennings said the news of his exploits was “disgusting.”
“It’s not something that good educators need to have haunting them,” she said. “It just makes me angry.”
2010 Jul 28: Manassas Teacher Charged with Child Pornography Offenses
This is an example of the type of Behavioral Agreement EF Education First / EF High School Year / EF Foundation for Foreign Study operate with. As a rule, we ask that students and parents avoid signing anything once the initial contract has been signed. These types of documents are part of “power games” some representatives like to play.
If you are interested in the background of this Agreement, please feel free to contact Danielle Grijalva at CSFES.org.
LITTLE ROCK – An attorney for a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that places foreign students in Arkansas high schools told lawmakers Tuesday he had no problem with the state having some oversight of firms like his, including a registration program.
At the request of Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, legislative committees met to consider whether the state should oversee placement of foreign exchange students after Madison fielded complaints last year that some of the students were being placed with families ill-equipped to take care of them.
“I have no problem with a registering,” said Jeffrey Allen, attorney and board member of Education First Foundation of Foreign Study, told a joint meeting of the Senate Children and Youth Committee and the House Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs.
Companies that place foreign exchange students with U.S. families are regulated by the U.S. State Department. California requires all companies active there to register with the California attorney general’s office, while Minnesota and Washington require the companies to register, but with some other state agency. Arkansas has no registration requirement.
When the Legislative Council approved Madison’s study proposal in December, the State Department was investigating complaints about placement of foreign students in Arkansas by Allen’s firm.
Earlier this month, after repeated problems with Education First, Fayetteville High School decided to no longer accept students provided by the company. The following day, the company fired the Fayetteville family hired to host the students during the school year.
The federal investigation into Education First and its Fayetteville coordinators centered on allegations that exchange students stayed at the homes of their coordinators, which is prohibited by federal regulations.
Allen acknowledged Tuedsay that four of the 87 foreign students his company brought to Arkansas last year were placed in difficult host family environments.
“We bring 2,700 kids, teenagers, into the United States every year, there are going to be issues,” Allen said. “Our job is to minimize them and to respond to them when they occur and to respond to them appropriately.”
Rep. Tracy Pennartz, D-Fort Smith, who suggested the screening process the company used to hire regional coordinators was flawed, said the state would be watching.
“So if you all have made errors or mistakes, what we’re interested in is that you revise your procedures and processes so that those same errors don’t occur again,” she said.
After the meeting, Madison said she plans to develop legislation for the 2009 regular session that would give the state some oversight of the placement companies, including a registration requirement.
During the two-hour meeting, Leigh Hudson, a counselor at Fayetteville High School, told lawmakers she got to know each of the four troubled foreign students last school year and each was upset and emotional over the problems they faced with their host families.
In one case, a student, who was Lutheran, was forced to go to the host family’s non-denominational church and was told she would lose her cell phone and computer privileges if she did not, Hudson said. Another student was upset because her host family’s home smelled of sewage because of plumbing problems, she said.
Also, several students lived with Gerald and Sherry Drummond, regional coordinators for Education First, against federal regulations. The company fired the Drummonds this month after Fayetteville High quit accepting foreign students through the company.
Matt Smith, Education First’s director of operations, told lawmakers Tuesday that after the problems with the four students the remaining 83 in the state were questioned and were determined to be happy and comfortable with their host families.
Smith estimated as many as 20 percent of foreign exchange students have to be moved to another host family during a school year because they are incompatible.
The Drummonds were invited to testify at Tuesday’s meeting but did not attend.
2014: Gerald and Sherry Drummond currently work for (CASE) Culture Academic Student Exchange South Central Region
By Rob Moritz, Arkansas News Bureau,
LITTLE ROCK – The Legislative Council on Friday endorsed a proposal to study placement of foreign exchange students with host families in Arkansas.
Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, said she proposed the study after receiving complaints that some foreign exchange students were being placed in homes with families ill-equipped to take care of them.
Madison also noted recent reports that the U.S. State Department was investigating complaints about where a Massachusetts company had placed some foreign exchange students arriving in Arkansas.
That investigation, involving the Education First Foundation for Foreign Study and its Fayetteville coordinators, involves allegations that exchange students stayed at the homes of the coordinators.
Federal regulations prohibit employees of a foreign exchange company from serving as both a host family and area supervisor for a student.
Madison’s proposal asks the Senate Interim Committee on Children and Youth to study the issue and report its findings to Legislative Council.
“Some parents came to me about problems they’ve seen in Northwest Arkansas,” Madison said Friday, also noting problems she heard of in Clarksville and Hot Springs.
In Clarksville, Madison said, a student from Korea was placed with a family living in low-income housing. The student would write home asking her parents for money to help feed her host family, she said.
“At that point, she asked to be moved to another family and representatives from the company set up a table outside a Wal-Mart to recruit her another family,” Madison said. “They found her another family and this time the male of the household was arrested on a drug charge.”
The State Department, which currently has oversight authority, does not have adequate staff to oversee the foreign exchange program, Madison said. California has enacted a law that gives its attorney general’s office some oversight authority, she said.
The California law requires any person or group that arranges the placement of foreign exchange students in California elementary, junior high or high schools to register with the attorney general’s office before making the placement.
Copyright © Arkansas News Bureau, 2003 – 2006
EF Education First Arkansas
2007 Dec 9: Exchange group gets probe after teens complain
2008 Jun 03: Agency dumps coordinators of foreign teens
Exchange organisation US: EF Foundation – 3 states (Oregon/Washington/Idaho)
Exchange families: 7 families – temporary and so-called permanent
My exchange year was 06/07. I had been looking forward to my exchange experience for many years. Like many here I trusted that EF was a good and trustworthy organisation – something that later turned out to be a naive expectation.
Like many others I was told by EF that it was not unusual to not have a permanent exchange family by the time I left my home country. I had been given a welcome-family that would also function as my IEC representatives.
EF told me many times that a welcome-family was plus in that it created a larger network in the US. So I felt this was the least of my problems.
I chose to attend EF’s Language and Culture Camp at Rhode Island and the friendships I found here turned out to be the only support I felt I had during my stay in the US. EF say to proudly that this will be “the best year of your life” and that they have a great support network for you, 24 hours a week. I might have been blind to this network but am afraid that it was non-existent rather than a real thing. Unfortunately I was not alone in experiencing this. At camp we were told to make certain of the subjects at the schools we were being placed at. The state I was going to was Orgeon – and I knew I could end up at three schools: McMinnville, Sheridan and Willamina. It turned out only McMinnville was a school that offered a certain spectrum of subjects – the other two were more limited. They did not offer French – something I accepted – and hardly any math classes.
I contacted my present IEC and asked if they could try to place med at McMinnville. I was told I’d been placed with a family in Sheridan – and that this was where I was supposed to live! This family was excited about having me come live with them. I felt reassured.
At the airport in Portland I was met by what I thought was to be my future exchange family and my IECs. I remember the first thing my IEC’s said to me was: “Isn’t this weird XXXX, this is going to be your family for a whole year…” The family itself was really nice, and I have nothing to say against them. The strange thing was the family situation when I got to their home. Exchange mother’s mother was dying from cancer and a lot of time was spent with her. Exchange father was a police officer who had recently been in a shooting incident where he had been the shooter. This made XXXX wonder why the family would take in a permant exchange student? I had been given the youngest daughter’s room… But this was really strange. She slept in the middle child’s room on an air mattress. This couldn’t be right? XXXX’s suspicions were confirmed when friends of the family came to visit. They asked a lot of questions about schools and other things. I think they suspected I was a bit confused – when exchange dad later talked to me about how much he liked me, and that I would have been a great fit, but that he hoped that it wouldn’t be fair for them to keep her. That they were only a welcome-family was not meant as an insult. I told him what my family and I had been told – that this was to be my permanent family!
Exchange father was extremely provoked at my IEC who had called and nagged them over a longer period. After a lot of pressure they had agreed that I could live there temporarily – max 3 weeks, while they were looking for another family. When I tried to confront my IEC with this – he told me further lies about exchange mother phoning him stating that she wanted me to stay, but not exchange father. And he did not have time to talk with me about this. Exchange father became even more provoked over these continued lies – and phoned my IEC again and told him that exchange mother had NEVER spoken with him.
EF later accused me for having complained to the exchange family that I had to attend school in Sheridan (never happened) and for me making such a mess I was practically thrown out of the family. This was not true either as I had asked to not go on a camping trip with the family and move out earlier instead, because I was at that time incredibly upset, angry and worried with EF. Therefore I did not want to join them camping because I was afraid I would ruin the experience because of the situation I was in. This led to me moving in with the RC of the area. I was supposed to live temporarily with them until something else turned up. EF has yelled at me repeatedly because I have called both of these exchange families as they were only temporary families. I realise this is correct – but they were still families I had to adjust to. This was an elderly couple – where the days were spent with the exchange father watching sports on TV. I had little or nothing to do. I got breakfast when I rose around 9 am (i.e. cereal and milk) and there was little chance of other meals between breakfast and dinner. I did not dare to ask. Dinner was not until 8 pm. So long days, with little food.
After this I was moved to a very lovely couple. They tried to help me as much as possible. Unfortunately I was unable to stay with them as they were not able to find a school to take me in.
At this time I was given my 4th – yet first permanent family. I was told that I was to live with a German exchange student. EF once again broke their rules. They were supposed to ask my parents if it was OK for me to live with another exchange student. This never happened. From the first time I met my exchange mother I felt this would never work. This was a woman who smelled strongly of sweat – covered with strong perfume. She was very direct – and several uncomfortable episodes happened around her. When we were in a store and a guy sat selling cell-phones the woman would go up to the guy and tell him I was from Norway and interested in getting to know him. She would then laugh and walk away. The other thing she asked me about from the first days was: “XXXX, do you need any tampex or anything? Because you know, if you were my daughter, I wouldn’t let you use that stuff, it is not good for you… But I guess since you’re not my daughter I can’t control whether you use that stuff or not… But to put it plain – there’s only one thing you put up there, anyway, you’re not doing any of that while you’re here”… and looked at me angrily. This was the second day – 2 hours after we had spoken properly… The house was about 2.3 metric miles from other civilisation. It was large – but extremely dilapitated and gross. They had 10 cats and 2 dogs. One of the dogs was very unstable. It would bark and bite… The animals urinated and defecated several times in the hallway and basement and bath rooms. All exchange mother would do would be to throw sand over it all – some that led to a strong smell all over the house. The large amount of dust often led to me having problems breathing. The bath room was practically a hole in the wall – with cement floor. The house and bath-room were not washed in the nearly 3 months I lived with the family. One window was taped over with a piece of cardboard – as it was broken. It was not fixed for the longest time. The exchange family did not only live in a gross house. They were also (as several people in the neighborhood said) mentally unstable. I can tell of several episodes, but here are some of the worst.
The first episode was at the dinner table where I was doing my home-work. Exchange mother explaimed: “XXXX, do you want to see my mother?” I said, “huh?” She then said, “Yes, do you want to see my mother? I have her ashes in my closet. Do you want to see?” I said no. For an outsider this might sound like a joke – but unfortunately it was anything but. Another time she phoned a friend of mine and yelled at her because I’d not been able to get in touch with her one day. My friend thought I was very angry with her – something that wasn’t cleared up until later. When I confronted exchange mother with this, she stated that she could do anything she wanted even if it did created intrigue and misunderstandings. The day I left, I turned around and there she was with a scissor. She then said: “Come on XXXX, give me some of your hair?” “No, why should I?” I answered. She then said: “Sure, come on – I want it as a souvenir.” With a strange look in her eyes. I refused. Later she held my hand in a hard grip and said strictly: “look me in the eyes; will you miss me? ANSWER me.” While I was in that home I went to be at 6 pm every day to get through the days.
The German boy and I did not get along very well – in the beginning I blamed him too much for that. Mostly because I wasn’t possible to talk about our experiences with EF. Later on we became better friends when we realised that we only had each other. The situation in the house – plus its location which led to my driving the bus about 2 hours every day to get to and from schoo, made it a difficult situation. Only seldom was I allowed to speak with my parent and then only for 10 minutes. She could not have her telephone line held up. On her own part she spoke with her own daughter almost every day. There was no coverage for cell-phones or TV. The area was dangerous to go for walks in because of traffic. We could not go online – because of keeping the phone line busy. Fortunately I was able to speak with my parents via my Norwegian cell phone every day. I brought it with me to school and texted them. Those texts kept me going.
My IEC was extremely disrespectful. She spoke to me as if I could not understand what she said. She spoke to me as if I was a baby and it was difficult not to answer back in the same manner. On several occasions she would phone me and scream into the phone – just to yell. Everything I did was wrong. All I did was complain, try to get people to feel sorry for me etc. She never listened to what I had to say and interrupted me in the middle of any sentence. She made me cry and then called me a drama queen that would never get anywhere in life because I cried all of the time. And so on.
Today I realise that this was psychological abuse. Because how vulnerable is a 16/17 year old all alone in another country without a network. But EF would not listen to me. They refused to move me. I was desperate and talked to my Norwegian friend. She spoke with her exchange mother who reacted and demanded that EF move me there and then. This was not a great move on my part.
I was made to speak with EF in front of my exchange family. How easy is it to explain how bad the situation is then? While they were all listening in? Of course, I wasn’t able to say how I felt at that time. That was impossible. What I had thought was confidential between myself and EF was served up on a platter in for the rest of them. EF placed me on a behavioral agreement because I had broken “the chain of communication”. It stated that I should respect the family and computer and telephone usage (something I did, but OK) and I was also told that I should sign this and agree that this was the best family I could get and best school I could attend. Not only that, but I needed to treat everyone with respect etc. I refused to sign – I was not about to stay here the rest of the exchange year. I would rather end the year. I could not take any more time there. Apparently the agreement was supposed to be valid even without my signature.
In the period after this my parents were called up by EF Oslo who told them that I had been thrown out of the family and was now living with my IEC because of my behavior. My parents became terribly worried – until they were able to speak with me. These were untrue rumours – nothing even close had happened. I was in town with the other exchange student and nothing even similar had happened. I still don’t understand where that information came from. I visited my Norwegian friend and exchange mother. When they drove me home again the exchange mother entered the house because she claimed she needed to use the bath-room (probably an excuse to see my living conditions). Both she and my friend told me later that they had not realised that my situation was as bad as it was and that they were shocked. My friend exclaimed that she would not have stayed there even a day. It was simply too awful… And it probably was.
My dad phoned EF Oslo and told them what he had learned. He phoned several times. Finally he said that either you move her to a better home or you send her home. First then EF reacted. What I said meant little – only the exchange families’ versions count. To me it is incredibly that my exchange family could ever have been approved – and even more amazing that my IEC was allowed to be an IEC. I was then moved to another temporary family. But there was not space for me at a school.
I enjoyed myself there – but was of course worried because I could not go for too long without attending school. I needed my year approved.
I was moved to another state – Washington. EF called this another temporary solution. But I could stay if I liked it. I started my second school. I lived with an elderly couple. She was 86 years old and both were German. They spoke more German to me than English. He was very poorly. He used a walking frame and barely managed to get from his chair to the dinner table about a meter away. One time he fell over on the bath-room floor and I had to pick him up. During my stay there I was afraid of coming home one day finding one of them dead. I was supposed to have been included and invited by her daughter who was an IEC – and lived about 50 meters away. But was was kept alone there too. Long days filled with fear. Until I was finally told – after staying with the couple about 1.5 month – that EF had found me a permanent family. At this point my 7th family.
This family lived in Idaho – my third state. The problem was – as I discovered when I got there – that the school did not have room for me. None of the schools (three of them) wanted to take in another student until the trimester was finished. EF then decided that I could attend a private school for “problem children” – something I was fine with because it was a temporary solution. The problem was that this school was less than an hour from Idaho Falls – and that meant that it too was impossible. Later on EF talked about me home-schooling myself for 1.5 months. The did not even know if I could live there because they could not find a school. I liked the family a lot and would not agree to another move.
Even though EF said it was impossible to get into a school – my exchange mother and I want to Idaho Falls High School and asked to talk to the principal. Idaho is a gathering spot for mormons, so to speak – and the assistant principal had been on a mission to Norway and was fascinated with the country. He managed to convince the principal to admit another student in the middle of the trimester – even though they weren’t accepting any more exchange student for that school year. So I was really lucky. Who knows what would have happened if this problem had not been solved.
After getting back to Norway I sent a letter of complaint to EF – one that was somewhat like this, except this is a much less detailed one. I was recompensed – but never really apologised to. That is what I would like. Money can never make up for my being sent from one family to the other – and for experiencing one lie after the other. I never got a network in the US – and the rest of my time there was nice – but I was often home-sick because of my experiences. Sure, all organisations can make mistakes – but for me it seems as if EF are really good at making them. What kind of organisation allows such things to happen? How can they place students in such families? This is what I wonder… But a proper apology? An answer to my complaint and questions? Nah, I don’t see that coming …
BY ROBERT J. SMITH
Posted on Sunday, December 9, 2007
The U. S. State Department is investigating complaints about where a Massachusetts company places foreign-exchange students arriving in Northwest Arkansas.
The eight cases involve Education First Foundation for Foreign Study and its Fayetteville coordinators, Gerald D. and Sherry A. Drummond, said Stanley Colvin, director of the State Department’s office of exchange coordination and designation. Six of the eight cases involve students attending Fayetteville High School, Fayetteville Christian School or Mission Boulevard Baptist School. The others attended schools in Northwest Arkansas but now live in Camden or Kentucky, Colvin said.
The complaints center on the nonprofit firm’s failure to find appropriate homes for some students before they arrive, as well as on how and where the Drummonds place the students.
“This is sloppy work,” Colvin said of the foundation’s operation in Arkansas.
The State Department is investigating whether Cambridge, Mass.-based Education First, better known as EF Foundation, violated a federal regulation by allowing some students to live in the Drummond home without assigning another EF employee as a supervisor, Colvin said.
Federal regulations require foreign-exchange companies to “ensure that no organizational representative act as both host family and area supervisor for any exchange student participant.” “If there was an emergency and she had to remove a child from a home and keep the student for a one-night kind of thing, that’s not a violation,” Colvin said.
It wasn’t clear last week whether EF Foundation had assigned a separate supervisor.
Sherry Drummond, 53, refused to answer questions about the allegations of students and host families.
“It hurts me too much, because I’ve put so much into this,” she said.
She deferred to EF Foundation spokesman Ellen Manz, who requested that questions be sent by e-mail. She didn’t respond to those queries.
MADISON’S QUESTIONS The State Department investigation — expected to be complete in a few days — began after state Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, received complaints from host families and foreign-exchange students about EF Foundation and the Drummonds. The students and their current host families in Northwest Arkansas told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week how foreign-exchange students lived in what they considered unclean, unsafe homes and how they felt disliked by Sherry Drummond when they stayed with her. They also complained that the Drummonds improperly served the dual role of host family and organization representative for several students, making it awkward for the students to voice their concerns.
Rikke Stoyva, a Fayetteville High School student from Norway, didn’t care for emphasis on religion by her host family, John and Jill Foster. The family attended nondenominational church services three times a week in West Fork.
Stoyva, who is Lutheran, lived with the Fosters for three months, then was moved to Camden, where she’s attending Camden Fairview High School. She is living with EF representative Leigh Horton, Horton said Friday.
Colvin said he’s also looking into complaints that foreign-exchange students sat at tables at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market and in front of a Wal-Mart trying to convince shoppers to allow other students into their homes. “It’s not appropriate, but it’s not a violation of the law,” Colvin said. “It may be an indication of underlying regulatory violations. Why were they down there doing that ?” It’s been a difficult year for foreign students at Fayetteville High. In September, student Marije Stam of the Netherlands repeatedly came to school upset and crying, she said, until counselors helped her move from the Drummond home.
“I did not feel like a guest, or at least a family member,” said Stam, 17, who lived in the Drummond house for a month and is now staying with Russ and Mara Cole of Fayetteville.
“I do not know how to express my feelings at that moment, but in my country, I would say [Sherry Drummond ] made me feel like a dog,” she said.
Mara Cole, along with Madison, spent much of last week spurring the State Department to investigate EF Foundation, the Drummonds and how the company operates in Arkansas. They sent statements from students and host families to Beth Melofchik, a State Department educational- and cultural-exchange specialist, describing what they say EF and the Drummonds did and failed to do. “I think we have an extra-special obligation to bring these foreign-exchange students to our country and to take good care of them, and I don’t think that’s happening here,” Madison said.
SCHOOL CONCERNED Fayetteville High teachers and counselors said they’ve had frequent issues with the Drummonds and EF Foundation placements. They’ve complained to officials in the foundation’s headquarters about the Drummonds and believe the organization did nothing in response. “I only hear about the bad [situations ], and there are several each year that are miserable for the student, and the placement in the homes get changed and the students have to be moved,” said Anne Butt, the high school’s college adviser for nine years.
Butt said she took a German student into her home four years ago because EF Foundation put her into a Springdale home she disliked.
Lesli Zeagler, a Fayetteville High counselor, said there are few problems with the international students attending the school who are brought to the United States by Rotary International. Not true with EF Foundation, she said. “With EF, I’ve experienced students who are scared, who seem to be malnourished, and they seem to be isolated,” Zeagler said. “The problems go back years, but we’ve never had a group of students who have been so vocal about it.” Doug Wright, a Fayetteville High counselor, was the counselor at Elkins High School last year. Among the nine foreign-exchange students at that school, five came to the States with the help of EF Foundation.
One EF placement was an Asian girl put in a home where the host parents were going through a divorce. The woman moved out and the man was left behind with the student, Wright said. The school reported it to EF Foundation and the girl was moved to the wife’s home, said Becky Martin, Elkins High School principal.
That instance, however, isn’t part of the State Department investigation.
“There were some questionable placements in Elkins,” Wright said. “I can’t think of a non-EF kid who had a problem.” Boglarka “Boszi” Palko, a national history champion in Hungary who’s attending Fayetteville High, found herself in an awkward situation when she arrived at the Springdale home of Bobby and Sue Hawkins on Aug. 4.
Palko, 18, said she was never happy in the small house, where she was asked to live with the Hawkinses and their 17-year-old daughter. Cousins and grandchildren also regularly spent the night.
Family members smoked inside the house. Palko said she had instructions to put toilet paper in the trash can rather than flush it. That plus cigarette smoke made the house smell bad, Palko said.
Palko said Hawkins family members described her as “overeducated” and as a “present” for their daughter. Bobby Hawkins, a close friend of the Drummonds, told Palko she’d need to understand “redneck English” to survive in the home, Palko said. Palko said she also was accused of having a sexual relationship while she lived in the home. She denies the accusation. Sue Hawkins invited a Democrat-Gazette reporter to see her Oak Street home last week then wouldn’t allow him inside. The tan-colored house was well-kept on the outside.
Palko lived eight days in the Hawkins home, then was moved to the 41-year-old, 2, 100-squarefoot Drummond home near Lake Sequoyah. In order to move, she had to sign an EF Foundation “behavioral agreement” that described the Hawkins home as “suitable” and that the problems she’d encountered were her fault.
“Sherry hated me,” Palko said. “When you speak with someone, you can feel it.” She was moved five days later to the Fayetteville home of Dave and Brenda Servies. Sherry and Gerald Drummond visited the home to check it out, and family members passed a criminal-background check, which is required by the State Department. Palko said she’s been content in the Servies home. She’s visited local stores, loves Northwest Arkansas Mall and made her first trip last week to a Hobby Lobby crafts store. She’ll travel with the Servies as part of a Christmas trip to Florida. “I’m talking about what happened with the other people to protect the next kids from this,” Palko said. “It won’t be good for us to talk, but I can protect the next ones by letting people know.” DUAL ROLE Among the most troubling issues in Arkansas are the stories of Gerald and Sherry Drummond serving as host family and EF Foundation representatives, said Danielle Grijalva, director of the Committee for the Safety of Foreign Exchange Students. The 2-year-old watchdog organization monitors foreign-exchange organizations.
Having a different EF Foundation representative serve as a supervisor doesn’t protect foreign-exchange students, she said.
“What neutrality does that provide the student when she has a concern about her host father or host mother ?” Grijalva said. “Is that not a recipe for disaster ? It’s a disgrace.” Grijalva also expressed concerns about Stoyva, the Norwegian student placed in the Fosters’ home who’s now in Camden. The EF Foundation handbook says “we are not trying to change the student’s beliefs or convert anyone to a new faith.” Efforts to reach Stoyva in Camden were unsuccessful. Horton, the EF representative in whose home Stoyva now lives, refused to let her come to the phone Friday, saying she’s a minor. School officials and state Sen. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann, refused to ask Stoyva to return messages.
“She’s doing wonderful now,” said Jeffress, a retired Fairview teacher who went to check on Stoyva last week. “She’s in a better situation now. She conveyed that to me.” John Foster said his family didn’t try to change Stoyva’s beliefs and that the family knew of her Lutheran upbringing. He’d communicated with her by email before she came to the States about the family’s frequent visits to Unity Covenant Church in West Fork. The family attends church Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. Stoyva knew what to expect, Foster said. “I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion,” said Foster, 28, a Fayetteville police officer assigned to work at Fayetteville High. “We felt like we gave Rikke a good home. “ Church was the only place we saw her smile at all. If loving your child and trying your hardest is something bad, then we did something wrong. We tried as hard as we could to make it work.”
EF FOUNDATION Madison said she was told by an EF Foundation employee that the Drummonds are paid $ 300 to $ 400 for each foreignexchange student placed in a family’s home, including their own. The Drummonds received $ 12 per student, per month, for verifying the students are doing well and helping with difficulties they encounter, Madison said. Grijalva said most foreign-exchange student companies pay $ 400 to $ 750 for each student who is placed in a home. Host families aren’t paid.
The payment is a small portion of the $ 5, 000 for six months or $ 10, 000 for a year that the students pay EF Foundation to come to the United States.
Around 30, 000 exchange students come to America annually, said Colvin of the State Department’s exchange coordination office, adding the State Department investigates about 200 complaints each year. About 20 percent involve students brought to the United States by EF Foundation, Colvin said.
As part of its investigation in Arkansas, Colvin said the State Department could reprimand the company and require it to write a corrective-action plan to ensure it doesn’t violate federal regulations. A more severe penalty could involve shutting down the corporation or limiting how many students it can bring to the United States. Colvin sent a letter Thursday to the EF Foundation describing five media accounts and complaints last week regarding the organization. “This is not a pretty picture,” he concluded in the letter.
John Hishmeh, director of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, is familiar with the complaints coming from Northwest Arkansas. The nonprofit council monitors and distributes information about exchange programs. “Things go wrong, and you have to figure out if it’s a catastrophic failure or a single thing that went wrong,” Hishmeh said. Connie Williams, a counselor at Springdale High School for 35 years, said it’s wrong to “pinpoint” EF Foundation as problematic because she’s had difficulty with other companies, too. Eight foreign-exchange students are attending the school this year, she said.
“I’ve never particularly had trouble with EF, but I’ve had trouble with another agency,” Williams said.
Brad and Sarah Campbell, who are hosting a German student in their Fayetteville home, fear problems with foreign-exchange companies in Northwest Arkansas could have long-term consequences.
“These are high-achieving kids who were selected to come here,” Brad Campbell said. “They are diplomats. They want to know what it’s like in America, and they invest a year of their life to be here. We owe them a good experience. Their opinions of the U. S. are being formed.
“We’re not saying you have to be millionaires to have these kids, but you do have to have a solid foundation. A lot of the households aren’t solid. They are disruptive and filled with turmoil.” FOUNDATION FACTS
Education First Foundation for Foreign Study, founded in 1979, is the country’s largest foreign-exchange company. More than 100 companies bring students to the United States, said John Hishmeh, director of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel. The council has certified about 70, including EF Foundation. About 30, 000 foreign-exchange students travel to the United States each year and few report problems, Hishmeh said. EF Foundation brought 3, 712 students from more than 40 countries in the year ending Sept. 30, 2006, according to the foundation’s most recent federal tax filings.
The foundation’s income tax exemption submitted to the Internal Revenue Service last February reported its 2006 revenue was $ 10, 047, 865.
While the U.S. Department of State actually had the power to investigate the student exchange companies, little seems to happen with the continued violations of several sponsoring organizations. In an interview with the Arkansas Democratic Gazette in December 2007, Stanley Colvin commented on complaints about EF Education and its Fayetteville coordinators, Gerald D. and Sherry A. Drummond. The U.S. State Department began an investigation after Arkansas State Senator Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, received complaints from host families and foreign-exchange students about EF Foundation and the Drummonds. The students and their current host families in Northwest Arkansas told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette how foreign-exchange students lived in what they considered unclean, unsafe homes and how they felt disliked by Sherry Drummond when they stayed with her. They also complained that the Drummonds improperly served the dual role of host family and organization representative for several students, making it awkward for the students to voice their concerns. Rikke Stoyva, a Fayetteville High School student from Norway, didn’t care for emphasis on religion by her host family, John and Jill Foster. The family attended nondenominational church services three times a week in West Fork. Stoyva, who is Lutheran, lived with the Fosters for three months, then was moved to Camden, where she’s attending Camden Fairview High School.
According to local sources, it is common knowledge that the Vickers family uses foreign exchange students extensively for babysitting purposes and complaints have been raised against the family by previous exchange students. In 2007, the same family stopped providing adequate food to a 17 year old German girl (Sina Tuscheerer) who was an exchange student staying with them, forcing teachers at Branchville High School to purchase and place food for her in the school fridge. According to the teachers, the problem was reported to local area representative Linda Davis as well as EF in Boston several times, but no action was taken. Still, much to the astonishment of the teachers at Branchville High School, the Vickers family has continued to be on the receiving end of foreign exchange students, even hosting two students from Finland (Sointu Lampinen) and Sweden (Frida Edstrøm) at the same time.
Last year, 17-year old Synne Fjellvoll from Norway was one of 28,142 foreign exchange students granted a J-1 VISA to study in the U.S. as a foreign exchange student in 2009. Synne and her parents researched various student exchange programs before settling on the Education Foundation for Foreign Study (EF), which spread glossy brochures around Norway’s many highs schools and held a local EF seminar in their hometown promoting their student exchange program under the slogan “Personal Service”, “Safety”, “Quality”. At a cost of US$6,000, plus an extra US$500 to ensure that she was sent to the “Southern States”, everything seemed set for the experience of a lifetime. Says Synne; “I was so excited to study abroad in the United States of America. It was a dream come true.”
Synne’s dream was soon to turn into a nightmare. Placed in the care of what appeared to be an all-American host family in Branchville, South Carolina, she soon started to have misgivings of the people assigned to care for her wellbeing. In Synne’s case, the failure to do background checks on the host family as well as the local EF representative, both of whom the sponsoring organization had been using for years, were the gravest of several violations of Federal Regulations perpetrated by EF. Background checks would immediately have thrown up several red flags, had they ever been undertaken, as Federal Regulations clearly state. A closer look by a private investigator and ex-FBI agent has showed that the local EF representative assigned to Synne as her 24-hour support person; Linda Davis (or Linda J. Teller), in fact had 10 liens & judgments and 3 criminal convictions against her, as well as a history of using numerous aliases. Furthermore, 36 judgments and liens are registered against her host mother Gidget Vickers.
Federal Regulations state that foreign exchange students must be placed within a “nurturing environment” in a “financially stable home”. However, with the host father unemployed for the first 6 months of her stay and the host mother holding down two jobs to support the family’s 5 children, Synne’s chores swiftly added up to include babysitting the two youngest kids every day after school from 3:00 – 6:00 pm and on weekends, mow the lawn, walk the dogs, do the dishes and even wash her host sister’s clothes on Sundays. Explains Synne; “I never felt like part of the family, I felt like a maid. It hurt me when my 16-year old host sister was allowed to hang out with her friends and go to the movies, while I had to stay home to babysit.”
Worse, the home was clearly uninhabitable by most health & hygiene standards. Several untrained dogs were urinating and defecating around the house, which also suffered mould problems. Explains the exchange student; “The stench was disgusting. Several holes in the roof and walls were scantily covered by cardboard and boards, and the window in my room was broken. It was freezing in my room when the frost came”.
Host families are also required to provide meals for the students. However, Synne was quickly also told that she had to buy her own food as well as any other items that she needed. She was not allowed to eat from the family fridge and had to pay for her own food when the family ordered Chinese takeout, which was frequent. Branchville is a town 1,083 people, with 54% white and 43 % African American inhabitants. She was told by her host mother that “black people were a bad influence and would get her involved in drugs.”
Under the constant threat of being sent home, Synne was frequently forced to sign EF “ Success Plan for Student Behaviour” and “Academic Agreements” admitting to her many failures, presented to her by her host mother and local EF representative Linda Davis. Grounded for weeks and isolated in a foreign country far away from home, her telephone was confiscated and her internet access taken away for weeks on end, making it impossible for her to contact her family. Says Synne; “I was threatened by the host mother all the time. I was frequently told “Synne, you are in big trouble” and “if you don’t pull it together we are going to have to send you home early. And you have yourself to blame. You did this to yourself.”
Federal Regulations state that sponsoring organizations must provide a student card with a telephone number that affords immediate contact with both the program sponsor and the sponsor’s local representative. The regulations also state that local area representatives must check in with exchange students at least once a month. As early as in October 2009, Synne spent several days unsuccessfully trying to reach her local contact local EF representative Linda Davis on the telephone number written on her student card. Explained Synne; “I tried to call Davis several times. Nobody picked up the phone.” She then dialed the number to EF’s office in Boston and requested a change of family. The phone call was answered by Program Coordinator Claudia Jackson, who told her to call her local representative who according to Jackson was “always available”. Jackson stated that anyway, it was “too late to change family”. Synne’s student card failed to include a toll free phone number to the U.S. State Department, the supervisory body of student exchange programs, which according to Federal Regulations should have been printed on the card. Says Synne’s father Per Fjellvoll; “My daughter was held hostage in a house and with a family who did not want her there as anything other than a housekeeper and a babysitter.”
When Linda Davis finally contacted Synne in late December 2009, and the Norwegian exchange student again requested a change of family, the EF coordinator told her that she was; “always complaining and whining”. According to Davis, the Vicker’s were “a good family and you are the one making all this trouble for us. It is always the Norwegian exchange students that are hardest!” EF representatives also repeatedly turned their back on the 17-year old when she repeatedly turned to them for help via phone and email in January, February and March 2010. She was called a ‘liar”, a “troublemaker” and conveniently ignored. However, she complained one time too many and was “removed from the program” by EF in a whirlwind of accusations in March 2010, after what EF claimed were “a number of chances to improve her behavior”.
According to Toralf Slovik, EF’s Program Coordinator in Oslo, Norway, who contacted her natural parents, Synne was being sent home because she had been expelled by Branchville High School. Says her father; “I called the Principal of Synne’s High School and he told me that he knew nothing about my daughter being expelled.” The “expulsion” later turned out to be an erroneous translation of the word “detention”, but EF was adamant that she still had to be repatriated due to “bad behavior”, “bad grades” and too many “social activities”. Synne in fact had little time to commit to spare time activities due to daily babysitting responsibilities, house chores and two-three weekly Church visits. Says the exchange student; “My host mother told me that I had to take most responsibility since I was the oldest.”
The Principal and teachers at Branchville High School were deliberately kept at an arm’s length and forced to watch from afar, although several posed questions with Synne’s host mother’s demands for her to be enrolled in several too advanced and unnecessary classes, contrary to the curriculum that had been chosen for her in collaboration with her local high school and natural parents prior to her departure from Norway. While EF maintains that Synne had problems at school, neither the Principal, the school counselors or any of her teachers were at any time made aware of this fact. This highlights the total disconnect between the sponsoring organizations and the U.S. high schools to which they send their participants and one is forced to ask what kind of organization puts an exchange student with a B+ average on “Academic Agreement” without informing the school or any of her teachers. Says Synne’s father Per; “We had just received an email from EF saying that everything was fine and she was doing well in school. Of course, the positive news was sent to us along with the news that Synne had been involved in a car accident. That was probably no coincidence.”
On several occasions, host mother Gidget Vickers acted so threatening and aggressively towards the exchange student that even her teachers became concerned. More than one teacher witnessed Synne’s traumatic last day at Branchville High School; “Gidget Vickers showed up at school, verbally attacked Synne in front of several teachers and students, snatched her handbag and forced her to leave without saying goodbye to her friends and teachers.” After confiscating her phone, Vickers took her home to pack and subsequently drove the 17-year old to Charleston Airport, where the Norwegian exchange student and her luggage were thrown out of the car curbside and left to fend for herself.
According to Synne’s father, her premature repatriation was based on minor episodes and lies by EF and her host family who was just looking for a reason to send her home. “The accusations made against my daughter were subsequently proven false by emails and communications with the Principal and teachers at Branchville High School. Clearly, any serious organization would have taken immediate steps to correct the situation and let her finish the 9 weeks that remained of her school year.”
On the morning of March 23, Synne was told by EF that she had to be on the plane back to Norway that evening or she would be deported. At the point of her repatriation, three local families were willing to host Synne for the remainder of the school year. Torolf Slovik from EF informed the family by email that she would be in the U.S. illegally if she stayed beyond that evening and that her VISA had been cancelled. However, her host-mother Vickers and local EF representative Davis made it abundantly clear around town that anyone who took her in would be charged with harboring an illegal alien. Says Synne; “They were determined to send me home.”
Says Fjellvoll; “EF has gained a reputation for taking swift action only when it comes to sending students home, as was the case with my daughter. The family contacted the U.S. Embassy in Oslo and the U.S. Department of State in Washington and asked them to intervene so that Synne could complete the 9 weeks that remained to her graduation. The Norwegian Embassy in the U.S. was also contacted. However, the family was told that it was a private issue between the student and EF and that they could not do anything.”
The scaremongering that EF spreads regarding the deportation of students is completely untrue and inaccurate. According to Stanley Colvin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of State and supervisor of the J-VISA student exchange programs, foreign nationals that enter on a J-1 visa are “lawfully present” so long as they are in “valid program status”, meaning that they must be successfully pursuing the activities for which they entered the United States, under the sponsorship of a designated Exchange Visitor Program sponsor. If the sponsor withdraws their sponsorship, for cause, then the participant is no longer lawfully present and has thirty days to leave the country. Says Fjellvoll; “Having to leave in thirty days is vastly different to having to leave in a few hours. One month may have permitted us to seek other alternatives so that Synne could have completed her school year.”
When Synne’s case was brought to the attention of the U.S. State Department, they said they were willing to help her reissue her J-VISA provided EF reinstated Synne’s sponsorship. Alternatively, the State Department said they would accept the sponsorship of another exchange organization. Despite several requests both directly from the family as well as a U.S. lawfirm, EF refused to reinstate the sponsorship and finding another exchange organization 9 weeks prior to graduation proved an impossible task.
Under the current system, the student is completely powerless. EF will always side with their host family in any dispute, because any acknowledgement of mistakes on their part would make them liable to lawsuits. The student has absolutely no chance from the outset. The bias of local coordinators, who in many cases place young students with friends or relatives, is another issue some students have been faced with. Norwegian exchange student Synne Fjellvoll’s host mother was a friend of the local EF area representative and had a cell number to her that she refused to give the 17 year old exchange student. The local coordinator consistently ignored Synne’s requests for help.
6 U.S. student exchange companies have been approved by the Norwegian Government’s loan association (Statens Laanekasse) for the purposes of student grant and loans to study abroad. Aside from having to redo a lost year of studies, Norwegian exchange students who are sent home early without graduating, must fully repay all grants they received from Statens Laanekasse. Says Fjellvoll; “Synne’s student exchange and unnecessary repatriation has cost the family at least US$20,000.”
Perks for host families of exchange students include free babysitting and housekeeping services, although foreign exchange students are only permitted to take sporadic jobs. When you call EF’s office in Boston and enquire about taking in a foreign exchange student, they will tell you that the issue of babysitting is “tricky” and that host families are not allowed to force exchange students to babysit. This was certainly not the case with Synne, whose far from sporadic babysitting job was performed under the threat of being sent home.