Stikkordarkiv: #Aspect

Speak Norge AS og Language Education Norge AS konkurs

Jeg fikk nylig følgende beskjeden:

Lars Henrik Wollebekk filed in August 2019 his Norwegian education companies for bankruptcy, after first having received all the money from the parents and students. The money paid for the programs was channeled to back payments to him for personal loans and debts instead of payment to schools and host families. He made him self unavailable in Denmark and left to unknowing employees the try to solve the situations with all the students, schools, travel agencies, insurance, host families etc. About 80 families and students were affected by his actions. He is still walking around as a free man.

Det stemmer at begge bedriftene er meldt konkurs.

Lars Henrik Wollebekk konkurs i Norge.

Det vil si at det kun er Combank IT Systems som enda ikke er meldt konkurs her i Norge. Combank er administrasjonsselskapet for begge utvekslingsselskapene. Jeg vet ikke om telefonnr 21381255 fortsatt er i bruk.

Ifjor gikk begge selskapene i Danmark konkurs. Der er det også bare administrasjonsselskapet Zaruben Aps som fortsatt er i drift.

Foreløpig ser det ut som om Speak Cultural Exchange Ltd. lever i beste velgående.

Det er trist at Wollebekk meldte selskapene konkurs samtidig som elevene hadde begynt å reise til landene sine. Om noen vet noe mer hadde det vært fint å vite hvordan problemene deres har blitt løst.

Bytte familie er vanlig

Maja ba om å få bytte vertsfamilie to ganger og av helt ulike årsaker.  Hun reiste til Margate/Thanet/Ramsgate i England og lærte raskt at ulike familier prioriterer ulikt. I den første vertsfamilien var det bare vertsmor og tre katter. Å tilpasse seg en helt ny måte å leve på kan være komplisert i begynnelsen og det er ikke alltid ting blir enklere av å bytte familien. Hos den andre familien hadde vertsforeldrene barn og barnebarn. Den endelige vertsfamilien ble hennes tredje familie. Situasjonen til Maja er på ingen som helst måte unik.

Flytte fra andre familien

Lenge siden sist nå. Mye har skjedd. Kroppen min er ufattelig utslitt, tårer er felt og tankene mine svever rundt i et univers av kaos. Jeg er utslitt. Kofferten min har vært pakket for andre gang siden jeg kom hit til England.

Etter mange uker, boende i Ramsgate, var det nok! Det er rart hvordan kroppen din takler å overbevise seg selv til å være positiv, selv om realiten er noe helt annet. Det at kroppen klarer å skjule misnøye og bare være overfladisk glad, selv om den innvendig sliter. For de som ikke vet det, har jeg etter uker med venting, fått byttet vfamilie igjen. Ærlig må jeg si at første gang, var det ikke kritisk, men av ensomhet og lengtet etter en familie. Denne gagen, var ønsker mitt om å bytte utrolig viktig for min del. Beskriver det som mer psykisk viktig. For det å bo og leve under de omstendighetene jeg hadde, forsuret hverdagen min.

Det å komme hjem var ikke en god følelse, noe skurret og stemte ikke. I tillegg er det veldig mye av verdier, holdninger og regler til utveksling og utvekslingsstudenter i det huset som jeg vil beskrive som helt feil og overfladiske. Utfallige episoder resluterte i at jeg følte at jeg ikke var velkommen;  i hvert fall ikke noe mer enn en hybelboer. Det å ikke bli ordentlig inklurdert, og føle at man nesten bare får husrom gjorde meg forvirret og trist. Flere episoder førte til gråt og ubehag. Unødvendige kommentarer og surt tonebruk gjorde det mildt sagt ikke bedre. Det er vanskelig, nærmest umulig å beskrive konkret hva som gjor at jeg følte den ufattelige misnøyen. Muligens fordi jeg ikke er ute etter å rakke ned på noen, henge noen ut eller skape dårlig stemning. Det fungerte ikke mellom oss, eller rettere sagt for meg var det ikke riktig å bo der. Om dere hadde spurt de som var klar over hvordan jeg hadde det; anbefalte alle meg om å bytte vfamilie, for det var ikke riktig slik jeg hadde det.

Med for mye å tenke på var det vanskelig å fokusere på skolen og med venner. Det var ikke lett å være den sprudlende og alltid glade Maja. Det som har skjedd den siste tiden, er noe jeg helst skulle vært foruten. Skulle så gjerne ønske jeg kunne slippe å gjennomgå alt, likevel alt man gjennomgår gir deg erfaringer. Til nå har ikke utvekelslingsåret mitt vært bare enkelt, men alt dette vokser jeg på. Men jeg må si jeg føler meg litt uheldig, og tenker at et utveklingsår er basert en del på hell og lykke. Utveksling er så mye mer enn det positive som skrives. Det er mye som er utfordrende og vanskelig, og dette gjelder både for meg og sikkert utfallige andre på utveksling ………………… (resten på bloggen)

Flytte fra første familien

Host Mother, hopefully you know how great, cool, lively etc. I think you are. I really like the way you always stay such positive and obviously after how your situation has become, how strong you are!

As you know, there are various reasons for my decision of switching host family. There are some personal reasons, that I don’t want to share here on my blog, but one of the main reasons is my longing for a ‘family’ situation.

The situation in our house, became a bit different from what I was presented when was supposed to come to England. Likewise a bit different from what you may have thought too, but we both agree, that’s life. Therefore instead of a family of 2 host parents, children + 3 cats, we have now lived you and me + 3 cats. In addition, I have felt that you have been a bit busy with your ‘own life‘. I fully understands it, but still it has made some of my days really ‘long’ without you……………………. (resten på bloggen)

Speak Holding/Aspect High School (og Speak)

Speak Holding Aps som eier Aspect High School/Language Education også er under styrt avvikling. Mail fra Lars Wollebekk forklarte i mail 31. oktober 2017 at dette ikke kom til å påvirke selskap i andre land.  (oppdatert 31.10.17)

https://lasso.dk/firmaer/34891192/speak-holding-aps-er-under-tvangsoplsning/Q1ZSLTEtMzQ4OTExOTJ8OC4zfDYvMTQvMjAxNyAxMjowMDowMCBBTXxVTkRFUiBUVkFOR1NPUEzDmFNOSU5H


Som dere ser av screenshot under er Language Education Danmark A/S (Aspect High School) under tvangsoppløsning der. Ut fra proff.no ser det ikke ut som om noe har skjedd her enda. Ifølge mail fra Lars Wollebekk 31. oktober 2017 vil ikke dette ha noen innvirkning på norske selskap. (oppdatert 31.10.17)

Speak High School/Language Education dømt i dansk rettssystem

Foreldre til utvekslingselev brakte saken helt til Østre Dansk Landsræt. Speak/Aspect hadde, som kjent, også sendt en utvekslingselev til Scranton, Pennsylvania. Hennes situasjon var med på å avsløre er årelangt svik fra utvekslingsorganisasjonene og hun hadde heller ingenting godt å si om Speak/Aspect.

CSFES Danmark

I 2014 dekket Metroexpress saken om en utvekslingselev som hadde betalt ekstra for å slippe å bli sendt til Utah.

Utvekslingseleven meldte seg på hos danske Speak High School* ni måneder før det nye skoleåret og foreldrene til utvekslingselven betalte ekstra (2012: Dkr 75000 + 7000) for at han «underingen omstændigheder» skulle havne i Utah hos en mormonfamilie.

Det varte og rakk før familien fikk vite hvor eleven skulle reise. Avreisen ble utsatt og etter skolestart i USA viste det seg at han skulle til en liten by i Utah. Småbyer i Utah består nesten bare av mormonere og det var en svært troende familie han havnet hos. Representanten hans i Utah var også mormoner.

Utvekslingseleven dro og det gikk som foreldrene fryktet. Etter hjemsendelse begynte familien det lange arbeidet med å få en unnskyldning og kompensasjon for det utvekslingseleven opplevde. Jeg traff dem i den forbindelse og…

Vis opprinnelig innlegg 128 ord igjen

Språkreise: Trusler, overvåking, stalking

E.M. skriver

Då eg var med Aspect i England var eg hos ein mildt sagt autoritær familie som truga med vald om vi ikkje gjorde som dei sa, og som no, ti år etter framleis fotfølgar meg. Dei har søkt meg opp på internett, kontakta lerarane mine, sendt brev heim til mi mor og la rmeg ikkje i fred.

Aspect Foundation / Aspect Education / Kaplan U.K.

Kopiert fra min blogg «Foreign Student Exchange»

Kaplan, Inc.

  • Kaplan UK Ltd.
    • Aspect Education Limited
      • Aspect Foundation, Inc
        • Aspect Cultural Exchange merged with AF

History:

1985: Aspect Foundation, Incorporated California, co.no: C1265653, (non-profit), president Vivian Fearen

1998: Subsidiary of Sylvan Learning Systems:
(vi) To the knowledge of the Company, any of the Subsidiaries, or the Stockholders, after reasonable inquiry, each non-profit organization with which the Company or any of its Subsidiaries has entered into an Exchange Contract, including Aspect Foundation, Inc. and International Education Forum (“IEF”), …

2000: Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. sells Aspect Foundation, Inc. to Optagon Holdings Ltd. (name changed to: Aspect Educational Holdings Limited – Aspect Education Limited = Kaplan).
(viii) Aspect Foundation Inc. Such trustees and officers of Aspect Foundation, Inc. as are designated by Buyer to Sellers shall have tendered, effective at the Closing, their resignations as such trustees and officers, and individuals designated by Buyer shall be appointed to replace such trustees and officers.

2000: Aspect Cultural Exchange merged in with Aspect Foundation.

2006: Aspect Education Limited operates as a subsidiary of Kaplan U.K. Limited.

2009: Aspect Foundation (DBA Aspect Foundation), Incorporated Washington, co.no: 601403559, (non-profit), president Vivian Fearen

http://aspectfoundation.org/Registrant: Aspect Education UK Ltd /  211 Sutter St / 10th Floor / San Francisco, CA 94108 / Tel: (415) 228 8050 / Fax: (415) 228 8051 / email@aspectworld.com

aspectworld.com takes you immediately to http://www.kaplaninternational.com/ Registrant: Kaplan Inc. / 395 Hudson Street / New York, NY 10014 / Tel: (212) 492 5800 / Fax: (646) 365 3216 /  email@kaplan.com

Speak Holding / Aspect/Speak

Speak Holding ApS (2007) Under tvangsoppløsning per oktober 2017.


History:

In 1988 ASSE Norwegian Educational Travel AS (948 156 989) was established in Norway by Svenska Statens Språkresor AB. In 1997 the company was sold to Aspect Education Ltd. in the UK. Lars Henrik Wollebekk took over management of the Danish branch of Aspect Education in 2000 after working for EF Education. He took over the company and and changed its name to Language Education Denmark A/S.

BANKRUPT

At the same time LHW established Speak Europe AS (882 354 512) in Norway. Owners are LHW. LHW also established Speak Norge AS (982 671 884)  in 2000. Speak Norge AS is the public face of Speak. Its current owner is Speak Holding. In 2001 the Norwegian branch of ASSE changed its name to Aspect Education Norway. LHW took over management and ownership of the firm in 2002 and changed its name to  Language Education Norge AS. While this remains its judicial name, Language Education Norge/Danmark/Sverige is currently known as Aspect High School. Its owner is listed as Speak Holding.

BANKRUPT

Speak Europe AS changed its name to European Language Group AS in 2003 and finally to Combank. It has a bureaucratic role in the company. Wollebekk expanded to the US in 2003 with European Language Group (US) LLC (200311510070) and Switzerland in 2004 as  ELG European Language Group Sàrl (CH-660.1.042.004-9). ELG Sarl became management firm for the various concerns managed and owned by LHW. LHW was in 2004 main shareholder in ELG Sarl, then only shareholder. All shares were later transferred to Speak Holding Aps.

BANKRUPT

Speak Education Nordic AB (556698-2301) is established as a Swedish subsidiary to ELG Sarl in 2006.  Further expansions happened in 2007 in  England as Speak Cultural Exchange UK Ltd. is established. They are a subsidiary of ELG Sarl. The financial crisis that hits the world in 2008 also affects LWH’s holdings. Slowly, sites that were available on the net disappear. ELG (US) and Speak Language Travel are listed as suspended in official papers.

In 2011 the Advisory Board Aps (33592124) in Denmark www.aspectworld.se (lw@zarubencapital.com) was founded. Speak Holding Aps (34891192) was established by LHW in Denmark in 2014.  2013: LHW tranferred his shares in ELG Sarl to Speak Holding Aps. Speak Education offices were established in Denmark.

BANKRUPT

Joca Eiendom AS (868 061 642) is established in Norway in 1993. Lars Wollebekk held ownership, but I do not know what his current role is in either the Norwegian or the Danish branch of the company. Joca Ejendom Danmark Aps (30584244) is founded in Denmark in 2007.

(This article was updated 14 October 2019)


Father and son are also member of and chairman of Sameiet Holmenkollen 103 board.


Media / Student experiences:

2007/2008: Spionert på, mye kjeft, gikk gjennom tingene

Ikke seng, bytte flere ganger, manipulerende vertsforeldre, selvmord, kastet ut, ingen hjelp

2011 Oct 16: – Jeg var to minutter fra å reise hjem

2011/2012: Ikke lov å kontakte mor, truet, tar ikke ansvar, manipulerende

2014 Feb 07: Far: Min søns udvekslings- rejse var et mareridt: Paid extra to avoid Utah and Mormons. Was sent to Utah and Mormons.

2013/2014: Religionspress, mishandling, dobbeltrolle

Vanlige problemer: Religionspress, mishandling, ingen hjelp

Langt – men viktig lesestoff for alle i samme situasjon. Høsten 2013 skulle bli spennende for vår flotte, selvstendige og flinke datter. Hun hadde nemlig fulgt en mangeårig drøm og skulle til USA som utvekslingsstudent. Alt forarbeid var klart, hun skulle reise med organisasjonen Speak, som samarbeider med Aspect i USA. Vi hadde fått god kontakt med vertsfamilien og både skypet og mailet med dem. Det virket som en grei familie. Vi visste desverre ikke noe særlig om dem, da organisasjonen Speak var tilbakeholdne med opplysninger om dem. Det vi visste var at mora var hjemmeværende, faren var radiolog og at de hadde 2 barn.
Avreise var satt til 7. august, og vi fulgte jenta vår til Gardermoen. Hun landet i Colorado Springs i august, full av forventning, og gledet seg til å møte vertsfamilien sin i virkeligheten. Hun ble tatt i mot på flyplassen og kom trygt hjem til huset hvor hun fikk servert tynn nudlesuppe. Sulten som hun var etter den lange reisen ble hun litt skuffet, men all spenningen gjorde at det ble fort glemt.

Fra første dag av føltes det likevel helt feil. Borte var smilet og det gode humøret som vi hadde sett hos vertsfamilien da vi skypet med dem. Spesielt gjaldt dette vertsmor. Hun gikk rundt med en sint rynke mellom brynene hele tiden, og var svært lite hyggelig. Da de og jenta vår skulle til kirka deres den første helga, fikk hun vite at de var mormonere. Hun hadde ikke noe forhold til denne sekten, men stusset litt over at hun ikke hadde fått vite det på forhånd. Det viste seg at de var svært strenge utøvende mormonere. Vi hadde altså ikke fått noe informasjon fra organisasjonen om at familien var medlem av en sekt. Vi fikk senere vite at denne informasjonen skulle vært sendt oss, men den var tydeligvis ”avglemt” i USA. Aspect mente de hadde sendt denne informasjonen til Elise. Det hadde hun ikke fått.

Den nye hverdagen bestod av kontroll, overvåking, isolasjon, meget strikte regler, dårlig mat og lite omsorg. Selv om hun ikke er mormoner ble det nesten krevd at hun skulle leve som en. Det ble strenge restriksjoner på klær, mat, drikke, venner, fritid og hun ble påmeldt søndagsskole. Hun kunne ikke bruke noen av klærne hun hadde med fra Norge. Som den oppegående jenta hun er, hadde hun med seg vanlige klær fra Norge, ikke noe som kan være utfordrende. Når de hadde mormonertreff hjemme hos familien, måtte jenta kle seg helt tildekket selv om det var godt over 30 gr ute. På en shoppingtur på et kjøpesenter ble hun nærmest tvunget av vertsmor til å kjøpe klær hun ikke likte. Utover dette var vertsmor svært kontrollerende og lite hyggelig, spesielt når de to var alene. Vertssøstra på 11 var egentlig ei hyggelig jente, men hun ble etterhvert brukt som både ”spion” og påpasser. Hver gang jenta vår gikk på rommet sitt, kom vertssøstra og sjekket hva hun gjorde.
Hun fikk ganske snart servert 10 regler som skulle følges. Greit med regler, men når reglene presenteres som udiskutable og de er skrevet ut fra et helt annet livssyn og klare tegn på mistenkeliggjøring er det ikke så greit likevel. Her kom det fram at hun ikke kunne drikke kaffe og te, videre måtte hun opprette en amerikansk mailadresse for å holde kontakt med sine amerikanske venner. Den gamle mailkontoen kunne hun sjekke kun en gang i uka. Mobil og PC måtte leveres til vertsforeldrene hver kveld. Det var regler for å gå i det mormonske tempelet, for klær, kontakt med Norge og også en regel om at hun ikke måtte være så mye alene på rommet sitt. De var ikke ønskelig med mye kontakt med hjemmet her i Norge, noe som forsåvidt ville vært helt ok om jenta hadde det bra. Vi opplevde selv en svært guffen skype-samtale der vertsmor kom og brøt inn i samtalen og var svært negativ til oss.
Det var ikke lett å bli kjent med jevnaldringer fordi kirkegangen tok mye tid (over 4 timer hver gang). Familien var uansett ikke positive til at hun skulle bli kjent med noen som ikke var mormonere.
Det ble vanskeligere og vanskeligere å være 16 år, langt borte og ingen fortrolige i nærheten. Den som skulle vært hennes fortrolige var Aspects plasskontakt, en mann på godt over 80 år og svært nær venn av familien. Han var i samme sekt, og mente at jenta hadde vært utrolig heldig som kom til akkurat denne familien. Pga at jenta vår ikke hadde det godt hos familien, tok vi kontakt med Speak. Her fikk vi null støtte fra første dag av. Vi fikk høre at vi måtte tenke på familien som hadde gledet seg siden mars! Ingen tenkte på vår jente som hadde gledet seg i mange år… Hun sendte også mail selv til Speak og fikk det samme svaret: ”Det er også lurt at du har i bakhodet at vertsfamilien som valgte deg ut i mars, også har gledet seg til dette, og at kanskje vertsmor vil synes at det er litt synd at du drar allerede nå etter så kort tid.” Igjen ble det understreket at vertsfamilien var den viktige, ikke eleven som hadde lagt livet sitt i denne organisasjonens hender og betalt i dyre dommer for det.

Vi mottok trussel om hjemsending, og mange mailer med lite hyggelig innhold. Vi fikk også høre at vi var diskrimerende ettersom vi satte spørsmålstegn ved å ha vår datter hos medlemmer av en sekt. Vi hadde jo en lang liste med opplevelser og hendelser som viste at jenta ikke hadde det bra, og det skyldtes ikke bare familiens livssyn, men hele settingen. Vi hadde daglig kontakt med Speak, og de igjen med Aspect, men vi kom altså ingen vei. Vi fikk vage svar, lite imøtekommende svar, vi hadde rett og slett ingen rettigheter.

Det toppet seg da jenta fikk hjernerystelse etter en motorsykkelulykke under trialkjøring i fjellene. Vi hadde på forhånd ikke blitt forespurt om det var greit at de tok henne med seg på en slik tur. Det står klart fra i Studentboken til Aspect at elevene ikke kan delta på ekstremsport, men reglene i den boka gjelder tydeligvis bare studentene, ikke familiene… Hun satt bak vertsfar da de veltet opp en bratt bakke, og hun hadde ikke annet enn bukse og T-skjorte i tillegg til SYKKELhjelm (altså hjelm for vanlig trampsykkel) på seg. Faren hadde motorsykkelhjelm og vanlig MC-utstyr. Hun slo seg svært stygt, pådro seg store skrubbsår og slo hode og nakke. Selv om vertsfaren jobber som radiolog og da kanskje vet hva man sjekke når noen har slått seg i hodet, ble dette ikke gjort. Han og familien var mest opptatt av sine egne skrubbsår. Vi, hennes FORELDRE, ble IKKE varslet etter ulykken og de tok henne IKKE med til lege! Det gikk 3 dager før de tok henne med til legesjekk, fordi hun selv og vi insisterte på det. Hun fikk da selvfølgelig påvist hjernerystelse. Etter dette ble hun hjemme noen dager fra skolen for å ta det med ro. Legen var ganske klar på dette, da hjernerystelsen var kraftig og hun var i svært dårlig form. Disse dagene vekket familien henne tidlig for å vaske bad, ta oppvask, vaske rom, gå tur med bikkja… Hun gråt da hun snek seg til å snakke med oss i telefonen, hun klarte nesten ikke å gå ned trappa til rommet sitt, og likevel sendte de henne ut på hundelufting. I tillegg ville de at hun skulle bli med på familietreff i Salt Lake City helga etter den fatale ulykken. Hun var veldig dårlig og vi ønsket at hun ikke skulle være med. Merkelig nok fikk vi her medhold av Speak/Aspect. Aspect og familien bestemte at hun skulle bo hos plasskontakten, men hun fikk selv ordnet med å bo hos ei jente hun var blitt litt kjent med. Vertsmor og Aspect fortsatte å nekte henne dette. Det utløste en diskusjon uten sidestykke. Til slutt fikk jenta lov til å bo hos venninna, fordi vi da i mellomtiden hadde tatt kontakt med CVFES (amerikansk organisasjon som jobber med utvekslingsstudenters rettigheter). Derfra fikk vi høre at en student ikke skal bo hos sin plasskontakt, organisasjonen har ikke lov til å foreslå det i det hele tatt. Vertsmor var sint da hun kjørte henne til venninna og sa ikke ”ha det”. Dette ble den beste helga så langt i Colorado, tross dårlig form.

På dette tidspunktet fikk vi endelig medhold i at hun skulle få ny familie, men Aspect hadde ingen familier å ta av. Hun ble derfor nødt til å flytte tilbake til vertsfamilien da de kom hjem fra Salt Lake City. De hadde i mellomtiden fått vite at jenta skulle flytte, uten at hun ble informert om at de visste. De var sinte på henne, og ga tydelig uttrykk for at de ikke likte henne. Hun gråt og var redd for å møte dem på grunn av sinnet deres, så hun turde ikke å spise middag sammen med dem. De ryddet dermed bort all mat, så hun fant ingenting da hun seint på kvelden listet seg til kjøkkenet fordi hun var sulten. Dagen etter fikk hun heller ikke mat, og da krevde både hun og vi at Aspect måtte gripe inn. Det gjorde de, og hun ble tatt ut selv om hun egentlig ikke hadde noe sted å bo. Hennes reddende engel var ei jente hun var bli litt kjent med på skolen. Der kunne hun få bo, men Aspect mente hun igjen skulle bo til plasskontakten, som på den tida var svært irritert på jenta fordi hun skulle flytte. Aspect ga til slutt klarsignal for å få bo til jenta (etter ny kontakt med CSFES), og på avreisetidspunktet kom venninna for å hente jenta. I tillegg dukket plasskontakten opp, da han ikke hadde fått beskjed om at han var ute av bildet. Det ble mye kjefting fra vertsforeldrene, og vertsfaren trakk venninna til side og sa at jenta vår betød trøbbel og man ikke burde ha noe med henne å gjøre. Vertsmoras siste hilsen var: ”Be nice. You’re not being nice now”.

Hadde Speak/Aspect gjort jobben sin tidligere hadde ikke ulykken skjedd, hun hadde ikke mistet viktige skoledager der borte og hun hadde sluppet å være hos en familie som er uansvarlig, kontrollerende og lite empatisk, samt oppleve den traumatiske avslutningen.

Hun fikk gode dager hos venninna si. Foreldrene var flotte mennesker, og de var lei seg fordi de ikke kunne bli vertsfamilie pga en leiekontrakt med diverse retningslinjer.
I midten av september, etter en periode som hadde vært fryktelig lang for jenta vår og oss foreldre, fikk hun ny familie. Denne gangen visste vi at hun kom til en flott familie fordi vår niese hadde bodd hos dem året før. Det var som å komme hjem da hun ankom Lafayette i Colorado. Hun opplevde varme, omsorg, raushet og tilhørighet. Alt lå nå til rette for at resten av året skulle bli det året hun hadde drømt om. Dessverre ble det ikke sånn. Formen var ikke bra. Hun slet med hodepine, svimmelhet, konsentrasjonsproblemer og nattesøvn. Det ble tungt å gå på skolen, vanskelig å gjøre lekser og situsasjonen var ikke enkel. Vi leste om Post Concussion Syndrome, og så at symptomene stemte. Hos legen i Colorado ble det imidlertid satt diagnosen depresjon. Denne legen (forøvrig fastlegen for Aspects person på denne saken) konkluderte også med at hun hadde vært deprimert siden hun var 13 år! Aspect styrte også dette, de var med til legen og hadde full innsynsrett i saken. Da jenta vår oppsøkte skolepsykologen for å få prata om alt dette og om den første vertsfamilien, kom dette Aspect for øret og de ringte både skolepsykologen og jenta vår og ville vite hva de hadde snakket om. De oppførte seg ganske skremmende på telefon, og ble tydelig irriterte da de ikke fikk vite noe. Vi følte oss helt maktesløse over alt som skjedde. Og var det en ting som var sikkert, så var det at vi ikke ville ha sendt dattera vår av gårde hvis hun hadde vært deprimert i mange år! Jenta følte at Aspect hang over henne og fulgte med alt hun gjorde, og ettersom hun sleit med formen ble noen av dagene litt tunge. Familien var imidlertid fantastisk, og hun stortrivdes sammen med dem.

Mot slutten av november fikk hun en telefon fra Aspect med beskjed om at hun måtte reise hjem, da de var bekymret for hennes mentale helse. Dette kom som lyn fra klar himmel og hun fikk sjokk. Hun ringte oss og var svært lei seg. Vi vurderte å ta opp kampen med Speak/Aspect igjen, men nå var jenta sliten av hele tiden å måtte kjempe mot en organisasjon som ikke var på hennes side. Hun fant ut at hun ville komme hjem i stedet for å ta opp kampen.

Etter en trist og tårevåt avskjed med familien kom jenta vår hjem. Det var ubeskrivelig godt å se henne etter en tøff høst. Hun fikk starte opp i klassen sin igjen. Skolens studieleder sto på veldig for henne, og sørget for at alt gikk på skinner.
Hun var så absolutt ikke deprimert, men slet med hodepine og svimmelhet. Søvnen kom tilbake ganske fort. Først nå ca 6 måneder etter ulykken begynner hodepinen å løsne, selv om den fortsatt henger i enkelte dager.

Vi ønsket å få denne saken ut i media, fordi det er viktig at andre studenter og foreldre får vite om slikt. I tillegg bør det advares på det sterkeste mot organisajonene Speak og Aspect. Det vi har skrevet her er faktisk kortversjon av alt som skjedde, og det er mange svært graverende handlinger både Speak og Aspect har utført i denne saken som ikke kommer fram her. Dessverre var nok ikke denne saken ”viktig nok” for de medieaktørene vi kontaktet.
Det siste Speak gjorde var særdeles grovt. Vi hadde kontakt med en journalist som vurderte å ta denne saken, han ringte til Speak for å få deres uttalelse. Han fikk da vite fortrolige, konfidensielle opplysninger om jenta vår, opplysninger som står i hennes legejournal! Heldigvis informerte han oss om dette, og vi må si at vi fremdeles er sjokkert over at en representant for Speak går ut med konfidensielle opplysninger til en journalist!

Dette brevet er skrevet i full forståelse med vår datter. Hun har selv vært åpen om alt som har skjedd på digitale medier og ellers. Hun har alltid vært ei meget sterk og selvstendig jente, hadde hun ikke vært det hadde hun vel heller ikke ønsket seg et utvekslingsår. Hun går med ryggen rak, og som den sterke jenta hun er, velger hun å se på dette som en erfaring som hun vokser på. Vi som foreldre er svært stolte av henne. De som absolutt burde bøye seg i støvet er Speak og Aspect, men det gjør de nok ikke.

Kathrine og Karl Petter Askim

Vanlige problemer: Ikke lov å kontakte mor, truet, tar ikke ansvar, manipulerende

B.E. forteller:
Den første familien var mormonere. Til å begynne med gikk det greit men det ble mye problemer i forbindelse med vertssøster etter hvert. I tillegg var skolen et stort problem. Det var en ghettoskole med mye problemer.

Den andre familien virket greie til å begynne med men etter hvert forandret det seg. Fra november måtte B. skrive bloggen sin på engelsk. Vertsfar hadde et program som gjorde at han kunne spionere på all korrespondanse med andre. Aspect og vertsfar insisterte på at all kommunikasjon måtte foregå på engelsk. I en periode var det ikke lov å kontakte foreldre i det hele tatt.

Vertsforeldrene var svært kontrollerende og manipulerende. Det var kjeft hver dag og vertsforeldrene var misunnelige på forholdene og økonomien til familien i Norge. Om det var lite penger en periode måtte B. betale for mat og bensin. Hun ble kalt lat, bortskjemt og dum hver dag.

Vertsforeldrene ringte representanten flere ganger i uken for å klage på atferden enda B. ikke kunne forstå hva hun hadde gjort «denne gangen».

Da B. endelig fikk flytte fra dem i mars var hun nedbrutt og hadde mistet all selvtillit. Den nye familien var veldig bra.
Aspect har forsøkt å skylde alt på B. De mener det var utelukkende hennes skyld at ting gikk galt i begge familiene. Selv om foreldrene holdt norske Aspect løpende oppdaterte om det som skjedde i USA spilte dette liten rolle. Aspect i USA gjorde uansett akkurat som de ville. I ettertid klarte B og familien å hindre to norske jenter fra å flytte inn i familie 2. Men Aspect klarte likevel å plassere ei jente fra Tyskland der.

2009 Jul 21: Warrant of Arrest for Edna Mary Burgette

Edna Mary Burgette was convicted in this matter and had to serve time. She had been responsible for placing exchange students for Aspect Foundation at least 10 years before the authorities got involved. During this time Aspect Foundation had received complaints regarding Ms. Burgette’s placements and her behavior toward the exchange students but to no avail. How many students were affected by Ms. Burgette’s criminal behavior during her time as an International Exchange Coordinator is difficult to know. The only ones with an answer are Ms. Burgette, Aspect Foundation and the students themselves.


Local neglect allegations open door to a world where students are shuffled from home to home

The Times Tribune | BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL (STAFF WRITER) | Published: May 31, 2009

House by house, Edna Burgette knocked on doors last fall in her Scranton neighborhood, asking whomever answered whether the 17-year-old Colombian boy at her side could stay with them for the school year.

«Take him. He is a good boy. He speaks English,» Mrs. Burgette said. People closed their doors in his face.

The boy then spent several months in a home with an 80-year-old man, where he was not allowed to eat food in the refrigerator, and where he lost too much weight.

The scenario, written in a complaint to the U.S. Department of State by his mother, Nemesia Lago, was not the taste of American life the boy was promised – and paid for.

Foreign students and past host parents allege that Mrs. Burgette, as an area coordinator for the Aspect Foundation, brought students from countries around the world to Scranton without first securing them a place to live.

The students report living in filthy homes which were later condemned, being shuffled from home to home, including living with ex-convicts. At least one required medical attention for not being given adequate food and drink. A criminal investigation is under way into the treatment of nine Lackawanna County students, and three in Luzerne County.

The scandal is just now coming into public view, as a Lackawanna County grand jury considers whether charges are warranted for the alleged exploitation.

But those involved tell The Times-Tribune that Mrs. Burgette has operated an inadequate foreign-exchange system here for at least a decade. They shared new details of an exchange program that takes in much money but takes on little responsibility.

Advocates say the situation here is extreme, but also an example of lapses nationwide, permitted by a lack of oversight and fueled by greed.

An ‘American family’

Foreign-exchange students are promised a taste of American life, by spending a year at an American high school and being part of a local family. Each year, 30,000 students come to the United States through the country’s visitor-exchange  program.

They experience family outings and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas – neither of which the boy from Colombia got to celebrate in the home he was placed in, his mother wrote in an e-mail to The Times-Tribune.

«He has always admired the American culture and way of life … and wanted to spend a year of his life experiencing firsthand all of the good things that he had seen and heard. … We, his parents, thought that a year in the U.S. would help him mature, know more people, help him to learn to make choices in life, have a white Christmas and have the best experience of his life,» Ms. Lago wrote.

Such hopes were worth a lot to Ms. Lago.

She said she spent about $12,000, most of which went to the San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation, to send her son to America. In the year ending Sept. 30, 2007, Aspect placed 1,109 students in host homes, according to IRS forms it submitted.

The fee is supposed to provide for individual host family selection, high school placement and room and board, provided by a «carefully selected volunteer host family,» according to Aspect’s Web site.

Repeated attempts last week to contact a representative from Aspect or Mrs. Burgette  were unsuccessful. Mrs. Burgette was removed from her position after the allegations of neglect surfaced.

Host families are not paid to provide room and board for the student, and students must bring their own spending money.

But working for the foreign-exchange agency can be profitable. Mrs. Burgette was paid for each student she brought to the region.

Danielle Grijalva, director of the California-based Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, estimates Mrs. Burgette received between $750 and $1,150 per student, plus bonuses like trips and other stipends at the foundation’s expense.

As a coordinator, Mrs. Burgette was responsible for matching students with host families, supporting students and families and planning activities to introduce students to America, according to Aspect’s Web site.

All of this year’s students, who are between the ages of 15 and 18 and come from countries including Nigeria, Denmark, Vietnam, Norway, Tanzania, France and Colombia, are now living with suitable host families.

Until now, that was rarely the case.

Long-standing issue

A decade ago, while in the neighborhood, Kathie DelGuercio and her husband met foreign exchange students outside 810 Myrtle St. in Scranton.

A girl from Germany invited them in and showed Mrs. DelGuercio where she slept –  in a 6-foot-by-6-foot room, on a cushion from a lounge chair.

«Pack your suitcase; you’re coming with me,» Mrs. DelGuercio said she told the girl.

The student, and several others who lived in the home, were placed there by Mrs. Burgette. They had come to America with promises of experiencing life with an American family.

The same residence at 810 Myrtle St. was condemned earlier this month, after a student from Nigeria, who was placed there by Mrs. Burgette, was found living with floors covered in dog feces. It is unclear how often Mrs. Burgette stays at the home.

Ten years ago, Mrs. DelGuercio said she contacted the Aspect Foundation and made complaints, with no response.

Over the next few years, the DelGuercios accepted five more foreign-exchange students from Mrs. Burgette. When the students arrived in Scranton, Mrs. Burgette had made no arrangements for them, including enrolling them in school, Mrs. DelGuercio said.

«We felt sorry for these children,» she added. «We were just making up for her negligence.»

Ten years ago, the first student the DelGuercios rescued paid between $6,000 and $7,000 to Aspect, not including airfare, for the American experience, Mrs. DelGuercio said.

«To me, it borders on human trafficking,» she added. «What kind of an attitude do they take back to their home countries? It’s just totally awful.»

School concerns

In fall 2001, William King, then the West Scranton High School principal, had reservations about the home of a foreign exchange student who was enrolled at West.

«It was not what you and I would want to live in,» said Mr. King, who will become the district’s superintendent July 1.

Mrs. Burgette had placed the student in the home.

As principal, Mr. King said he discontinued the West Scranton school’s relationship with Aspect, but Scranton High continued to accept students. To his knowledge, Mr. King said, no problems had been brought to the attention of Scranton High administrators.

Teresa Osborne, Lackawanna County director of human services, said she had no knowledge of prior complaints against Mrs. Burgette, but when reached late Friday, said she would check the county’s database Monday.

Eventually, Mrs. Burgette was allowed by another principal to re-enroll students at West.

After this school year, the entire Scranton School District will no longer accept Aspect students, and officials have developed new guidelines, including reviewing criminal background checks of future host families from other companies, Mr. King said.

«If they choose not to do that, then we’ll choose not to deal with them,» he said.

National problem

Across the country, foreign-exchange students have been found living in a variety of unsatisfactory conditions.

«These cases are rampant. It’s not just in Pennsylvania,» said Ms. Grijalva,  of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students.

In Oregon, a man was charged this month with sexually assaulting the foreign exchange student who was living with him. The teenager was placed there by AYUSA Global Youth Exchange, which reported the alleged assault to police.

In Minnesota, the California-based Council for Educational Travel USA reportedly did not have homes lined up for students before they arrived. A student from Norway reported that he lent his host family $1,000 for groceries and their son’s acting classes, and the state announced an investigation earlier this month.

In February, Allentown-based United Student Exchange was ordered by a court to halt all activities, based on students not being placed in proper homes, and the group’s owners diverting $100,000 that was meant to pay school tuition.

In other places, Ms. Grijalva has seen a student be given a sleeping bag and told to stay in a musty basement, and another student being forced to sleep on a pool table in a garage.

«What is so concerning and disheartening, the reason why these problems occur, is because the placement agencies get greedy,» Ms. Grijalva said.

Federal investigation launched

Last week, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to investigate the department’s oversight of U.S. youth-exchange programs, based on what is happening in the region.

The U.S. Department of State is now reviewing the allegations and its own oversight protocols.

Under Department of State regulations, agencies must «ensure that the host family has a good reputation and character by securing two personal references for each host family from the school or community, attesting to the host family’s good reputation and character» and verify that members of the host family have undergone a criminal background check.

Parents question whether this was done.

Other foreign exchange placement agencies say they follow the rules.

Before placements are made through the ASSE International Student Exchange Programs, a criminal background check and a home visit are done, and three references are contacted.

Representatives have to answer, «Would they allow their own family member to live with this family?» according to Sue Nelson, the company’s coordinator for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. «We try to be very thorough,» she said.

Tunkhannnock resident Nick Aiello, regional manager of Horizons Du Monde student exchange agency, said local coordinators work through schools and churches to find families interested in hosting students.

A telephone interview is first conducted, and a home visit is mandatory, Mr. Aiello said. The current neglect investigation will have a negative impact on students wanting to come to this region, he said.

«Reputations are on the line; families are concerned,» he said.

Shattered dreams

Ms. Lago made repeated complaints to Aspect about the living conditions her son was enduring. He wanted to go home. The complaints were never answered.

«We felt helpless, frustrated and very angry that our son’s dream year was shattered and broken,» she wrote in her e-mail.

After learning of his situation, another family took the boy in earlier this year. Though his time recently in the U.S. has been what he originally expected, Ms. Lago said he was robbed of his full American experience.

Students will return to their homes in the coming weeks. Ms. Lago said she wants a full refund.

«The cultural learning, appreciation, sharing and the unconditional support that a host family could have given my son, never happened,» she wrote.

Contact the writer:  shofius@timesshamrock.com


Saksforløp

2009 Jul 16: State Department punishes exchange student company as criminal probe widens

The Times Tribune | BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL (STAFF WRITER) | Published: July 16, 2009

The organization at the center of neglect allegations concerning foreign exchange students in Scranton is poorly run and violated at least a dozen regulations, the U.S. Department of State has concluded.

In light of the alleged neglect of up to a dozen students placed in the region, the Department of State is penalizing the California-based Aspect Foundation. The department will limit the amount of student visas Aspect can receive in 2009-10 by 15 percent, leading to a potential $540,000 loss of revenue.

The penalties and additional changes in State Department policies will have national implications across the foreign exchange student industry, as more checks are created to ensure student safety.

Meanwhile, a Lackawanna County grand jury is continuing to consider whether criminal charges are warranted, and its investigation has expanded beyond just the actions of Edna Burgette, the local coordinator who placed students in Scranton homes.

Aspect Foundation is also a focus of the grand jury, which started hearing the case in May. The district attorney’s office has been obtaining documents and other records that may lead to charges against the organization, District Attorney Andy Jarbola said.

«That’s the time-consuming process,» Mr. Jarbola said.

Twelve area foreign exchange students, who paid Aspect to place them with area families, have reported arriving in Scranton and not having a host family secured, then living in filthy homes, some of which were later condemned. Students say they were shuffled from home to home, including living in one with a man who had been convicted of drug-related offenses. At least one required medical attention for lack of adequate food and drink.

One student had been so deprived of food he cried when offered pizza by county detectives, Mr. Jarbola said Wednesday.

Regulations violated

Along with the criminal probe by the county district attorney’s office, the U.S. Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation.

Depending on the outcome of the case, penalties imposed by the Department of State may become more severe, including Aspect being forbidden from bringing foreign students to the U.S.

Aspect «is a financially troubled corporation operating with a largely untrained and unsupervised field staff,» according to the Department of State. «Underlying this weak organizational structure appears to be a corporate culture that does not grasp the complexity of the current international high school exchange environment.»

In a letter sent to Aspect, the department outlined 12 regulations violated by Aspect, including «failing to ensure that a number of host families were ‘capable of providing a comfortable and nurturing home environment’ » and failing to check references or perform background checks. Aspect also was cited for bringing notoriety and disrepute to the department, as outlined by quotes from The Times-Tribune stories that were included in the letter.

In addition to the 15 percent reduction in visas for the 2009-10 school year – the largest penalty allowed without due process – Aspect has been mandated to implement a corrective action plan, which the Department of State is reviewing. The foundation’s 12-page plan calls for an «Exchange Student Bill of Rights and Responsibilities» and mandatory monthly check-ins with students.

An 800-number hot line also has been established by the department so exchange students may call the department directly to report concerns, rather than go through their local coordinators or agencies.

The Office of Inspector General is conducting an internal inspection of department protocol, and an external management audit that would allow the department greater control has been proposed.

«We need a look at our own internal processes, why we did not have oversight in place that could have caught this,» Miller Crouch, acting assistant secretary of state for the department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, said Wednesday.

‘Willing to work’

The Aspect Foundation, which has accepted the 15 percent sanction to give the organization «the opportunity to make staffing changes and to ensure our program’s integrity,» is willing to work with the department to correct any problems, Karen Walsh, a spokeswoman for Aspect, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

Aspect, which company officials say has an «excellent track record» of 25 years, «fully acknowledges that what happened in Scranton was deplorable and in complete violation of our own strict standards and those of the Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program.»

Aspect’s executive director, Vivian Fearen, was unavailable for an interview, Ms. Walsh said.

Numerous attempts to speak with Mrs. Burgette, who was fired after Aspect learned of the allegations, have been unsuccessful. A cell phone number for Mrs. Burgette has been disconnected.

Mr. Jarbola declined to say when the grand jury would conclude its investigation and possibly recommend charges.

Although the students have returned to their home countries, they are willing to come back to testify at a trial or may provide testimony via the Internet or by video, he said.

«Here these students believed they were coming to the greatest country in the world,» Mr. Jarbola added. «For them to be treated that way, it’s certainly criminal.»

Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com Timeline

  • May: Allegations surface that foreign exchange students were neglected by local host families. County grand jury convenes.
  • June: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey vows to work with the U.S. Department of State to correct flaws in foreign exchange industry.
  • Now: Grand jury probe expands to Aspect Foundation; Department of State penalizes Aspect.

Saksforløp

2009 Jul 19: Exchange student neglect happened a decade ago, host parent says

The Times Tribune | BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL (STAFF WRITER) | Published: July 19, 2009

Nine years ago, Margaret Marshall says Edna Burgette called to ask her to host a foreign exchange student for «a few days.»

Mrs. Marshall had never met Mrs. Burgette, the local coordinator for a student placement agency, who said she heard from someone that Mrs. Marshall had hosted a student before.

After Mrs. Marshall said she was not interested, Mrs. Burgette told her she was desperate, the student’s host family was painting his room, and she would only have to provide a home for «a few days.»

Mrs. Marshall says she reluctantly agreed.

After «a few days» of hosting Hans, a boy from Denmark, Mrs. Burgette was unreachable.

When Mrs. Marshall finally confronted Mrs. Burgette at her workplace several weeks later, she says Mrs. Burgette put Hans in another home – an apartment that reeked of cat urine and had a cat tending to kittens under the couch.

Mrs. Marshall has described this scenario to officials in the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office and the U.S. State Department and wants both agencies to expand their investigations beyond the alleged neglect of up to 12 students Mrs. Burgette placed in homes this school year.

The situation described by Mrs. Marshall adds to evidence that the alleged neglect of foreign exchange students in Scranton has gone on for years before the recent discovery by law enforcement officials and the federal agency entrusted to oversee exchange programs.

Mrs. Marshall also wants to know why student placement agency and Mrs. Burgette’s employer, the Aspect Foundation, never did anything about the problems.

«I feel that Aspect holds more responsibility than even Mrs. Burgette because they were clearly informed of the situation in Scranton but allowed her to continue for another nine years,» Mrs. Marshall wrote in a complaint to the State Department and district attorney.

A home for Hans

One day after Hans moved from Mrs. Marshall’s home into the second-floor apartment with several children and multiple cats, Mrs. Marshall got a call for help.

Hans, who had paid Aspect for a yearlong taste of American life, begged her to take him back.

«The placement was horrendous,» she said. «It was unfit for any human habitation.»

Mrs. Marshall and her husband welcomed Hans back into their home – one Mrs. Burgette, who was responsible for checking in with the students, knew nothing about, Mrs. Marshall said.

«She never did a background check,» Mrs. Marshall added. «She never stepped foot in my home, She didn’t meet my husband, She never knew anything about it.»

Both Mrs. Marshall and Hans’ parents contacted Aspect and provided detailed descriptions of the experience, and Aspect never responded, she said.

Aspect issued a one-sentence statement on Mrs. Marshall’s complaint: «In light of the ongoing investigation, Aspect Foundation is unable to comment on these allegations.»

Numerous attempts to speak with Mrs. Burgette, who was fired after Aspect learned of the allegations, have been unsuccessful. Mrs. Burgette was paid $400 per student she placed and received bonuses like trips and other stipends from the foundation.

Charges possible

A Lackawanna County grand jury has heard testimony from up to 12 students. Some, like Hans, reported arriving in Scranton and not having a host family secured. Students say they were shuffled from home to home, including living in one with a man who had been convicted of drug-related offenses and another home which was later condemned. At least one required medical attention for lack of adequate food and drink. The students paid more than $10,000 to Aspect for the American experience.

The Department of State is penalizing the California-based Aspect Foundation. The department will limit the number of student visas Aspect can receive in 2009-10 by 15 percent, leading to a potential $540,000 loss of revenue.

The U.S. Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation, and the State Department is scrutinizing the «overall conduct» of Aspect through the years, according to a spokeswoman.

The county grand jury is continuing to consider whether criminal charges are warranted, and the investigation has expanded beyond the actions of Mrs. Burgette to the Aspect Foundation.

District Attorney Andy Jarbola said he received the complaint from Mrs. Marshall on Friday, but refused to elaborate on his office’s response.

«We’ll act accordingly,» he said. Prior complaints

Mrs. Marshall has not been alone in reporting prior problems with Aspect.

Ten years ago, Kathie DelGuercio and her husband met foreign exchange students outside 810 Myrtle St. in Scranton. A girl from Germany invited them in and showed Mrs. DelGuercio where she slept – in a 6-foot-by-6-foot room, on a cushion from a lounge chair.

The same residence at 810 Myrtle St. was condemned in May, after a student from Nigeria, who was placed there by Mrs. Burgette, was found living with floors covered in dog feces.

When Mrs. DelGuercio saw the living conditions of the German girl a decade ago, she took her in and reported the problems to Aspect, she said in May after the most recent allegations surfaced. Mrs. DelGuercio said Aspect never responded to her complaints.

Mrs. Marshall wants more former host parents who took students from Mrs. Burgette to come forward.

«It seems to me that Aspect and Mrs. Burgette cared only about collecting significant fees from these students and after the money was in their pockets, their responsibility ended,» Mrs. Marshall said.

Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com


Saksforløp

2009 Jul 23: Exchange students say complaints were ignored by program officials

The Times Tribune | By Erin L. Nissley (Staff Writer) | Published: July 23, 2009

When Mussa Hassan, an 18-year-old from Tanzania, told Edna Burgette that he had gone without food for days and had begun seeing blood in his urine, she allegedly told him he would be OK if he just kept drinking water.

When Anna Bardoz, a 17-year-old from Norway, complained to Ms. Burgette about the pet waste covering the floors of a small apartment where she was staying, Ms. Burgette allegedly told her she deserved to be there because of the bad things she had done.

And Carlos Villarreal, an 18-year-old from Colombia, was afraid to complain that he could not wash his clothes for more than two months because he heard what Ms. Burgette had said about other foreign exchange students who complained.

«Edna would say that the students who were complaining were being so ungrateful and ridiculous,» Mr. Villarreal told a county grand jury investigating allegations of neglect of at least 12 foreign exchange students Ms. Burgette placed locally for San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation. Ms. Burgette has been charged by county prosecutors with five counts of endangering the welfare of children.

Although the five students came to Scranton from all over the world, their experiences here had a lot of similarities. All reported having inadequate food and drink, living in filthy conditions and having their complaints ignored by the one person who was supposed to help them.

As a coordinator for Aspect, it was Ms. Burgette’s job to recruit and interview families willing to host a foreign exchange student for half or a whole school year, the grand jury learned. Coordinators are paid $400 to place a student with a family and $20 per month to check in on each student monthly to «make sure everything is going well,» prosecutors said.

If students have complaints, it is the coordinator’s job to resolve them, according to testimony from Aspect Foundation employee Judy Long.

Coordinators are supposed to screen host families before placing students with them. The screening includes a face-to-face interview, criminal background checks for anyone over 18 in the home and verification of at least two personal and one professional reference, Ms. Long told the grand jury.

Prosecutors said Ms. Burgette did not follow procedures in finding host families and did not check in with students as she was supposed to. Four of the five students ended up living with members of Ms. Burgette’s family, and several students told the grand jury that ex-convicts and drug dealers lived in the houses and apartments with them.

Attempts by The Times-Tribune to reach Ms. Burgette over the past few weeks have been unsuccessful. Her attorney, Christopher J. Osborne, declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.

Contact the writer:  enissley@timesshamrock.com


Saksforløp

2009 Oct 23: Changes recommended for foreign-exchange programs after Scranton scandal

The Times Tribune | BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL (STAFF WRITER) | Published: October 23, 2009
Edna Burgette 1Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2009:07:22 16:15:52
Edna Burgette

Click here to read the report (pdf)

Insufficient oversight and resources plague the department responsible for overseeing foreign-exchange student programs nationwide, a report released Thursday found.

The probe by the U.S. Office of Inspector General was initiated after up to 12 students alleged they were neglected after being placed in Scranton-area homes during the 2008-09 school year. The case exposed the national lack of oversight and significant lapses in background checks for hosts of the 30,000 international students who come to the U.S. each year.

In the Scranton case, local coordinator Edna Burgette allegedly placed students in homes without completing background checks and shuffled some students from home to home.

The students told investigators they lived in filthy homes, some of which were later condemned. Several said they were living with an ex-convict, and at least one student required medical attention for lack of adequate nutrition. All said Ms. Burgette, now the former area coordinator for San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation, ignored their complaints, even though she was paid by Aspect to place the students and check up on them.

Last summer, Ms. Burgette was charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of children. She was fired when Aspect learned of the allegations.

The Department of State has penalized Aspect. The department is limiting the number of student visas Aspect can receive in 2009-10 by 15 percent, leading to a potential $540,000 loss of revenue.

The inspector’s report, while it did not mention the Scranton case, made several recommendations that could have made a difference in Northeast Pennsylvania.

According to the report, individuals within the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, responsible for overseeing exchanges, have not been directly monitoring students and instead were relying on the private educational associations, such as Aspect, to oversee students.

«There is an inherent danger in ascribing major responsibilities without clear guidance and support,» the report stated.

Aspect relied on Ms. Burgette to report problems and to make sure students were safe, and she did neither, Aspect officials have previously stated.

The report recommends the department be given adequate resources to conduct periodic unannounced site visits, and to establish a database to record student complaints and incidents so it is easier track problems.

The report also calls for national criminal history background checks to be given to potential host families.

Background checks vary significantly across the country, from not being done at all or relying on references from family and neighbors, to comprehensive checks, said Danielle Grijalva, director of the California-based Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students.

«You’ve got to do it right the first time,» she said.

While Ms. Grijalva had some reservations about the report, she said if taken seriously it could make a difference in the overall quality and safety of foreign-exchange programs.

«The problems will only repeat themselves if we do not get serious and make changes,» she said.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has called for an overhaul in exchange program oversight, said incidents in Scranton «were allowed to happen, in part, because of a lack of clear regulations that allowed sponsor organizations to interpret the rules in a manner that ultimately endangered these students.»

The «real measure of progress will be what specific steps are taken to prevent this problem from happening again.»

Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com


Related stories

State Department statement

2009: Foreign-exchange coordinator arrested

The Times Tribune | By Joe McDonald, (staff writer) | Published: July 24, 2009

A Scranton woman who allegedly placed foreign-exchange students in area homes so deplorable that prosecutors called it a crime was arrested Thursday after turning herself in to authorities.

Edna Mary Burgette, 69, of 810 Myrtle St., was charged with five counts of endangering the welfare of children after she showed up at the Lackawanna County district attorney’s office. Detectives had been searching for her since Wednesday but were unable to find her, District Attorney Andy Jarbola said.

«We knew where she was staying,» Mr. Jarbola said. «She wasn’t on the run.»

Ms. Burgette was released on $25,000 unsecured bail at her arraignment before Magisterial District Judge Sean P. McGraw in Carbondale. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Her arrest does not mean investigators have ended their inquiry into the foreign-exchange student scandal centered in Scranton, Mr. Jarbola said.

«The investigation is continuing,» he said. «It’s continuing before the grand jury.»

The grand jury is scheduled to reconvene next week, he said. Last week, Mr. Jarbola said his office was securing records and other information from Aspect Foundation, the agency by which Ms. Burgette was employed.

The charges against Ms. Burgette revolve around five foreign-exchange students who were placed in area homes between August and May by Ms. Burgette, the former area coordinator for San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation. She was fired after the organization learned of the allegations.

The students told investigators they lived in filthy homes, some of which were later condemned. Several said they were living with ex-convicts and drug dealers. At least one student required medical attention for lack of adequate food and drink. All said Ms. Burgette ignored their complaints, even though she was paid by Aspect to place and check up on the students.

According to court papers, a girl from Norway said she was placed in a home filled with dog feces and cat urine on Dickson Avenue, and a boy from Colombia said he was exposed to similar unsanitary conditions at 935 Madison Ave., where he lived with people who had been released from prison and liked to smoke marijuana.

A student from Nigeria who stayed at Jermyn Apartments and at 935 Madison Ave. also said her living conditions included animal feces and life with ex-convicts, as well as very little food.

Two other students, one from Tanzania who lived at a home on Quincy Avenue, the other from Vietnam who also lived on Quincy Avenue, said they were not given enough food.

Contact the writer: jmcdonald@timesshamrock.com


Saksforløp

Vanlige problemer: Bytte familie, kaos, lite mat, ingen hjelp, rettssak

Publisert 16.07.09 – 10:05, endret 16.07.09 – 21:39 (VG NETT) Av Samaria Iqbal

(VG Nett) Den norske jenta Anne og andre utvekslingselever i  Scranton i Pennsylvania, bodde i utrygge hjem, ble neglisjert og var underernærte.

Carlos Villareal (midten) en av utvekslingsstudentene landet i sitt hjemland Colombia søndag. Her poserer han med sine foreldre, lykkelig over å være tilbake. Foto: AP
Carlos Villareal (midten) en av utvekslingsstudentene landet i sitt hjemland Colombia søndag. Her poserer han med sine foreldre, lykkelig over å være tilbake. Foto: AP

Utvekslingselevene som dro til Scranton i deltstaten Pennsylvania skulle få oppleve gledene ved den amerikanske kulturen, samt få  mulighetene til å studere på high school.

I stedet ble oppholdet et mareritt med forsømmelse, underernæring  og manglende oppfølging fra vertsfamiliene, melder CNN. Studentene er nå alle tilbake i sine opprinnelsesland, hvor de forteller venner og bekjente om sine opplevelser.

Den norske jenta Anne, som ikke vil oppgi sitt etternavn, prøvde  forgjeves å kontakte amerikanske myndigheter for å fortelle at de levde under kritikkverdige forhold. Hun fikk ingen respons fra  myndighetene, og henvendte seg deretter til organisasjonen som var ansvarlig for utvekslingselevene.

Ungdommene skal ha blitt neglisjert av sine vertsfamilier, og skal ha vært underernærte. Underernæringen skal ha ført til at flere  studenter skal ha havnet på sykehus.

I tillegg skal den ene studenten ha levd under samme tak som en narkotikadømt kriminell. En annen stundent besvimte under en gymtime på skolen grunnet underernæringen.

Sendte bilder av huset
Anne sendte også bilder av innsiden av huset som hun bodde i. Rektoren på skolen til Anne lot henne bo hos ham for resten av skoleperioden. De andre studentene var ikke like heldige som henne. De bodde nesten i ett helt år i utrygge hjem. Det lokale  barnevernet fikk tips om saken en måned før skoleslutt.

Statsadvokat Andrew Jarbola, sier til CNN at han ser meget  alvorlig på saken.

  • Ungdommene fikk ikke ordentlig mat, hygiene og den slags ting. Jeg vet også at en av ungdommene ble plassert i huset til en dømt  kriminell. Han har blitt dømt for salg av narkotika og andre  narkotikaforbrytelser. Dette er meget alvorlig, sier Jarbola.

Nekter for skyld
Vertsfamiliene benekter at de har gjort noe galt, men beretningene  til studentene forteller en litt annen historie.

  • De fikk ikke mat. En av studentene hadde opplevd at en vertsfamilie hadde teip på maten i kjøleskapet med påskriften – Ikke rør, dette er bare for vertsfamilien. De ble jo neglisjert, sier statsadvokat Jarbola.

Myndighetene krever handling
Amerikanske myndigheter krever nå at det gjøres noe overfor de ansvarlige.

  • Dette er et utvekslingsprogram som er veldig viktig for oss. Vi snakker om 15-18 år gamle ungdommer som blir introdusert for USA. Vi erkjenner at i dette tilfellet og i andre tilfeller rundt om i landet, har vi feilet i å oppnå våre mål, sier en talsmann for det amerikanske innenriksdepartementet til CNN.

Det er den San Francisco- baserte organisasjonen Aspect som sponset alle de 12 studentene i Scranton. De mottok i 2008 en million dollar i offentlig støtte.

Organisasjonen er nå under etterforskning.


Saksforløp

2010: US Department of State uttalelse om saken i Scranton, Pennsylvania

U.S. Department of State

The health, safety and welfare of the 30,000 high school students who participate each year in high school exchange programs, regulated by the Department of State, are among the Department’s highest priorities. These exchanges are important opportunities for young people from other countries to learn about and experience the United States, and we do our utmost to make them positive and rewarding experiences.

We are deeply troubled by any reports of incidents or allegations. They are investigated completely and transparently by the appropriate officials.

There are regulations in place to govern these programs. They can be found at http://exchanges.state.gov/jexchanges, under resources 22 CFR 62.25. The Department expects all private sector sponsors to adhere to these regulations, especially ensuring that participants are safely situated and host families are properly vetted.

When we learn about a specific situation, we immediately contact the sponsoring organization involved and ask them to investigate. We gather full information, and act swiftly and appropriately.

The sponsor must provide a report to the Department on the situation along with copies of documentation available to them on the participant’s program, including copies of the student application, the host family application form, local coordinator notes, and copies of the criminal background check. The Department then determines whether all regulatory requirements have been followed, including whether an incident was reported to local law enforcement.

  • The Department has completed its review of two recent cases – one in Scranton, PA and one in Fort Lewis, WA – and has determined that regulatory violations took place and is taking appropriate action to hold the private sector sponsoring organization accountable.

MEDIADEKNING SAKEN


POLITICAL PRESSURE


USA: DofS Regulations: Selection of Host Families

USA: DofS Regulations: Program sponsor eligibility

USA: DofS Regulations: Exchange Student Obligations and Rights

2009 jul 16: «Exchange students live American nightmare»

/US
Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston | CNN | 16. juli 2009:
SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (CNN) — They came from around the world hoping to spend a high school year immersed in the culture and joys of America.

Exchange student Carlos Villareal of Colombia says he was underfed and kept in "an unsafe environment."
Exchange student Carlos Villareal of Colombia says he was underfed and kept in «an unsafe environment.» Source: CNN

Instead, five young foreign exchange students found themselves caught in a nightmare of neglect, malnourishment and abandonment by those supposed to protect them.

Now those five — natives of countries stretching from Norway to Tanzania to Colombia — are back home telling friends of a different America than they expected. And their brief visit reverberates in America as a United States senator demands accountability and reform, a Pennsylvania district attorney seeks criminal charges and the U.S. State Department concedes it failed to protect kids coming to America.

«We at the Department of State recognize [because we] are responsible for this program we have to make sure we are aggressively overseeing this program and make sure children are well-suited,» said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

«This is a program that is very important to the Department of State,» Crowley said. «We are talking 15- to 18-year-old children. We are introducing them to the United States. We are trying to put our best foot forward. We recognize in this incident in Scranton and also elsewhere around the country we have failed to do so.»

What happened in Scranton, according to Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, District Attorney Andrew Jarbola, is a crime. He has convened a grand jury to look into the families where some of the 12 students who came to Scranton were placed, as well as the company who placed them there and its officials.

«Well, in my opinion they were treated kind of crudely,» Jarbola said. «Not provided the proper food, hygiene and things of that nature. And the areas they were placed? I know one of the students was placed in a home with a convicted felon — convicted of drug trafficking or drug offenses — and that is very disturbing to me.»

Jarbola said some students were so malnourished that one was treated in a hospital for dehydration while another passed out during track at school.

«They weren’t provided with food,» Jarbola said. «In fact there is one incident with tape on food items in the refrigerator of the host family that says, ‘Do not touch. This is for the host family only.’ So basically they were neglected.»

The company that placed the students first denied any problems existed, then said it had corrected them and fired those responsible. The families who housed the students say the allegations are untrue. But the students themselves tell a different story.

‘It was nothing like I had envisioned’

The San Francisco-based Aspect Foundation sponsored all 12 of the Scranton students, some of whom were on State Department grants. On its Web site, the Aspect Foundation says it began in 1985 as «a small non-profit organization offering affordable study-abroad opportunities to students from around the world,» and now «students live with volunteer host families in more than 350 communities throughout the United States.»

In 2008, the State Department gave 17 placement groups $39.4 million in taxpayer funds to manage programs involving exchange students. Aspect received $1.08 million of those funds.

Carlos Villarreal’s family, however, paid their son’s way to America from Colombia, giving Aspect $13,000 for him to study here. Villarreal said he lived with a family that housed ex-convicts and that he had very little to eat. He said his mother’s repeated contacts with Aspect about his situation were ignored.

«I lost a lot of body weight, and [it was] an unsafe environment which I felt uncomfortable living in, and it was nothing like I had envisioned my experience in America,» he said.

The Rev. Elmer Smith told CNN he took in Villarreal as a favor to Aspect’s local coordinator, Edna Burgette, and denied he failed to feed him.

«The boy had no place to go, so I took him in and I fed him,» Smith said. «He had a television in his room, he had heat in his room, he had air-conditioning in his room.»

Another woman who hosted students said she was sitting on her porch when Burgette walked by and asked her if she would take in a child. Like Smith, the woman said that she was just trying to help a student whom she was told had nowhere else to go.

Jarbola said a girl from Norway, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Anne, tried to alert officials that she and some of the students were in dire straits.

Anne told CNN she had school officials send an e-mail to Aspect in October explaining how bad things were and including photographs of the inside of the home where she was placed. The home was later condemned by the city.

Anne’s high school principal took her in, but other students weren’t as lucky and spent nearly the entire school year in unsafe homes, until Children and Youth Services was tipped off about a month before school ended, Jarbola said.

Jarbola, who said Anne’s e-mail is now evidence in the criminal investigation, told CNN that when welfare officials interviewed the students, one was so hungry he wept when they gave him pizza during questioning. In all, five of the students were removed from homes where they’d been placed by Aspect.

Sponsoring agencies asked to police themselves

U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pennsylvania, said the situation sickened him.

«I’m the father of four daughters,» he said. «I would never want my daughter nor would any parent want their daughter or son exposed to these kinds of conditions anywhere, but especially when you’re in a foreign country. And in this case the United States was this foreign country.»

Aspect gave conflicting responses to CNN.

Vivian Fearen, its executive director, did not return calls seeking comment. Her Pennsylvania public relations firm issued a statement blaming the Scranton problem on Burgette, who was fired once the allegations surfaced in the Scranton media.

Burgette also did not respond to repeated attempts by CNN for comment.

Later, however, Aspect issued a statement through the public relations firm.

«Based on their own investigation and verification from county children and youth officials, Aspect Foundation was led to believe that none of their students in northeastern Pennsylvania was abused, malnourished or dehydrated,» said Karen Walsh, public affairs director for the Neiman Group.

But the statement also said Aspect «fully acknowledges that what happened in Scranton, Pennsylvania, was deplorable and in complete violation of their own strict standards and those of the Department of State’s Exchange Visitor Program.»

«Aspect Foundation has corrected the problems; terminated or accepted the resignations of those who were responsible for them; and established new policies and procedures to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,» Walsh said.

Walsh said the Lackawanna County Children and Youth Services agency reported no Aspect students in Scranton required medical attention and only three were relocated. In addition to Burgette’s firing, Walsh said, two other supervisors resigned.

But the district attorney and other officials in Lackawanna County dispute Aspect’s contention. Jarbola said two received medical attention. All told, according to Jarbola, five were relocated, and those cases are being reviewed by the grand jury.

But Casey’s staff pointed out that Aspect employed Burgette for 10 years, making it difficult to portray her simply as a rogue employee.

Casey said Aspect knew in October the students were in trouble and chose to ignore it. But he saved most of his anger for the State Department, which allows groups like Aspect to police themselves.

«It’s about time that the State Department complete its investigation — even as the grand jury is working — complete the investigation, level tough sanctions and make improvements to this program in terms of oversight,» Casey said.

In its initial statement to CNN, the State Department said when it hears of allegations, «we immediately contact the sponsoring organization involved and ask them to investigate. We gather full information and act swiftly and appropriately.»

That’s the problem, argue critics, who say the department has had a hands-off policy for years when it comes to foreign exchange group sponsors. When complaints are made against the sponsor, they are asked to investigate themselves.

Arkansas legislator Sue Madison said she had a law passed in her state to protect students after it was discovered some of them were forced to do manual labor, live in unfit conditions and even forced to hand over their money to host families.

«You make a complaint to the State Department and you basically never hear from them again,» Madison said, explaining why she decided her state needed a law to do its own enforcement.

Watchdog groups struggle to get State Department’s attention

Danielle Grijalva, director of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, said she once worked in the industry. The agencies, which she calls unregulated travel agents, can make millions of dollars enticing rich foreigners and lobbying for State Department grants to lure scholarship-eligible students here for a year of study.

Her group now monitors complaints. The situation in Scranton, she said, is not isolated — nor is the State Department’s initial response to the crisis. She fields calls from parents and students alike who complain they have nowhere else to turn.

«It’s self-regulated, unmonitored, under-reported,» Grijalva said. «Students being raped, placed in the homes of convicted felons, placed in the homes of registered sex offenders, come to the United States and lose 20, 30, 40 pounds.»

Grijalva shared e-mails with CNN which she said came from parents and students and host families — even correspondence with the State Department managers who oversee the program.

The State Department «will not accept as a complaint any matter that is not presented to us by an involved party to the exchange agency,» she was told in a 2006 e-mail by Stanley Colvin, a deputy assistant secretary for private-sector exchange.

Complaints forwarded by watchdog groups like hers, she said, are not considered by the State Department as worthy of investigation.

The State Department turned down CNN’s request to talk to Colvin or other managers directly involved in managing the exchange programs.

«When we bring this to the attention of the State Department, once again, it’s a business issue, they can’t get involved and they continue to look the other way,» Grijalva said.

Crowley said the department is not looking the other way now. He said the Scranton situation showed the department «tended to inspect by exception. Only when we were aware of dire circumstances did we send an investigator out.»

Crowley said the department asked the inspector general’s office to investigate Aspect but also plans to inspect its own management controls. He said that given the number of students, the department will still have to depend on sponsoring agencies to monitor the students they bring over. But he said the State Department can and will do more.

«We do recognize that the oversight of this program at the State Department was not strong enough, not aggressive enough,» Crowley said.

«We were not out there in the community looking hard at where our children were. We have already taken steps to put more eyes on these homes around the country so that in the future not only will we be putting the appropriate emphasis on the agents that are responsible first and foremost for oversight we’ll be looking over their shoulders as well.

«That did not happen certainly in the case of Scranton,» he said.

Crowley also released a June 12 report on Aspect written by Colvin. In it, Colvin said the department has warned the industry for the past three years that it was becoming harder to find suitable host families. It said the department specifically told Aspect that an audit found the group only complying with host family screening requirements 67.7 percent of the time. It’s unclear from the report why the State Department did not stop awarding Aspect grants at that point.

After finding a number of violations in Scranton, Colvin said the state would sanction Aspect by reducing the number of students it can bring over by 15 percent. Based on the fees it charges, the penalty, Colvin wrote, will result in a revenue loss of $540,000.

However, there is no mention in the report whether Aspect will have to return any of the $1 million of taxpayer-funded grants it received for the 2008-2009 school year. The State Department did not respond to repeated requests for clarification.

Despite conditions, Tanzanian student says ‘thank you’

Meanwhile, Tanzanian student Musa Mpulki has since returned home. Before he left, he told CNN he did not want to upset his mother, so he never told her that he had little to eat during his nine-month stay in the home of a 72-year-old man who had signs on his refrigerator that some food was only for family.

Although his housing situation was a nightmare, Mpulki said the students at the school made him appreciate America, and he said he appreciated the State Department grant that brought him to the United States.

«I guess I like to say, ‘Thank you very much the government of the United States for to bring me here to get a good experience at the school and a good education.’ »


Saksforløp

Problemer: Bytte familie, trusler, ingen hjelp, rettssak

Emma Tollersrud / Publ. 21. juli 2009

Kjenner du noen som har negative erfaringer med utvekslingsopphold i utlandet? Send en e-post til 2286@aftenposten.no1 eller ring Aftenposten.no på 02286. Du kan også sende SMS/MMS til 2286.

Da Anne Bardoz (17) fra Tønsberg dro på utveksling, ble hun lovet en trygg vertsfamilie med god råd og ordnede forhold. I stedet ble hun møtt av den virkelige skyggesiden av det amerikanske samfunnet. Nå advarer hun andre studenter.

Anne fikk ingen varm velkomst da hun ankom Scranton, Pennsylvania i august i fjor. Vertsfamilien hun først ble plassert hos, hadde hverken tid eller råd til å ha en student fra utlandet boende hos seg. Anne fikk ikke den økonomiske støtten hun hadde rett på.

– Jeg måtte kjøpe all maten min selv, og brukte omtrent alle pengene mine på det. Jeg følte meg ikke velkommen der i det hele tatt, sier Anne.

Uutholdelige forhold

Etter to måneder hadde samarbeidsproblemene blitt så store at hun måtte bytte vertsfamilie. Anne reiste gjennom Speak Education, som samarbeider med Aspect Foundation i USA. De hadde store problemer med å finne en ny familie, og til slutt endte hun opp hos en tidligere kollega av den ansvarlige Aspect-representanten.

Når de må bruke sine egne for å løse situasjonen, sier det noe om hvor desperate de er, og hvor tvilsom denne virksomheten er, sier Anne.

I det nye hjemmet ble Anne møtt av det verste synet hun noen gang hadde sett. Gulvet var dekket av hundeavføring, luften var tett av tobakksrøyk og stanken var enorm. Hygienen var så dårlig, at huset kort tid etter ble erklært ulovlig å bo i, av politiet.

– Vertsfamilien eide tre hunder og to katter, som aldri ble sluppet ut av huset. De gjorde fra seg overalt, til og med på klærne og i sengen min. Det ble aldri rengjort, sier Anne til Aftenposten.

Utbredt problem

Kombinasjonen av minimale mengder søvn og liten tilgang på ordentlig mat ble situasjonen uutholdelig. Anne forteller at det var en stor belastning.

  • Som utvekslingsstudent var jeg alene i en helt ny og ukjent situasjon, langt borte fra mennesker jeg kjente og stolte på. Hjemmet ble alt annet enn den trygge rammen det skulle være, sier hun.

«Jeg fikk nesten ikke gå ut av huset, og etter hvert fikk jeg ikke bruke PC. Det var også sterkt begrenset hvor mye jeg kunne ringe hjem»Anne Bardoz (17)

I amerikanske medier har det den siste tiden kommet frem flere lignende saker som viser at Anne ikke er alene. Bare i Scranton har flere av studentene rapportert om usle boforhold, med underernæring, trange og skitne leiligheter og utrygge forhold, ifølge CNN2. Det har blitt rettet sterk kritikk mot mangelfull kontroll og omsorgssvikt.

Annes klassekamerat Carlos Villareal kom fra Colombia til svært dårlige forhold i et amerikansk hjem i Scranton.

Se CNNs intervju med Carlos her:3

Tvilsom industri

Situasjonen har sjokkert de amerikanske kontrollorganene, som nå har satt i gang en omfattende granskning. I et brev til utenriksminister Hillary Clinton krever senator Bob Casey nye reformer4 og en grundig etterforskning av forholdene i Pennsylvania.

Kritikere mener det er snakk om en ytterst tvilsom og pengegrisk industri, som har ført til mange tilfeller av vanstell og psykisk, fysisk og seksuelt misbruk, skriver AP. Studenter har også blitt plassert hos tidligere domfelte og de har blitt frastjålet store beløp.

Det er Aspect Foundation som har ansvaret for utvekslingsstudentene i Scranton, og totalt tar de imot over 1000 studenter hvert år. Ifølge AP har organisasjonen beklaget forholdene på det sterkeste, og sagt at de alt i alt har et godt rykte på seg.

Tre uker

Anne Bardoz har derimot ikke ett godt ord å si om organisasjonene Speak og Aspect. Straks hun hadde flyttet inn i det nye hjemmet, forsto hun at hun måtte ut derfra så fort som mulig. Men da hun kontaktet organisasjonene for å få byttet vertsfamilie, var det ingen hjelp å få. De hadde ingen andre familier tilgjengelig.

  • Jeg prøvde flere ganger, og henvendte meg til mange forskjellige mennesker langt oppover i systemet. Det eneste de sa var at jeg måtte vente, sier Anne.

I tre uker måtte hun vente. Hun visste ikke hvem andre hun kunne kontakte, og det var heller ikke mye foreldrene fikk gjort. Dermed måtte hun lete helt på egenhånd.

– De eneste jeg kunne snakke med var de som selv hadde plassert meg der, vel vitende om forholdene der, sier Anne.

Hun oppfordrer andre utvekslingsstudenter til å orientere seg om hvilke rettigheter man har og hvem man kan kontakte utenom organisasjon. Utvekslingsstudenter har krav på både advokathjelp og hjelp fra skolen, dersom det oppstår problemer.

Husarrest

Utvekslingsstudenter i USA har strenge regler å forholde seg til. Det gjelder både skole, fritid, innetider, økonomi og samarbeid med vertsfamilien.

Fordi den første vertsfamilien mente at Anne hadde brutt disse reglene, var hun i en såkalt «Probation-periode», en form for husarrest. Det ble tre ekstremt lange uker i det skitne huset.

– Jeg fikk nesten ikke gå ut av huset, og etter hvert fikk jeg ikke bruke PC. Det var også sterkt begrenset hvor mye jeg kunne ringe hjem, sier Anne, som karakteriserer reglene for utvekslingsstudenter og Probation-ordningen som manipulerende og potensielt skadelig.

Etter hvert ble Anne så fortvilet at hun var nær ved å gi opp. Hun orket ikke mer, og ville hjem til Norge. Alt hun ønsket var å booke nærmeste fly hjem til Norge.

  • Jeg var to minutter fra å reise hjem, som eneste utvei. Men så til slutt kontaktet jeg rektoren på skolen. Jeg måtte ordne absolutt alt selv, sier Anne.

Først da løste situasjonen seg. Rektoren fikk høre om de fryktelige forholdene og lot straks Anne bo hos seg, resten av året.

Tar inn for mange

Etter både terrorangrep og finanskrise har stadig færre amerikanere sagt seg villige til å ta i mot utenlandske studenter, og det har vært svært vanskelig for organisasjonene å finne gode hjem. Myndighetene i Pennsylvania advarte mot mangelen i 2006.

Samtidig har de et klart ansvar for å skaffe gode, kvalifiserte vertsfamilier. På Speaks egne hjemmesider står det at vertene må fylle ut detaljerte søknader og gjennomføre personlige intervjuer. Og først når familiemedlemmenes bakgrunn, hjemmets standard, studentens rom osv er godkjent, kan studenten flytte inn.

Danielle Grijalva, leder for Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, sier til AP at utvekslingsorganisasjonene tar imot flere enn de kan håndtere. Det til tross for at føderale myndigheter har satt en grense for hvor mange som kan tas inn.

Anne Bardoz mener mange tar imot studenter fordi de blir lovet økonomiske gevinster fra organisasjonene.

Vil ha tilbake pengene

Anne betalte 70.000 kroner i studieavgift for å få delta i utvekslingsprogrammet til Speak. Hun kan ikke forstå hva de pengene har gått til.

– Det eneste som var i orden var flybilletten. Og den koster ikke 70.000 kroner. Speak Education ga meg ikke det de hadde lovet, og da mener jeg at jeg bør få pengene tilbake, sier hun.

Aftenposten.no har i flere dager forsøkt å få tak i Speak Norge, men uten å lykkes.


2009 May 31: The Times Tribune: Local neglect allegations open door to a world  where students are shuffled from home to home
2009 Jul 16: CNN: Exchange students live American nightmare
2009 Jul 16: VG Nett: Norske Anne opplevde utvekslingsmareritt i USA
2009 Jul 16: The Times Tribune: State Department punishes exchange student company as criminal probe widens
2009 Jul 19: The Times Tribune: Exchange student neglect happened a decade ago, host parent says
2009 Jul 21: Aftenposten: Jeg var to minutter fra å reise hjem
2009 Jul 23: The Times Tribune: Exchange students say complaints were ignored by program officials
2009 Jul 24: The Times Tribune: Foreign-exchange coordinator arrested/Scranton, Pennsylvania
2009 Oct 01: The Times Tribune: Casey calls for improved foreign exchange student rules
2009 Oct 16: US Department of State: Management Review of Youth Programs Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs: Report Number ISP-I-10-16, October 2009
2009 Oct 23: The Times Tribune: Changes recommended for foreign-exchange programs after Scranton scandal
2010: CSFES Press Release: U.S. Department of State is proposing to amend regulations for hosting exchange students

US Department of state uttalelse om Scranton saken

Vanlige problemer: Bytte familie, spionert på, mye kjeft

C.B. skriver:

Kom til en familie som bare lot meg gå utendørs en gang i uka. De tok mobil og pc som jeg bare fikk lov til å bruke en time i uka.

Gikk gjennom alle tingene mine opp til flere ganger. Spionerte  på meg i bil når jeg var ute med venner. Kjeftet og styrte  hver  eneste dag.

Jeg prøvde så hardt jeg kunne for å gjøre dem fornøyde, men funket ikke.

Ringte koordinatoren min som kalte meg en bortskjemt drittunge, fant senere ut at hun var utro mot mannen sin på  samme  tidspunkt  med pastoren i den lokale kirka. hun har to barn.

Endte opp med å måtte finne familie på egenhånd og det er ikke den letteste oppgaven. Nyttesløst system der borte. De i Norge er heller ikke utenforstående og er like dårlige på jobben sin som de i usa. Jeg reiste derimot ikke med EF da. Aspect det gjaldt her.

Vanlige problemer: Bytte familie, manipulerende, beskyldninger

n.a skriver:

Det er ikke bare EF, jeg reiste med Aspect og opplevde mye problemer med både områdekoordinator og regionskoordinator. Regionskoordinatoren var til og med verstingen av dem.

Jeg opplevde langt fra det de ungdommene her opplevde (og det mange rundt meg opplevde), og jeg endte opp hos en veldig fin familie til slutt.

Prosessen dit, derimot, var ikke lett. Jeg opplevde å bli beskyldt for ting som jeg ikke hadde gjort, skjeftet på av en koordinator som aldri hadde snakket med meg før, og rett og slett å bli blandet opp i en krig mellom koordinatorer og vertsfamilier.

Som en mindreårig 16-åring er dette svært vanskelig. Nå var jeg også  på besøk i 2007/2008 – året det var stor økonomisk krise i USA. Dette merket man svært godt. Jeg tror dette også er en grunn til at mange havnet i vanskeligstilte familier.

Siden familier som regel ikke får betalt for å ha utvekslingsstudenter i USA så er dette av frivillig initiativ. Dog dette gjorde det nok  veldig  vanskelig for mange familier å ha en student og gi dem det som er forventet av dem. I tillegg ble den økonomiske situasjonen forverret  utover året, og derfor var det sikkert mange familier som før hadde  vært økonomiske stabile som ikke lenger kunne tilby det de hadde lovet når de meldte seg som vertsforeldre.

Når det er sagt, så er nok Aspect ut i fra det jeg har hørt, på langt nær bedre til å følge opp studentene sine enn EF. Når  jeg  fikk  problemer, ble moren min informert om det under 24 timer etter at det ble rapportert. Hadde det ikke vært for støtte hjemmefra hadde  jeg nok hatt det mye vanskeligere.

Problemer: Bytte familie, selvmord, kastet ut, ingen hjelp

T.H. skriver:

Ser EF får mye pepper her, men må bare si at jeg reiste med SPEAK  en datterorganisasjon av ASF og de var ikke mye bedre! Det startet  med at hun som jeg skulle bo hos aldrig dukket opp på flyplassen. Så  da bodde jeg hos forskjellige vertsfamilier og koordinatorer. Ett  sted måtte jeg til og med sove på gulvet. Til slutt måtte jeg bo med en annen utvekslingsstudent hos et eldre ektepar. Dette ekteparet var mildt sagt IKKE egnet for å ta imot utvekslingsstudenter. Vertsfaren  min manipulerte og løy, han var alkoholmissbruker og tok livet sitt.

Den andre utvekslingsstudenten i familien ble flyttet fordi de fryktet for sikkerheten hans, mens de lot meg være igjen der alene. Hadde  jeg ikke hatt så mange gode venner  hvet  jeg  ikke  hva  jeg  skulle gjort.

Og organisasjonen visste aldrig hvor jeg var, heller ikke da vertsmoren min kastet meg ut på dagen… De nektet meg også  å  dra til min egen familie i USA da jeg var hjemløs i jula. Bodde hos litt forskjellige venner til jeg fant en fantastisk familie som jeg  bodd e hos resten av tiden.<

Men ASF i San Fransisco ringte faktisk å kjeftet på meg fordi  jeg  hadde uroliget mammaen min med å fortelle sannheten. Ja, hva  skulle det være godt for.Jeg trodde nesten ikke det jeg hørte, og fortalte de det at noen måtte jo få vite hvor jeg var, og det ville jo mamma gjerne vite.Møtte eller snakket aldrig med min koordinator, møtte mange andre koordinatorer men hørte aldri fra min egen. SPEAK var jo absolutt mest redd for sitt rykte og da de fant ut at min pappa jobbet i dagbladet var de raskt ute med å  betale  tilbak  pengene.Jeg fullførte året mitt, og de siste månedene var helt  fantastiske! Men det må skje noe med systemet for at det skal  bli trygt å dra alene som 17 åring på utveksling!