Stikkordarkiv: #Backgroundchecks

Problemer: Bytte familie, psykiske problemer, skittent, søksmål

Translation of: 2011/2012 STS KOKEMUS (CANADA)
The Helsinki District Court sentenced STS Kielimatkat to refund €6.505 (US$7.105) to Finnish Salla Rautiola due to unfair dismissal and numerous other breaches of contract in their exchange student program.
Sallas case has been mentioned and partly presented in MOT documentary, «Vaihto-oppilas heitteillä«, «Exchange student neglect exposed». Let Salla’s exchange experience be a warning about what an exchange student year can be like in reality.

16-year old Salla Rautiola signed a contract in January 2011 with STS Kielimatkat for an exchange student year in the French-speaking part of Canada.
STS promises a carefully screened host-family, school placement and local representative and support persons in the exchange-country. They also promise to take into account the health information given in the application form when choosing the host family. Salla had reported that she is allergic to dogs, cats and pollen.

STS provided the host family information in July 2011, one month before the departure date, but withheld the information they had received the day before from STS CANADA that STS could not fulfill the French-speaking program. Instead, Salla would have to be placed with an English-speaking family.

IN CANADA:

As a host family, STS had chosen a 62-year old single Jamaican immigrant who for the most part socialized with her own relatives and culture and who spoke only Jamaican creole. The Canadian life-style or traditions were not present in any way in her filthy and moldy house. In the Helsinki District Court, as STS witness, a former male exchange student, who had lived in the same house a couple of years earlier, told the court that the host mother never cleaned. He witnessed that it was his and another exchange student’s responsibility to clean the house. At that time there was still a vacuum cleaner in the house. During Sallas stay there was no vacuum cleaner in a house with wall-to-wall carpet. This witness also told the court how the basement was used as a living room where they watched TV and used the computer. STS Finland country manager, Mira Silvonen, continued insisting that the condition of the home was suitable for an allergic person and gave up to seven different explanations (move, cellar, store etc.) for the pictures Salla had taken of the house. The shocked child protection officials in Finland stated that they would not even temporarily place a minor in conditions like that. Responsible for this host family’s approval as a host family for an allergic minor for ten months was area representative Sandra Hanniman/STS Foundation Canada.

Within two months, Salla started to get allergic reactions from all the dust and mold (picture). She could not go to school, but the host mother did not let the school know about Salla’s absence as required, something STS later blamed Salla for and issued her a warning about. Because of her strong allergic symptoms, Salla asked both the host mother and the area representative, Sandra Hanniman, to take her to see a doctor, but the host mother stated that: «The doctors don’t know anything» and the area representative said: «Let’s see».  As parents we had to get the medicine here in Finland and mail them as express to Canada. Instead of helping Salla get to the doctor, STS Canada area director Kim Berry decided to issue a warning to Salla regarding her host mother not informing Salla’s school about her absence. Salla was invited to STS Canada office 14. Nov. 2011. Salla had written a four page complaint about all the problems and failures on STS’ part so far:

  • There was no school placement arranged by STS when Salla arrived. Salla was turned away from Gisele la Londe-school, because they had no knowledge of the exchange student. It took almost a week to arrange a school placement.
  • The host mother left for five days leaving Salla alone with the allergic symptoms. The host mother did not leave any contact information to Salla and strongly forbad Salla to inform STS about her absence.
  • The host mother did not check her mailbox despite Sallas request. Salla had no key to the mail box. The expensive medication we had sent from Finland lay in the mail box nine days before Salla finally got them.
  • The host mothers fierce mood swings raised questions. She could be laughing and dancing by herself, but in an instant lose her temper and throw dishes to the floor. Once Salla saw a ziplock-bag on the kitchen table and the host mother told her not to touch it and that it was marijuana. As parents we became worried about that and asked STS to investigate. Despite the pictures taken of the supposed marijuana bag, STS only threatened to issue another warning to Salla for spreading unfounded rumours. The local representative, also the host mothers best friend, stated that she did not believe it was marijuana. That was all STS did. Case closed.

The Canadian area director, Kim Berry, did not even bother to view the complaint Salla had left in the STS office 14. Nov. 2011. Nor did STS Finland manager, Mira Silvonen, reply in any way. Whereas STS Canada country manager, Yannick Becu, sent his greetings to me: Strict demand to not interfere in matters.

Aware of Sallas cat and dog allergy, the area representative Sandra Hanniman tried to temporarily house her in her own home where there were several cats and dogs. Salla started getting an allergic reaction during the first evening and had to organize a place for herself with her friends for almost for a week because STS was not capable of doing so.

After having moved to the second host family, we found out that the host mother was a chain smoker with two dogs. The host mother also told how the area representative had convinced her to take an exchange student just for a while to » try it on».  She had agreed to keep the exchange student at most for two months, i.e. to the end of January 2012. At Sandra’s request, this was kept secret from Salla and us.

STS asserts that the host families live up to certain standards, that they are carefully screened and backgrounds checked, homes are inspected and photographed etc. With both of Sallas host families, these promises turned out to be just lies. When showing the pictures taken from Sallas first host family to STS Finland manager Mira Silvonen, she disputed the pictures were not from the host family’s house. STS did not have pictures from the house at all, neither did they show any interest in inspecting the conditions even though STS Canada has an office in Ottawa. When Salla moved in with the second family, STS’ office had no information about the family. We had to ask for address and other information several times. More specific information, for example the age or profession of the host mother, was never given to us.

In the second host family, the host mother’s nephew was a frequent visitor. This army man harassed Salla and without Salla knowing it, loaded porn on her computer. Salla experienced the situation extremely awkward, but was too scared to inform STS about it, because she had already learned that there would not be any kind of support from STS. She also knew that STS could use that porn on her computer as an excuse to dismiss her. A third party got involved and the army man confessed.

DISMISSAL FROM THE EXCHANGE STUDENT PROGRAM:

STS was aware of the latter host family only hosting temporarily to the end of January 2012. Without even trying to find a new host family for the rest of Sallas exchange time, Mira Silvonen deliberately began fabricating grounds for dismissal demanding supplementary reports about Salla’s health. Mira Silvonen did not think that Salla could have been taken to a health inspection in Canada. Instead she invited us as Salla’s parents to STS office in Helsinki to «discuss Salla’s allergies». On Friday 20. jan. at four pm Mira Silvonen, arrogantly announced that she had dismissed Salla from the program and that Salla would leave on Sunday.

As grounds for dismissal, Silvonen submitted breach of contract. According to Silvonen, we had not given essential information about Salla’s health. We should have mentioned that tobacco smoke can cause symptoms to an allergic person. Silvonen as a layman, had also decided that Salla had asthma that we also had not informed STS of. Mira Silvonen later in Court described how she was shocked to hear that a person allergic to pollen could get a reaction from apples during pollen season. It was the same with an allergic person suddenly getting a reaction from combination of for example spices, perfumes etc. All this should have been mentioned in the application form according to Silvonen.

STS advertises, that they comply with the recommendations of the Finnish national board of education regarding international student exchange. According to these recommendations, as well as STS’s own special terms of conditions, the exchange student and her parents should be informed about dismissal as soon as possible. The organization is also responsible for giving appropriate help and support before dismissal. Mira Silvonen acted totally against the agreement. She bought flight tickets one month earlier and kept the dismissal secret from Salla and us until two days before departure. Silvonen says that she takes responsibility for the dismissal. She has never communicated, explained or apologized to Salla. She e-mailed the flight tickets without a comment about her decision. It was left to us parents to inform Salla about this totally unexpected dismissal. In Canada the regional director Kim Berry had told Salla that the reason for her dismissal was «not sufficient interest towards the school» and therefore Salla did not appreciate the opportunity to study abroad. Apparently, Kim Berry was not aware of the fact that Salla was quite successful and was going to be moved to higher class after Christmas.

The last weeks before her dismissal Salla desperately tried to contact STS office and her regional representative even through Facebook to ask if STS had started looking for a new host family. The host mother had told her about not wanting to keep an exchange student for longer than she agreed with STS and that STS had asked her to keep it secret. STS skillfully escaped our contacts both in Canada and Finland.

With some help from her friend’s parents Salla packed her stuff and got to the airport. There was no support or help from STS before the departure. Salla had no chance to say goodbye to her friends and teachers at school. The regional representative Sandra Hanniman stopped by at the airport to make sure she left the country. This is how STS sent a minor alone, in shock, home through Montreal and London, Heathrow to Helsinki. We have often compared that deportation is a more humane procedure than exchange student dismissal by STS.

You cam usually appeal before implementation, but with Mira Silvonen you do not get that chance. Silvonen said that she would discontinue the visa immediately, so our daughter would not have a permit to reside in Canada. She was treated like a criminal.

BRING TO JUSTICE/TAKE TO COURT/SUE

Salla’s father had to fly to London to pick up an inconsolable Salla. Salla does not remember anything about her flight back because of her shock condition. What would she tell her friends was the first thing on her mind back home. She had been put into this humiliating, shameful situation totally without reason and she felt guilt and shame.

Mira Silvonen, who had said to take responsibility, rudely told us to take our case to consumer protection board or court and then refused all phone contact with us. She also refused to give contact information to the people in Canada who were responsible for Sallas case. We were also told not to contact Taru Raitio, who was responsible for students in Canada. We wrote two quite comprehensive complaints. One of them was written by our attorney. STS and Mira Silvonen denied everything. For one year time we tried to negotiate with STS without any luck. Mira Silvonen did not want to negotiate. They did not manage to wear us out. We took STS to court in January 2013.

In MOT document STS director John Cedergårdh admits and regrets that there has been an mistake in Sallas case and that it has not been handled right. Mira Silvonen denied this in the court’s preparatory meeting claiming that YLE had taken Cedergårdh’s statement out of its context. Silvonen claimed that STS had never admitted any wrong-doing. STS also demanded €27.000 (US$29.500) compensation for YLE document’s consequences. Let’s mention that John Cedergårdh left STS two months after the the document became public. He had had a long career with STS.

The main hearing of the case was held in October 2014. STS still denied all the charges. One of Finland’s leading specialists in allergy and asthma diseases, Dr. Lauri Tammilehto witnessed that Salla does not have asthma, but only allergies. Still STS and Mira Silvonen as a layman claimed to the end that we had not told STS about Sallas asthma.

Mira Silvonen had paid Explorius Finland manager, Anu Husu-Peltonen as a witness. Husu-Peltonen witnessed how she would not have accepted Salla to Explorius’ program, because of the health issues. At the same time an Explorius exchange student tells in a forum how she had been placed in a family with many cats even though she had told Explorius about her allergies and asthma!
The Helsinki District Court gave its sentence 12. December 2014, where it was stated that Salla was groundlessly dismissed by STS.
There were some important errors in the Sentence and we left an appeal with the High Court 16. Nov 2015. However, we decided to withdraw it. Going through things that she wanted to forget over and over again was too difficult for Salla. STS paid what it was sentenced to in December 2015.

INSURANCE:

STS required that all exchange students going to North-America  buy an expensive insurance. The price of the insurance today is €895 (US$985) is included with the last payment and is paid to STS Kielimatkat. STS did not deliver any kind of insurance policy, not even when asked to. STS also refused to give contact information to the insurance agency. Many other parents have demanded this information during months without any luck. STS only named numerous amount of other contact persons, insurance agent, service provider, benefit agent etc. None of them were willing to answer questions regarding the insurance. To make it even harder to get in touch with the insurance company, STS sold the insurance in the spring 2014 in the name of Europ assistance Holding-company, a firm that was not operating. Europ Assistance S.A. Irish Branch company’s managing director Mark Butler finally answered my requests and wondered why do I thought that Salla had been insured by them. After checking, 31. July 2014 he reimbursed us €33e (US€800) and regretted not being able to explain why there were no documents or what had happened.

TODAY:

I am extremely proud of our brave daughter, who herself acted as plaintiff in her case and went ahead to get justice against STS Kielimatkat. Salla is currently studying international law and is well.
I myself have taken a look at the exchange student business these years and I must say, had I known half of what I know now I would not have even considered sending my child through any organization. These are teenagers at a very vulnerable stage of development, who are leaving motivated and with big dreams to the unknown. The adults have the responsibility, but these organizations do not know what that means. These organizations do business extremely crafty, ruthless, arbitrary and immoral. I deeply condemn this kind of business where adults use minors to profit.
I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that as many as possible who dream of an exchange student year, would find and study CSFES pages already when planning and not just after problems occur. For the sake of young people I also hope that the parents would study and understand the consequences of accepting the rules of these organizations. Most of these organizations keep the right to dismiss the students without a warning if «the student does not show respect towards the host family, organization or its partners».
If the student has an illness or another health issue, it is worth mentioning that no qualified person goes through them. The forms are made by the managers and only they go through them without any knowledge or education about the health field. This was told by Anu Husu-Peltonen, Explorius manager, when invited as a witness by Mira Silvonen, STS manager. Their general knowledge can be amazingly poor.

Our battle for Salla’s rights against STS took four years. We did get part of our money back, but the traumatic experiences stays in our memory for the rest of our lives. I hope that our case gives other mistreated exchange students and their families courage to fight for justice and a lot to think about to those planning to go for an exchange.

Warmest Thanks to Danielle Grijalva CSFES for your support!

Helsinki, 17th December 2015

Salla’s mother Marjo Rautiola (translated by Päivi)
marjo.rautiola@kolumbus.fi


Transcript:  Vaihto-oppilas heitteillä: käsikirjoitus

MOT documentaries (Finnish): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmlYmOxT8JI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd052CjjfPw

Criminal backgrounds

 “When we looked at 7,000 applicants, we didn’t think it would uncover 700 people that have criminal histories.”

~ Jim Samuels, Senior Official, The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 2011

What is a host family?

Before you leave home as an exchange student you may already have been in contact with your assigned host-family. Even if you have not, the exchange organization is supposed to have forwarded details on where the family lives, how many family members there are, their ages, contact information and host parent occupations. Included with that information are probably pictures of the family and their home. I do not know if all exchange organizations follow this guideline.

You might get told that you are going to a temporary family (see below). Other times the exchange student is told that a representative will function as host family until a permanent family is found (see below).

Opprinnelse ukjent
Source unknown

 

What is a host family?

A host family is a family that has promised to allow you to live with them for the duration of your exchange student stay. There isn’t really a template for what a host family should look like:

  • Mom, dad (with or without children)
  • Mom (with or without children)
  • Dad (with or without children)
  • Dad, dad (with or without children)
  • Mom, mom (with or without children)
  • Old, youngish, young

The host-parents should be at least 25 years old. Any younger than that and they might well end up being a friend and not a boundary maker. I do not think there is an upper age limit. However:

  • The host family should be without mental or physical issues that would keep them from being able to fulfil their role as care-taker.
  • The host family should be in a financial situation that enables them to take in another family member.
  • The host family should be able to accept that the exchange student might have different theological, political and cultural views than themselves (goes both ways).

Temporary host family

A temporary host family is one that is supposed to last very few weeks until the exchange organization has found a permanent host family. If the exchange student is lucky, the temporary family willingly becomes a permanent host family (24%). But in most cases this is not so. If a temporary host family is pressured into becoming a permanent one, it is fairly easy to see how problems might arise. (USIA study)

Finding a host family that is willing to take a student in for ten months is not a simple task. Rotary has solved this by having the exchange student stay with several host families (approx. 3).

Representative as host family

At times the only option available to a new exchange student is being placed with their representative until a family is found. Sometimes the representative becomes the permanent host family. (CSFES finds this highly questionable) Some exchange organizations will then assign you a separate representative to avoid conflict of interest. Sadly, if a conflict occurs, the host country organization will usually side with the representative.

Host family as guardian

Your host family is your guardian. They are supposed to keep you safe during your stay, make sure you do your homework, give you chores (just like other family members), feed you, set boundaries and make you part of their family unit.

Does the host family get paid?

Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

Some exchange organizations are volunteer organizations. In such firms the host family does not get paid no matter where you live. Other exchange organizations pay or do not pay their host family depending on what type of exchange program you choose.

Different countries have different rules. In the US there are both variations based on the type of visa the exchange student has (J-1 vs F-1). In Norway there isn’t a regulation about this, but many of the exchange organizations do not pay their host families.

Host family requirements

Most (probably all) exchange organizations have a set of rules they are supposed to follow regarding how they pick who gets to be a host family. The requirements I have seen, set by the firms whose brochures I have looked at, state that they do background checks of the host family. These include:

  • References from extended family.
  • References from acquaintances.
  • Home visitations.
  • Candidate interview.
  • Financial status check.

What is an exchange organization?

Once you have decided to go for the exchange student life, you need to decide if you should travel with an exchange organization. Some countries, like Japan, give you no choice. No exchange organization = no visa. I don’t know what guidelines most other countries have about this.

What is an exchange organization

Basically, an exchange organization is a travel agency. They organize your plane tickets, the place you stay and the activities you will participate in (i.e. school). The receiving exchange organization is supposed to function as a guardian. Ideally you will be placed in a safe area with a safe host family that, at least, pass the same requirements a foster home would. Schooling should be at an approved (by authorities) institution.

Types of exchange organizations?

There are three kinds of exchange organizations. Volunteer organizations like Rotary, AFS and YFU base their work on volunteers. Usually, there is a small regional office with permanent staff who earn average salaries.

Non-profit organizations can be a misleading term. Usually the term has to do with saving taxes. If the exchange organization has holding companies in links above it, you aren’t really looking at a non-profit organization but rather a company that utilizes what tax loop-holes there are. Exchange organizations like EF Education, Aspect Foundation, Explorius/Educatius/CETUSA, Forte International Exchange Association/Astar Education, Heltberg International Education, and Speak/Aspect High School all have holding companies controlling them.

Some of the exchange organization have their own travel agencies and insurance agencies.  Erika Travel Insurance belongs to EF Education. Rejsespecialisten is a sister-company to My Education.

For-profit exchange organizations are open about being in the business of making money. I do not know if their representatives get paid more than the non-profit ones (price per student placed) do. In the US, for-profit firms fall into the F-1 student exchange programs category.

Communication between various parties

In a student exchange situation there are several parties involved. You have parents of the exchange student, the exchange student, exchange organization in the home country, main office in host-country, host-country local representative, host-country school, host-family.

When you sign a contract with your exchange organization at home, you usually authorize them to function as a go-between for you and the partner organization. Most contracts forbid contact between parents and partner organization. In addition, the exchange companies seldom want you to have contact with your child’s school. Nor do they encourage contact with the host-family.

Your child is supposed to communicate with their local representative who is then supposed to bring the matter up the chain until the information eventually reaches the parents. The host-family is supposed to use the same route. However, our experience has been that what the parents are told is not always what the partner organization was told by either student, school or host-parent. We encourage contact between parents and their child, parents and the host parents and in crisis between parents and the school. We also encourage you to keep all contacts documented (emails, sms, recordings of phone calls etc.). Just in case.

Home country exchange organization

Most exchange organizations use the following procedure:

  • After the potential exchange student fills out application 1, the exchange organization makes its choice. Rotary require better grades than the rest.
  • Organization, student and her/his family meet.
  • Application part 2 is filled in by parents and student and signed by them.
  • All necessary documentation is collected by the company and forwarded to their partner organization in the host country.
  • Have information meeting.
  • Be a point of contact between biological parents and partner.

The Partner organization in the host country is supposed to

  • Train leaders and representatives.
  • Match representative and exchange student.
  • Match exchange student and host family.
  • Make sure ALL necessary documentation regarding host-family, representative and school has been forwarded to the proper authorities.
  • Make travel arrangements to and from host country.
  • Some hold orientations camps.
  • Be responsible for all host-country trips.
  • «Be there» for the student 24/7.
  • Support school leadership.
  • Ensure the student is safe during emergencies.
  • Return students who break the laws of the host country.

Problemer: Bytte familie, salg og bruk av dop, psykiske problemer

Dette er opplevelsene til ei jente (Pinnsvin) som reiste med YFU til USA høsten 2007. Jeg har kommentert underveis. Enkelte ting har forandret seg i reglementet her i Norge siden da.

For det første så plikter utvekslingsfirmaet å hjelpe deg med den formelle prosessen i forhold til godkjenning av fagene. I dette tilfellet var YFU lite villige til å hjelpe utvekslingseleven med informasjon om hvordan hun kunne få til dette. Pinnsvin gikk på Medie og kommunikasjon.

Både skole og vertsfamilie skal ha mottatt detaljert profil over eleven de har sagt ja til å motta. For skolens del så har dette noe med tidsfristene de har i de ulike statene. For vertsfamiliens del har selvfølgelig det å ha en detaljert profil over eleven som kommer noe med at de skal være forberedt på den nye personen som skal dele deres liv.

Selv om bakgrunnskontrollene ikke var like grundige i 2007, skulle man sjekke hjem og personer som bodde i dem. Familien skulle ha mulighet til å ta seg godt av eleven som kom og det skulle ikke være kjente problemer med familien.

Noen elever er litt vanskeligere å plassere enn andre. I Pinnsvin’s tilfelle hadde hun vært åpen sine politiske meninger og YFU mente at dette kunne være en årsak til at det tok tid å finne en familie til henne.

YFU har en ordning med at eleven får en utreisedato som gjelder samme hva. Om man ikke har fått en fast familie kan man få en midlertidig familie til en fast en dukker opp. I Pinnsvins tilfelle så det ganske lenge ut som om dette var det som kom til å skje.

Pinnsvin påpeker noe som kan være greit for dere å sjekke. Disse bankkortene deres. Vil dere kunne bruke dem som kredittkort eller vil de bare kunne brukes som et bankaksept kort. Det er egne regler for dere mellom 15 og 18 år. Sjekk på banken.

Endelig, 14. august 2007 hadde Pinnsvin fått seg en familie i en by som heter Renovo i Pennsylvania. De aller fleste av dere kommer nok til å havne på steder med opp til 10.000 innbyggere – i USA. Det virker som om interessen for å ha utvekslingselever er størst der. Men Pinnsvin fikk ikke vite mer enn navn på by og stat. Navn på familien fikk hun først vite dagen før hun reiste over. Som dere ser over er ikke lenger dette godtkjent praksis i USA.

Men skolen brukte YFU lenger til på å få Pinnsvin inn på og det var ikke YFU som ringte Pinnsvin om familien men Pinnsvin som måtte ringe YFU.

Familien som Pinnsvin endte opp hos er på mange måter typisk for familiene dere kommer til å ende opp i. Det var et lite men hyggelig hus, familien var en kjernefamilie med mor, far og to barn. Riktignok hadde de dårlig råd, men det har mange av vertsfamiliene. Noen av dem har ekstremt dårlig råd.

Familien til Pinnsvin skilte seg ut fra vanlige familier på et par områder.

  1. Faren var pillemisbruker. Han var en av veteranene fra Vietnamkrigen og slet med langtidsvirkninger. I hans tilfelle tok han svært mye reseptbelagt medisin. Ingen forsøkte å skjule at faren var misbruker.
  2. Familien solgte dop.
  3. Moren brukte Pinnsvin som en slags erstatning for det mannen hennes ikke klarte å være for henne. For en 17 åring blir det litt voldsomt å skulle fungere som psykolog for en voksen.
  4. Familien fikk beskjed om at Pinnsvin hadde underskrevet en klausul om at hun ikke skulle ha sex mens hun var i USA. Pinnsvin mente helt sikkert at hun ikke hadde gjort det.
    • Vår sønns kontrakt hadde en klausul om at det var forbudt å laste ned pornografi.
    • I tillegg plikter man å følge husreglene. I USA betyr gjerne dette en forventning om at man ikke skal ha sex mens man går på videregående.
    • Man plikter også å følge aldersgrensene som gjelder i de ulike statene. De varierer noe når det gjelder seksuell lavalder.

Om ikke representanten gjør en grundig nok kontroll på vertsfamilien, vil det være vanskelig å klare å se slike problemer på forhånd. Om de, derimot, gjør den jobben de skal og ikke ser gjennom fingrene med noe vil de i teorien klare å forstå at noe er galt i familien. Desverre er det slik i USA at utvekslingsbyråene har elevkvoter de må fylle og da kan det være fristende å slippe vertsfamilier gjennom nåløyet som ikke burde vært sluppet gjennom. Det at representanten til Pinnsvin bodde 5 timers kjøretur unna var nok medvirkende til at jobben ikke ble gjort grundig nok. Intervjuene ble gjort per telefon.

Skolen virket helt grei og Pinnsvin fikk være senior. Dette er noe dere ikke må ta for gitt. Skolen bestemmer. Noe av opplevelsene var litt uvante. For eksempel skulle man øve seg på en babydokke for å se hva det å være foreldre gikk ut på.

Skolen forlanger en legeerklæring når man vil være med på et av lagene. Man får often en midlertidig en, men av forsikringsmessige og rettslige årsaker er skoler mye strengere med slikt enn det man er her i Norge. Fordi man havner i småbyer er det ikke alltid at den skolen man går på har det tilbudet man ønsker seg. Da er man avhengig av at vertsfamilien kjører en.

En del av dere kommer nok til å reagere positivt på hvordan lærerne er i USA. De følger opp elevene på en helt annen måte på mange av skolene – i hvertfall de små. Det kan man trygt si at skolen til Pinnsvin var. 40 elever i avgangsklassen er jo ikke akkurat så mange.

Kleskoder og forbud mot banning kan noen av skolene være veldig strenge på. Pinnsvin forteller at en av elevene ble utvist for dagen pga teksten på t-skjorta. Ord man IKKE liker er: Fuck, dick, bitch, hell, shit. Men du kan godt bruke «gay» som banneord mange steder. Det kunne man på skolen til Pinnsvin.

Pinnsvin var heldig. Hun havnet i en familie som lot henne bestemme selv om hun skulle være med dem i kirken. Selvfølgelig blir man med en gang og ser om man kan leve med det som foregår der. Men noen av kirkene i USA har ekstreme svoveltaler om homofile og det trenger dere faktisk ikke høre på. Desverre er det mange vertsfamilier som gjør det vanskelig for dere å si nei til å være med. Kanskje dere opplever press fra representanten deres.

Alkohol og røyking er forbudt mens dere er i USA. Det samme gjelder snus og selvfølgelig narkotika. Dere blir sendt hjem om dere blir tatt. Men et sted som Pinnsvin havnet på gjør sannsynligheten for det mindre. Der var det relativt vanlig med hasj, pillemisbruk, alkohol og tyngre stoffer. Vennene til Pinnsvin festet ofte ganske tungt og det så politiet gjennom fingrene med for det meste.

Pinnsvin ble boende hos denne familien i et halvt år før hun flyttet til en ny og bedre en.

Problems: Alcoholism

In 2009, Norwegian exchange student Kristine Pedersen (EF Foundation) was placed by EF in a host family with an alcoholic mother who spent her days being intoxicated. Pedersen was sent home by EF with only 24 hours notice following false claims that she was “ill”, despite her being perfectly healthy.


Hentet fra: Hostage in America

2010: USA: Hostage in America

(by Ragni Trotta)

Last year, 17-year old Synne Fjellvoll from Norway was one of 28,142 foreign exchange students granted a J-1 VISA to study in the U.S. as a foreign exchange student in 2009. Synne and her parents researched various student exchange programs before settling on the Education Foundation for Foreign Study (EF), which spread glossy brochures around Norway’s many highs schools and held a local EF seminar in their hometown promoting their student exchange program under the slogan “Personal Service”, “Safety”, “Quality”. At a cost of US$6,000, plus an extra US$500 to ensure that she was sent to the “Southern States”, everything seemed set for the experience of a lifetime. Says Synne; “I was so excited to study abroad in the United States of America. It was a dream come true.”

Synne’s dream was soon to turn into a nightmare. Placed in the care of what appeared to be an all-American host family in Branchville, South Carolina, she soon started to have misgivings of the people assigned to care for her wellbeing. In Synne’s case, the failure to do background checks on the host family as well as the local EF representative, both of whom the sponsoring organization had been using for years, were the gravest of several violations of Federal Regulations perpetrated by EF. Background checks would immediately have thrown up several red flags, had they ever been undertaken, as Federal Regulations clearly state. A closer look by a private investigator and ex-FBI agent has showed that the local EF representative assigned to Synne as her 24-hour support person; Linda Davis (or Linda J. Teller), in fact had 10 liens & judgments and 3 criminal convictions against her, as well as a history of using numerous aliases.  Furthermore, 36 judgments and liens are registered against her host mother Gidget Vickers. 

Federal Regulations state that foreign exchange students must be placed within a “nurturing environment” in a “financially stable home”. However, with the host father unemployed for the first 6 months of her stay and the host mother holding down two jobs to support the family’s 5 children, Synne’s chores swiftly added up to include babysitting the two youngest kids every day after school from 3:00 – 6:00 pm and on weekends, mow the lawn, walk the dogs, do the dishes and even wash her host sister’s clothes on Sundays. Explains Synne; “I never felt like part of the family, I felt like a maid. It hurt me when my 16-year old host sister was allowed to hang out with her friends and go to the movies, while I had to stay home to babysit.”

Worse, the home was clearly uninhabitable by most health & hygiene standards. Several untrained dogs were urinating and defecating around the house, which also suffered mould problems. Explains the exchange student; “The stench was disgusting. Several holes in the roof and walls were scantily covered by cardboard and boards, and the window in my room was broken. It was freezing in my room when the frost came”.

Host families are also required to provide meals for the students. However, Synne was quickly also told that she had to buy her own food as well as any other items that she needed. She was not allowed to eat from the family fridge and had to pay for her own food when the family ordered Chinese takeout, which was frequent. Branchville is a town 1,083 people, with 54% white and 43 % African American inhabitants. She was told by her host mother that “black people were a bad influence and would get her involved in drugs.”

Under the constant threat of being sent home, Synne was frequently forced to sign EF “ Success Plan for Student Behaviour” and “Academic Agreements” admitting to her many failures, presented to her by her host mother and local EF representative Linda Davis. Grounded for weeks and isolated in a foreign country far away from home, her telephone was confiscated and her internet access taken away for weeks on end, making it impossible for her to contact her family. Says Synne; “I was threatened by the host mother all the time. I was frequently told “Synne, you are in big trouble” and “if you don’t pull it together we are going to have to send you home early. And you have yourself to blame. You did this to yourself.”

According to local sources, it is common knowledge that the Vickers family uses foreign exchange students extensively for babysitting purposes and complaints have been raised against the family by previous exchange students. In 2007, the same family stopped providing adequate food to a 17 year old German girl  (Sina Tuscheerer) who was an exchange student staying with them, forcing teachers at Branchville High School to purchase and place food for her in the school fridge. According to the teachers, the problem was reported to local area representative Linda Davis as well as EF in Boston several times, but no action was taken. Still, much to the astonishment of the teachers at Branchville High School, the Vickers family has continued to be on the receiving end of foreign exchange students, even hosting two students from Finland (Sointu Lampinen) and Sweden (Frida Edstrøm) at the same time.

Federal Regulations state that sponsoring organizations must provide a student card with a telephone number that affords immediate contact with both the program sponsor and the sponsor’s local representative. The regulations also state that local area representatives must check in with exchange students at least once a month. As early as in October 2009, Synne spent several days unsuccessfully trying to reach her local contact local EF representative Linda Davis on the telephone number written on her student card. Explained Synne; “I tried to call Davis several times. Nobody picked up the phone.” She then dialed the number to EF’s office in Boston and requested a change of family. The phone call was answered by Program Coordinator Claudia Jackson, who told her to call her local representative who according to Jackson was “always available”. Jackson stated that anyway, it was “too late to change family”. Synne’s student card failed to include a toll free phone number to the U.S. State Department, the supervisory body of student exchange programs, which according to Federal Regulations should have been printed on the card. Says Synne’s father Per Fjellvoll; “My daughter was held hostage in a house and with a family who did not want her there as anything other than a housekeeper and a babysitter.”

When Linda Davis finally contacted Synne in late December 2009, and the Norwegian exchange student again requested a change of family, the EF coordinator told her that she was; “always complaining and whining”. According to Davis, the Vicker’s were “a good family and you are the one making all this trouble for us. It is always the Norwegian exchange students that are hardest!” EF representatives also repeatedly turned their back on the 17-year old when she repeatedly turned to them for help via phone and email in January, February and March 2010. She was called a ‘liar”, a “troublemaker” and conveniently ignored. However, she complained one time too many and was “removed from the program” by EF in a whirlwind of accusations in March 2010, after what EF claimed were “a number of chances to improve her behavior”.

According to Toralf Slovik, EF’s Program Coordinator in Oslo, Norway, who contacted her natural parents, Synne was being sent home because she had been expelled by Branchville High School. Says her father; “I called the Principal of Synne’s High School and he told me that he knew nothing about my daughter being expelled.” The “expulsion” later turned out to be an erroneous translation of the word “detention”, but EF was adamant that she still had to be repatriated due to “bad behavior”, “bad grades” and too many “social activities”. Synne in fact had little time to commit to spare time activities due to daily babysitting responsibilities, house chores and two-three weekly Church visits. Says the exchange student; “My host mother told me that I had to take most responsibility since I was the oldest.”

The Principal and teachers at Branchville High School were deliberately kept at an arm’s length and forced to watch from afar, although several posed questions with Synne’s host mother’s demands for her to be enrolled in several too advanced and unnecessary classes, contrary to the curriculum that had been chosen for her in collaboration with her local high school and natural parents prior to her departure from Norway.  While EF maintains that Synne had problems at school, neither the Principal, the school counselors or any of her teachers were at any time made aware of this fact. This highlights the total disconnect between the sponsoring organizations and the U.S. high schools to which they send their participants and one is forced to ask what kind of organization puts an exchange student with a B+ average on “Academic Agreement” without informing the school or any of her teachers. Says Synne’s father Per; “We had just received an email from EF saying that everything was fine and she was doing well in school. Of course, the positive news was sent to us along with the news that Synne had been involved in a car accident. That was probably no coincidence.”

On several occasions, host mother Gidget Vickers acted so threatening and aggressively towards the exchange student that even her teachers became concerned. More than one teacher witnessed Synne’s traumatic last day at Branchville High School; “Gidget Vickers showed up at school, verbally attacked Synne in front of several teachers and students, snatched her handbag and forced her to leave without saying goodbye to her friends and teachers.” After confiscating her phone, Vickers took her home to pack and subsequently drove the 17-year old to Charleston Airport, where the Norwegian exchange student and her luggage were thrown out of the car curbside and left to fend for herself.

According to Synne’s father, her premature repatriation was based on minor episodes and lies by EF and her host family who was just looking for a reason to send her home. “The accusations made against my daughter were subsequently proven false by emails and communications with the Principal and teachers at Branchville High School. Clearly, any serious organization would have taken immediate steps to correct the situation and let her finish the 9 weeks that remained of her school year.”

J-VISA STATUS

On the morning of March 23, Synne was told by EF that she had to be on the plane back to Norway that evening or she would be deported. At the point of her repatriation, three local families were willing to host Synne for the remainder of the school year. Torolf Slovik from EF informed the family by email that she would be in the U.S. illegally if she stayed beyond that evening and that her VISA had been cancelled. However, her host-mother Vickers and local EF representative Davis made it abundantly clear around town that anyone who took her in would be charged with harboring an illegal alien. Says Synne; “They were determined to send me home.”

Says Fjellvoll; “EF has gained a reputation for taking swift action only when it comes to sending students home, as was the case with my daughter. The family contacted the U.S. Embassy in Oslo and the U.S. Department of State in Washington and asked them to intervene so that Synne could complete the 9 weeks that remained to her graduation. The Norwegian Embassy in the U.S. was also contacted. However, the family was told that it was a private issue between the student and EF and that they could not do anything.”

The scaremongering that EF spreads regarding the deportation of students is completely untrue and inaccurate. According to Stanley Colvin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of State and supervisor of the J-VISA student exchange programs, foreign nationals that enter on a J-1 visa are “lawfully present” so long as they are in “valid program status”, meaning that they must be successfully pursuing the activities for which they entered the United States, under the sponsorship of a designated Exchange Visitor Program sponsor. If the sponsor withdraws their sponsorship, for cause, then the participant is no longer lawfully present and has thirty days to leave the country. Says Fjellvoll; “Having to leave in thirty days is vastly different to having to leave in a few hours. One month may have permitted us to seek other alternatives so that Synne could have completed her school year.”

When Synne’s case was brought to the attention of the U.S. State Department, they said they were willing to help her reissue her J-VISA provided EF reinstated Synne’s sponsorship. Alternatively, the State Department said they would accept the sponsorship of another exchange organization. Despite several requests both directly from the family as well as a U.S. lawfirm, EF refused to reinstate the sponsorship and finding another exchange organization 9 weeks prior to graduation proved an impossible task.

COMPLAINTS PROCEDURES

Under the current system, the student is completely powerless. EF will always side with their host family in any dispute, because any acknowledgement of mistakes on their part would make them liable to lawsuits. The student has absolutely no chance from the outset. The bias of local coordinators, who in many cases place young students with friends or relatives, is another issue some students have been faced with. Norwegian exchange student Synne Fjellvoll’s host mother was a friend of the local EF area representative and had a cell number to her that she refused to give the 17 year old exchange student. The local coordinator consistently ignored Synne’s requests for help.

According to Stanley Colvin, the U.S. Department of State cannot do anything to help once a student has been taken off a program. According to Colvin, sponsoring organizations can take student off a program for “cause”.

The question here become “what is cause” and more importantly, who determines what is “cause”? Under the current system, the sponsoring organization has the power to send a student home for anything it determines to be a “cause”, without any review of the situation or an interview with the student by an independent third party. What is even more disturbing is that when a student complains to the sponsor, the sponsoring organization is actually left to investigate itself.

Many young students are afraid to complain fearing retaliation and repatriation to their home country, because complaints are dealt with by the very organizations that they did their exchange with. Few students are savvy or confident enough after having been bullied around and lied to by their local coordinators to take their complaint to the next level, which is the U.S. Department of State which operates a toll free phone line for J-VISA holders. This toll free 800 number should according to Federal Regulations be printed on every exchange student’s student ID card, but was not included on Synne.

While some problems is to be expected among thousands of young foreigners from different cultures, a pattern of ignoring complaints, failing to find appropriate families and repatriating “problem students” early have become the distinguishing trademarks of EF’s operation. Strangely, few problems seem to be reported by the exchange organizations and the U.S. Department of State refers to approximately 200 investigated complaints per year, the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CSFES) reports between 150 – 200 phone calls per week. A “thorn” in the side of the exchange companies and the only independent organization who speaks up on behalf of the students, Grijalva is tireless in her efforts to help protect the young casualties who have suffered at the hands of the exchange organizations and bring them to the attention of the proper authorities. On March 28, 2010, CSFES filed a complaint with U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on behalf of Per Fjellvoll regarding EF Foundation’s failure to adhere to the Federal Regulations in the case of his daughter.

 The resounding agreement from the many students participating in EF’s exchange program is that EF was “not interested” in any problems they might have. Financially speaking, a student has no recourse to claim for “breach of contract” if it can be proven that the student failed to adhere to the program rules. Hence, the EF Foundation’s policy is for it’s employees and agents to thoroughly document every little trespass made by students so that a possible claim for reimbursement can be denied. EF’s legal policy is to make settlements with the worst cases of abuse to keep the limelight away from the real problem, which is the organizations continued violation of Federal Regulations and student’s civil rights.

 

INVESTIGATIONS

Who actually has the power to investigate and rectify situations that bear further scrutiny?

While the U.S. Department of State actually had the power to investigate the student exchange companies, little seems to happen with the continued violations of several sponsoring organizations. In an interview with the Arkansas Democratic Gazette in December 2007, Stanley Colvin commented on complaints about EF Education and its Fayetteville coordinators, Gerald D. and Sherry A. Drummond. The U.S. State Department began an investigation after Arkansas State Senator Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, received complaints from host families and foreign-exchange students about EF Foundation and the Drummonds. The students and their current host families in Northwest Arkansas told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette how foreign-exchange students lived in what they considered unclean, unsafe homes and how they felt disliked by Sherry Drummond when they stayed with her. They also complained that the Drummonds improperly served the dual role of host family and organization representative for several students, making it awkward for the students to voice their concerns. Rikke Stoyva, a Fayetteville High School student from Norway, didn’t care for emphasis on religion by her host family, John and Jill Foster. The family attended nondenominational church services three times a week in West Fork. Stoyva, who is Lutheran, lived with the Fosters for three months, then was moved to Camden, where she’s attending Camden Fairview High School.

“About 20 percent involve students brought to the United States by EF Foundation”, Colvin said. As part of its investigation in Arkansas, Colvin said the State Department could reprimand the company and require it to write a corrective-action plan to ensure it doesn’t violate federal regulations. A more severe penalty could involve shutting down the corporation or limiting how many students it can bring to the United States. Colvin sent a letter to the EF Foundation describing five media accounts and complaints last week regarding the organization. “This is not a pretty picture,” he concluded in the letter.

The U.S. Department of State does not divulge information about investigated complaints, and it is not clear what other reprimands EF got from the U.S. State Department following this investigation. Not long ago, Colvin shut the doors of a placement agency in South Carolina called United Students Association who had placed 4 foreign exchange students in homes of convicted felons. However, the many complaints received by CSFES on a daily basis regarding EF’s continued violations of Federal Regulations, suggest that too little is being done to monitor the sponsoring organizations.

While the US. Department of State is the supervising body of the student exchange programs, U.S. Congress is ultimately who issues the licenses to sponsoring organizations.

HOSTAGE SITUATION

As case after case of mistreatment of exchange students continue to surface, a clear pattern of exploitation is being revealed. Says Danielle Grijalva, Director for the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CSFES); “Because the current system gives the sponsoring organization the power to withdraw a student’s visa on a whim, students are put at the mercy of the sponsor and the host family from the day they arrive in the U.S. The constant threat of being sent home, grants the host family complete power over the exchange student. It also affords host families who wish to mistreat a student within the confines of their walls ample opportunity. Sadly, students are willing to do almost anything to avoid the shame and failure of being sent home.” Grijalva is contacted by hundreds of foreign exchange students who have been left stranded and desolate by their exchange companies on a monthly basis.

Sadly, countless stories like that of Synne are appearing across the world, bearing witness of EF’s violations. As a result of the fundamental flaws of the system as well as the lack of oversight, droves of young students continue to find themselves stranded and alone in the “land of opportunity”, living as hostage far away from home and with no one to turn to for help.

So much concern has been raised concerning the lack of protection of young, vulnerable exchange students, that Federal Regulations were put in place in 2006. However, the lack of oversight of the Exchange Programs, which is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State, continues to display glaring holes. Far from protecting the most vulnerable, the current system actually works to the student’s detriment, by placing all the power in the hands of the sponsoring organization and the host families, putting the student in what can only be described as a hostage situation.

This serves to further emphasize the need to independent supervision of the foreign exchange students. Federal Regulations state that problems with students and change of host families must be reported to the U.S. Department of State. Although the number of complaints made to the U.S. Department of State is not available, it is reasonable to believe that the sponsoring organizations try their utmost to contain troubles.

Says Grijalva; “EF continued violations of Federal Regulations and well as student’s civil rights, need to be scrutinized by the U.S. State Department. We call upon the U.S. Congress, which is ultimately responsible for the failure of the program, to permanently suspend EF’s license.”

Grijalva has filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of State regarding EF’s failure to adhere to the Federal Regulations which were written to protect foreign exchange students participating in their program. Says Grijalva; “These are not isolated incidences. EF continues to violate Federal Regulations and student’s civil rights.”

“NON-PROFIT” ORGANISATION

Incidents such as Synne’s these pose serious questions with what is marketed as an “educational” program. According to the Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3), EF’s tax-exempt status is based on the fact that EF is an “educational” organization, which is a contradiction in that EF claim it is not “their policy” to involve the school in matters of a student. Last year, the student exchange industry received US$34 millions in grants from the U.S. Government to promote ‘cultural exchange’, but what is meant to be a program to build ‘cultural’ bridges between young Americans and high school students from other countries is increasingly becoming an embarrassment to the U.S. as a growing number of foreign students are shipped back home early in disgrace and humiliation.

It is also a common misconception among Europeans that US “non-profit” organizations are philanthropic entities not focused on financial profit, a grossly misleading and incorrect fact that the EF Foundation uses to great advantage in the marketing of its services. In fact, the term ‘non-profit’ only means that earnings must be reinvested in the organization, which put the focus back where it really is: the money.

EF – A REPEAT OFFENDER

Education First Foundation for Foreign Study, founded in 1979, is the country’s largest foreign-exchange company. Approximately 35 U.S. organizations have been granted the very sought after licenses to sponsor J-VISA’s for foreign exchange student. However, the Federal Regulations and accompanying moral obligations which accompany the responsibility of holding such a license are being blatantly ignored by several of the sponsoring organizations. Among the repeat offenders in the abuse of its participants feature EF Foundation for Foreign Studies, a sponsoring organization with headquarters in Boston that has a strong representation of Swedes on their U.S. Board of Directors, including Chairperson Asa Fanelli, previous Chairman Goran Rannefors, President Dan Sodervall, Director Jennifer Baverstam and Director Jens Appelkvist. The EF umbrella includes several company names including; EF Institute for Cultural Exchange Ltd, EF Foundation for Foreign Study, EF Educational Tours, EF International Language Schools, EF Voyages Culturels, EF High School Year Abroad and Education First. Approximately 5,000 students were sponsored by the EF Foundation in 2008.

While the organization sponsors exchange students from across the world, EF’s main markets for the recruitment of exchange students are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany.

It is curious, but not surprising, to note that the Norwegian arm of the company is registered as a limited company in the category of “tour operator”, featuring a local company name that translates to “EF Education The European Holiday School Ltd.” EF’s “summer language trips” abroad has been the target of media reports in Norway, due to the lack of oversight and the availability of alcohol to minors down to the ages of 12 years old.

Kirsti Kollenborg is listed as the Norwegian company’s CEO, while Toralf Slovik is the country Program Director and Heidi Bjoere Larsen the Marketing Manager.

6 U.S. student exchange companies have been approved by the Norwegian Government’s loan association (Statens Laanekasse) for the purposes of student grant and loans to study abroad. Aside from having to redo a lost year of studies, Norwegian exchange students who are sent home early without graduating, must fully repay all grants they received from Statens Laanekasse. Says Fjellvoll; “Synne’s student exchange and unnecessary repatriation has cost the family at least US$20,000.”

THE LOCAL COORDINATOR AND THE HOST FAMILY

Even at the tender age of 17, Synne Fjellvoll says she became concerned with her host family’s seemingly poor finances. Despite strong denials that they received any payment from EF, she overheard her host parents talking about a “receiving a paycheck from EF.” But U.S. host families are to receive no compensation for hosting, which puts a question at EF’s reported expenses (990 form) that includes expenditures for so-called “Supervisory Fees”. Unfortunately, EF is able to hide their multi-million dollar activities behind their 5013C (not for profit) status of the Foundation.

Perks for host families of exchange students include free babysitting and housekeeping services, although foreign exchange students are only permitted to take sporadic jobs. When you call EF’s office in Boston and enquire about taking in a foreign exchange student, they will tell you that the issue of babysitting is “tricky” and that host families are not allowed to force exchange students to babysit. This was certainly not the case with Synne, whose far from sporadic babysitting job was performed under the threat of being sent home.

Explains Danielle Grijalva, Director for the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CSFES); “ I have come to learn of family after family who can barely feed their own family, let alone an exchange student. However, the local area representative whispers in their ear that the exchange student’s parents are wealthy. Many families steal money from the students or “borrow” their ATM card, as in the case of Espen Hansen from Norway who was placed with a family in Minnesota by the EF Foundation. The students don’t speak up in fear of being sent home and it is not uncommon for families to rake in $800 – $1000 in rent from students living in their home, even if it is in shambles.” The EF Foundation coordinated his placement with a US sponsoring organization called CETUSA. CSFES’s efforts to assist the Hansen family, led to CETUSA filing a lawsuit against Grijalva for her efforts in assisting the young Norwegian exchange student.

According to CSFES, theft by host families is rampant. In 2008, a Nebraska woman called Fayette Klug was arrested for stealing $10,000-plus from two foreign exchange students living with her, one foreign exchange student from Norway and one from China. The two girls told law enforcement that Klug took cash from them, used their credit cards and locked them in the basement apartment area that they shared. Why Klug was even hosting foreign exchange students became a point of investigation because turned out to be a convicted felon. According to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation into Klug is ongoing, as additional foreign exchange students may have been victimized by Klug.

Says Grijalva; “U.S. Senator of Pennsylvania Robert P. Casey, Jr., is to be commended for his efforts wasting no time investigating the treatment of exchange students placed in Scranton, PA. In May 2009, Senator Casey sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to investigate the Department of State’s oversight of U.S. youth exchange programs following reports of abuse and mistreatment of nine foreign exchange students in Scranton, Pennsylvania, including Norwegian exchange student Anne Bardoz. “The situation these students found themselves in is simply unacceptable,” said Senator Casey, who has called on the U.S. State Department to swiftly review its oversight procedures.

Grijalva also hails the efforts of U.S. Senator Sue Madison from Arkansas, who has spearheaded a study of the health, safety and welfare of exchange students placed in Arkansas after receiving complaints that some foreign exchange students were being placed in homes with families ill-equipped to take care of them.” According to U.S. Senator Madison, The U.S. State Department, which currently has oversight authority, does not have adequate staff to oversee the foreign exchange program. Senator Madison is the champion of Senate Bill 411, called “The Arkansas Foreign Exchange Student Program Act” in the State of Arkansas, which seeks to further protect the welfare of foreign exchange students in her State.

Regulations prohibit sponsoring companies from bringing students to the U.S. without having first located a host family and Madison’s findings further under build the stories of several exchange students, who appear to have arrived in the US without families or have been subjected to “last minute changes” of families.

Said U.S. State Senator Sue Madison: “Some parents came to me about problems they’ve seen in Northwest Arkansas.” In Clarksville, Madison said, a student from Korea was placed with a family living in low-income housing. “The student would write home asking her parents for money to help feed her host family,” she said. “At that point, she asked to be moved to another family and representatives from the company set up a table outside a Wal-Mart to recruit her another family,” Madison said. “They found her another family and this time the male of the household was arrested on a drug charge.”

Madison said to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that she was told by an EF Foundation employee that the Drummonds (local coordinators for the EF foundations) are paid $300 to $400 for each foreign exchange student placed in a family’s home, including their own. The Drummonds received $12 per student, per month, for verifying the students are doing well and helping with difficulties they encounter, Madison said.

According to Danielle Grijalva of CFSEF most foreign-exchange student companies pay $400 to $750 for each student who is placed in a home. Host families aren’t paid. The payment is a small portion of the $5, 000 for six months or $10,000 for a year that the students pay EF Foundation to come to the United States.

In the Scranton case, 69-year-old Edna Burgette, took students door-to-door in an effort to find host families. The local coordinator for the Aspect Foundation charged families US$400 to place malnourished students in northeastern Pennsylvania homes. Said Norwegian student Anne Bardoz to Aftenposten: “The floor was covered with dog feces, the air filled with tobacco smoke and the stench was unbearable.” Anne had to buy her own food and was not allowed to leave the house she was placed in. According to court documents, Burgette will plead guilty to ‘mail fraud” collecting money using fraudulent paperwork related to the placement of five exchange students including Bardoz. She faces up to 20 years in jail and a fine of US$250,000.

Edna Burgett ‘plead out’ to the charge of mail fraud because she knowingly accepted these students to supervise, all the while knowing she did not have a home for them. This was considered ‘mail fraud’ because her placement agency relied on the U.S. Postal Service to secure these placements.

Exchange students subjected to “last minute changes” of families, include Michaela Kaluza from Germany, who was all set to live with a host family in Colorado for a year and had brought appropriate winter clothing. Without explanation, she was told she had to go live with a host family in Maryland consisting of a 69 year old grandmother, her 81 year old husband and their young granddaughter. In a house splattered with dog urine and with no food, Michaela’s chores included frequent changes of the 81 year old man’s diapers.  After 2 weeks, Michaela complained to her school and her local EF representative. She was told by Elizabeth at the EF office in Boston that she was “struggling with American culture and just needed to deal with it.” Elizabeth proceeded to accuse Michaela of “lying and bad behavior” and told her that she had to “stay with her host family or go back to Germany.”

Says Pedro Acevedo from Caracas, Venezuela, who was an exchange student to Mississippi with EF in 2008: “From the very first day I arrived, I had problem after problem.” After sending Acevedo two fake placement letters identifying US host families, he was finally told that EF had found a temporary «arrival family» in Mississippi that would take him in until something permanent was found. After arriving in the U.S. 2 months after the school year had started, Acevedo slept on the living room sofa and had no privacy staying with the first of three host families. He was not allowed to hang up his clothes, did not get any food and was generally treated like and unwanted intruder by the host family, whose father was a Vietnam vet. Says Acevedo; “I was told I needed to start ‘acting like expected’ or I was going to be sent home. Emily Force, my International Exchange Coordinator, and local EF area representative, treated me like an animal. I was called names including ‘idiot’, ‘brat’, ‘stupid’ and ‘irresponsible spoiled child’. I was yelled like no one had ever done before, to the point that I had to clean her spit out of my face.”

After visiting her son at his second host family, Acevedo’s mother offered to pay his second host mother US$150 per month to ensure her son was fed. Recalls Acevedo; “My mom also went to Wal-Mart, and spent over US$250 in food and stuff for the house, all of this under the verbal agreement that I was not to have food issues while I was living there. After my mom left, the story changed. I was still being asked to pay for dinners, and even had to buy my own lunch, because sometimes there wouldn’t even be bread to make a simple sandwich.” Acevedo was finally was offered to stay with a third host family from another organization, who was hosting an exchange student he knew from school. Says Acevedo; “Our experience with EF was awful”.

Says Tone Sigurdsen from Norway; “Our experience with EF is terrible. Our daughter was in the US two years ago. She was placed with a family that could hardly be called a “host” family. The company had no control of the number of students or available places. Changing host family turned out to be a nightmare, and EF did absolutely nothing to help. If she hadn’t found another host family herself, she would have been sent home in the middle of the school year. There was no help or interest from EF in solving the problem.” Sigurdson was told that EF “did not have enough host families available”, because they had enrolled too many students that year. An in there lies yet another violation of Federal Regulations, which state that no student must be brought to the U.S. without the sponsor having found a host family.

Federal regulations prohibit employees or agents of a foreign exchange company from serving as both host family and area supervisor for a student. The U.S. State Department is currently investigating complaints involving the EF Foundation and its Fayetteville coordinators, alleging that exchange students stayed at the homes of the coordinators.

In September 2009, EF sent Marion Ridal from Finland to live with a family Alabama. Says her mother; “The people in the family were imbalanced and my daughter was very frightened during her stay there. Members of the family called her names and humiliated her in many ways. She was too afraid to even sleep at night. Fortunately she had the courage to ask if she could get in to another family.” The EF district supervisor took her to their home, and she started school.” After a week, the EF representatives from New York decided to send her to Missisippi to a new family. Says her mother; “They told her that it’s either Missisippi or being sent back home. She was picked up from school and didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to her new friends. Marion was really shocked and was crying hysterically when she called me.” A local family was willing to take her in so she wouldn’t have to move, but EF would hear nothing of it and her mother’s many phone calls and emails to EF went un-answered.

Once in Mississippi, Marion’s new host mother took her mobile phone away, yelled at her all the time and prohibited her from going out. “Marion didn’t have anyone to turn to because the local area supervisor in Mississippi was the host-mothers brother in law. They always blamed Marion and said that if she didn’t do as she was told, they would put her on a plane back to Finland.” Explains the mother; “We were told Marion would be in secure and caring surroundings in USA. EF has made Marion to look like some sort of troublemaker, even though she hasn’t done anything wrong.”

An Italian student placed in Ohio by the EF Foundation in 2007, bought gifts in excess of $3000 for the host family, paid numerous restaurant dinners, bought groceries and lent money to members of the host family which was never repaid. Although he was Catholic, he was required to attend church on a regular basis. His host family placed him in danger by having him attend a party with his host brother where a fight broke out and guns were fired.  The police were called to the party, and the exchange student told one of the police officers that such occurrences were routine for that area. The home environment was inappropriately controlling and his host mother would lecture him until late at night on many occasions regarding his friends. The host mother refused to take him to the doctor when he was ill with fever for a week, leaving him in his basement room without checking on him or offering him food, drink, or medication. His assigned co-ordinator from EF was a good friend of the host mother, so he could not confide in her. This young student suffered emotional abuse in this home and he would become anxious and stressed around his host mother.

Swedish Patrick Sundelin was yet another foreign exchange student travelling with EF, who was placed in an Alabama host family. The couple’s own child had been taken away by social services and two convicts rented rooms from the family. Patrick’s first trip in the US was to the local court house, because the host family boarders had to register with their local probation officer. He faced the anger of local EF representatives when he demanded to change family and refused to sign the “Behaviour Success” agreement he was presented with several times. Patrick filed a complaint with the Swedish National Board for Consumer Complaints and was awarded the meager sum of SEK 10,000 (US$1,000) in compensation.

This fundamentally flawed system has been able to continue because most parents are reluctant to start an expensive litigation in the U.S. against an organization that is willing to throw anything at a case to win it. Says Fjellvoll; “EF is digging in it’s heals due to the flood of ugly cases looming in the wings.” However, a growing number of natural parents in Norway who have had to save their money for years to send their child abroad, are now digging deep into their pockets to seek justice for their children for the way in which they were treated while on this ‘cultural exchange.’

Fjellvoll is spearheading a group of parents who aim to highlight the gravity and prevalence of what has so far been dismissed as “isolated incidents”. Says Fjellvoll; “EF’s policy is to accuse the student of wrong doing and send them home early in shame and defeat. An exchange organization that encourages this kind of mistreatment of young people, while they continue to ignore the many traumatized students they are responsible for, should not be licensed to operate in any country.” Fjellvoll is bringing his complaint to the attention of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which he calls upon to take action on behalf of the many Norwegian students who have been subjected to abuse as EF exchange students. He also calls upon the U.S. Department of State to withdraw EF’s license to sponsor foreign exchange students. Concludes Fjellvoll; “The EF Foundation is a repeat offender with no concern for the children the send abroad. This organization should NOT be in a position to revoke a high school student’s J-VISA, at least not without an independent review by the U.S. Department of State or another independent third party. Despite their many violations of Federal Regulations, they are allowed to continue to abuse young exchange students far away from home in the worst of ways. One must ask oneself what kind of nation allows this kind of injustice to carry on.”

Swedish TV did an expose on exchange student Emma Dahlberg, a Swedish exchange student with EF was forced to go to church several times a week and worship snakes in Harlan, Kentucky for two months, before she was removed.

NEW BILL PROPOSED IN ARKANSAS BY SENATOR MADISON

Senator Madison’s “The Arkansas Foreign Exchange Student Program Act” in the State of Arkansas, states that the student, the host family and the school shall be given telephone numbers and email addresses for the Department of State, The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel; and The Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students. Furthermore, the bill states that students have the right “to not be coerced to write letters or sign agreements that the student does not fully understand”, “to not be sent back to his or her home country before the completion of the exchange without a prior review process” and “to not be caused to fear being sent back to his or her home country for any communication” made to authorities.

Furthermore, the bill states that international student exchange visitor placement organization shall cooperate with state, school, and other public authorities and that alternate placement shall be readily available so that no student remains in a home if conditions appear to exist that endanger the student’s welfare. It also grants the Department of Human Services extensive rights in the monitoring of foreign exchange students, and expressly states that retaliation or the threat of retaliation by international student exchange organizations will lead to disqualification from placement of any foreign exchange student in Arkansas.

“Clearly, the above Bill needs to be adopted by every state in the U.S.”

BEUL VS. ASSE

In the landmark case of Beul v. Asse International Inc. placement agency, U.S. brought the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit of September 2000, the lead opinion of Circuit Judge Posner was that it is placement agency’s responsibility to step into the shoes of the natural parents. The negligence lawsuit was brought by foreign exchange student Kristin Beul under Wisconsin law against exchange company Asse International Inc.

For a fee of $2,000 it placed the 16-year-old German girl who wanted to spend a year in the United States, with the Bruce family of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. The family, which consisted of Richard Bruce, age 40, his wife, and their 13-year-old daughter, had been selected by Marianne Breber, Asse International’s Area Representative in the part of the state that includes Fort Atkinson. Kristin Beul arrived in Wisconsin from Germany on September 7, 1995, and was met at the airport by Richard Bruce and his daughter. Marianne Breber did not go to the airport to meet Kristin. In fact, apart from a brief orientation meeting at a shopping mall in September with Kristin and one other foreign exchange student, at which Breber gave Kristin her phone number, she didn’t meet with Kristin until January 21 of the following year. Breber called the Bruce home a few times during this period and spoke briefly with Kristin once or twice, but she made no effort to make sure that Kristin was alone when they spoke.

Kristin had led a sheltered life in Germany. She had had no sexual experiences at all and in fact

had had only two dates in her lifetime. On November 17, 1995, Richard Bruce, who weighed almost 300 pounds and who was alone at home at the time except for Kristin, came into the loft area in which she slept and raped her. This was the start of a protracted sexual relationship. In the months that followed, Bruce frequently would call the high school that Kristin was attending and report her ill. Then, with Mrs. Bruce off at work and the Bruce’s daughter at school, Bruce would have sex with Kristin. By February 22, Kristin had been absent 27 days from school. Bruce brandished a gun and told Kristin that he would kill himself if she told anyone what they were doing together.

In February Mrs. Bruce told Breber that she and her husband were getting divorced, and Breber found another host family to take in Kristin. Kristin didn’t want to leave the Bruce home, but on February 22 Breber arrived there with a sheriff’s deputy to remove Kristin. The deputy asked Kristin in the presence of Richard Bruce and his daughter whether there was any inappropriate sexual activity between Richard and Kristin, and Kristin answered «no.» Kristin lived with Breber for a few days between host families, but Breber didn’t use the occasion to inquire about any possible sexual relationship between Kristin and Bruce. Breber told the new host family that Kristin was not to contact Bruce for a month, but she did not tell Bruce not to have any contact with Kristin. They continued to correspond and talk on the phone. Kristin had decided that she was in love with Bruce and considered herself engaged to him.

In April, Mrs. Bruce discovered some of Kristin’s love letters and alerted the authorities. A sheriff’s deputy interviewed Bruce. The next day Bruce, who had committed a misdemeanor by having sex with a 16 year old, Wis. Stat. § 948.09, killed himself, leaving a note expressing fear of jail. It is undisputed that the events culminating in Bruce’s suicide inflicted serious psychological harm on Kristin; the jury’s assessment of her damages is not claimed to be excessive.

As the sponsor of a foreign exchange student, ASSE was subject to regulations of the United States Information Agency that require sponsors to train their agents, «monitor the progress and welfare of the exchange visit,» and require a «regular schedule of personal contact with the student and host family.»

It was the opinion of Circuit Judge Posner that; “ASSE was standing in the shoes of the parents of a young girl living in a stranger’s home far from her homeland and could reasonably be expected to exercise the kind of care that the parents themselves would exercise if they could to protect their 16-year-old daughter from the sexual pitfalls that lie about a girl of that age in those circumstances. ASSE assumed a primary role in the protection of the girl.»

 The jury returned a verdict finding that plaintiff Kristin Beul’s damages were $ 1,100,000.

CHILD SAFE

According to Christopher Gould; CEO, Director and Founding Member of Child Safe, an international charity registered in the UK in 2004 Gould is a retired Detective Chief Superintendent with over 30 years service, who has been involved in the investigation of child abuse for over 15 years. In 1997, while managing the Child Protection Group in the Constabulary, Gould began an exte4nsive research project to examine the scale of abuse of children and young people involved in educational and language trips in the UK, Europe and beyond. The investigation was prompted upon his discover of a 12-year old Spanish exchange student who had been sexually abused by his host father while on a  4 week language trip in the US. The host father was a known and convicted sex offender who had been hosting foreign exchange students in the area for approximately three years.

Says Christopher Gould: “My interest in this matter is one of the police perspective.  I retired two years ago as a Detective Chief Superintendent in the UK after 30+ years service, much of which was devoted to child abuse investigation and homicides.  Following research I undertook for the Home Office and European Commission, I set up the Child-Safe international children’s charity  (whilst a serving officer).  The original research looked at the abuse suffered by children and young people on educational, cultural and language trips abroad. The findings were significant and took me around the globe, investigating and researching.  Since setting up the charity, the aim has been to advise and support commercial and voluntary organizations involved with such programmes (including schools) and help them to reduce the opportunities for abuse within their organisation/homestays etc.  Much of the support comes from experience, intelligence and information gathered from victims, survivors and offenders.”

In the first 12 months of his research, Gould uncovered 2,000 cases of abuse ranging from neglect to emotional abuse to both physical and sexual abuse.97% of the 2,000 cases were related to incidents which happened within host families. Says Gould; » Based on my personal experience and research, host families containing sex offenders and child abusers are being used in significant numbers by exchange agencies, generally without their knowledge, for exchange students. Furthermore, homes where a host parent or family member has a conviction for a serious crime are also being utilized by exchange agencies. In one study of 700 families Gould conducted in the UK, 26 families had household members with convictions for serious crimes or specific crimes against children.

Says Gould: “I also work internationally with many different law enforcement agencies and Governments.  The charity is now supported and endorsed by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), the Centre for Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP), ECPAT, International, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and others.”

Programmes are monitored and to a large extent controlled by rules imposed by the US State Department: “There is much concern at the moment around the growing number of cases where foreign exchange students are being treated inappropriately and in many instances unlawfully. Many breaches of Visa requirements are being identified by the US State Department by organizations responsible for bringing these young people into the country.  The growing concern surrounds the International standing of the USA once these complaints are made by returning students in their countries of origin.”

Extracts from article “Exchange group gets probe after teens complain

Arkansas Democrat Gazette from December 2007

Fayetteville High teachers and counselors said they’ve had frequent issues with the Drummonds and EF Foundation placements. They’ve complained to officials in the foundation’s headquarters (EF in Boston) about the Drummonds and believe the organization did nothing in response. “I only hear about the bad [situations ], and there are several each year that are miserable for the student, and the placement in the homes get changed and the students have to be moved,” said Anne Butt, the high school’s college adviser for nine years.

Lesli Zeagler, a Fayetteville High counselor, said there are few problems with the international students attending the school who are brought to the United States by Rotary International. Not true with EF Foundation, she said. “With EF, I’ve experienced students who are scared, who seem to be malnourished, and they seem to be isolated,” Zeagler said. “The problems go back years, but we’ve never had a group of students who have been so vocal about it.”

Around 30, 000 exchange students come to America annually, said Colvin of the State Department’s exchange coordination office, adding the State Department investigates about 200 complaints each year. About 20 percent involve students brought to the United States by EF Foundation, Colvin said. As part of its investigation in Arkansas, Colvin said the State Department could reprimand the company and require it to write a corrective-action plan to ensure it doesn’t violate federal regulations. A more severe penalty could involve shutting down the corporation or limiting how many students it can bring to the United States. Colvin sent a letter Thursday to the EF Foundation describing five media accounts and complaints last week regarding the organization. “This is not a pretty picture,” he concluded in the letter.

STATISTICS 2009/ 2010

  • 28,142 foreign exchange students came to the US, mainly from Europe.
  • Norway is 6th in country ranking by number of students sent to the US
  • The top ten countries sending foreign exchange students to the US last year are;
    • Germany 8,172 students (29%)
    • Brazil 1,889 students (7%)
    • China 1,661 students (6%)
    • South Korea 1,616 students (6%)
    • Thailand 1,210 students (4%)
    • Norway 925 students (3%)
    • Italy 892 students (3%)
    • Spain 866 students (3%)
    • Japan 791 students (3%)
    • Denmark 655 students (2%)
    • France 622
    • Sweden 601
    • Finland 345
    • Iceland 14
    • A total of 2,493 students, almost 9%, came from Scandinavia.
    • 7,881 students went to the Southern region of the US
    • 247 foreign exchange students went to South Carolina
    • 1,980 US exchange students went abroad, mainly to Europe
    • In the last 7 years, Norway has sent 5,016 FES to the US
    • In the last 7 years, Sweden has sent 3,812 FES to the US
    • In the last 7 years, Denmark has sent 3,958 FES to the US
    • In the last 7 years, Finland has sent 2,243 FES to the US