Stikkordarkiv: #EFEducationFirst

2011 Aug 19: 10/487: Avslag på søknad om å delta på utvekslingsprogram var i strid med diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven

Saken gjaldt spørsmål om EF Education avdeling EF High School Years avslag på en kvinnes søknad om å delta på utvekslingsprogram til USA innebar diskriminering i strid med diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven. Kvinnen opplyste om at hun for en tid tilbake hadde fått diagnosen sosial angst.

Ombudet slo fast at sosial angst er å anse som en nedsatt funksjonsevne i lovens forstand. Ombudet fant at det var klar årsakssammenheng mellom avslaget og kvinnens diagnose ettersom det framgikk av avslagsbrevet at det var krav om at utvekslingsstudentene ikke måtte ha noen form for psykisk lidelse. Det forelå dermed i utgangspunktet en direkte diskriminering. Spørsmålet var deretter om forskjellsbehandlingen var tillatt etter unntaksbestemmelsen i § 4 fjerde ledd.

For at forskjellsbehandlingen skulle være lovlig må den ivareta et saklig formål, være nødvendig for å oppnå dette formålet og ikke være uforholdsmessig inngripende overfor den som forskjellsbehandles.

Ombudet fant at hensynet til den som forskjellsbehandles kan være en saklig grunn til å avslå en søknad om å delta på utvekslingsprogram. Det avgjørende måtte imidlertid være om avslaget er konkret begrunnet i hvordan den nedsatte funksjonsevnen arter seg for vedkommende holdt opp mot innholdet i utvekslingsprogrammet.

EF High School Year opplyste at virksomheten nesten alltid innhenter ytterligere dokumentasjon i tilfeller hvor søkere opplyser om at vedkommende har en kronisk sykdom. I den aktuelle saken manglet det konkrete opplysninger fra lege om hvorledes den sosiale angsten artet seg for kvinnen. Søknaden hennes ble automatisk oversendt stiftelsen EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study i USA, som avslo søknaden med begrunnelsen at hun var under behandling på søknadstidspunktet, uten å be om ytterligere informasjon.

Ombudet fant ikke at forskjellsbehandlingen var saklig ut fra hensynet til å beskytte kvinnen ettersom EF High School Year ikke hadde innhentet de nødvendige opplysninger om hvordan diagnosen ville ha påvirket utvekslingsoppholdet.

Hensynet til vertsfamiliene og at amerikansk rett etterleves sikres av EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study, og faller utenfor virkeområde til norsk diskrimineringslovgivning.

Ombudet kom fram til at Ef Education avdeling EF High School Years avslag på kvinnens søknad om å delta på deres utvekslingsprogram til USA uten å innhente informasjon om hvordan diagnosen artet seg for kvinnen var I strid med diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven § 4.


EF High School Years tilbakemelding

EF High School Year har i etterkant gjennomgått rutinene ved behandling av søknader fra studenter med eventuelle psykiske eller fysiske diagnoser, herunder prosessen med et avslag på disse studentsøknadene. Blant annet er det innskjerpet at det i alle avslagsbrev skal inntas følgende formulering:

«Dersom det foreligger øvrige opplysninger eller dokumentasjon som EF ikke har mottatt, men som dere mener kan være relevant i forbindelse med EFs vurdering av søknaden, bes dette vennligst oversendt innen 14 dager. I så fall vil EF foreta en ny vurdering av studentsøknaden, basert på de tilleggsopplysninger og dokumenter som er ettersendt.»

I tillegg er det innskjerpet rutine på at det i intervjuet med søkeren redegjøres for forhold som kan gi grunnlag for avslag på studentsøknaden, og få avklart om det kan foreligge slike forhold hos den aktuelle søkeren. Det vil samtidig bli informert om muligheten til å framlegge ytterligere relevant dokumentasjon og opplysninger, for å gi et best mulig grunnlag for en vurdering av søknaden.

EF vil i enda større grad enn tidligere klargjøre for søkeren hvilke konsekvenser det kan ha å gjennomføre et studieår i utlandet med eventuelle fysiske eller psykiske diagnoser, herunder påpeke at det erfaringsmessig er vanskelig å få vertsfamilier til å velge studenter med fysiske eller psykiske diagnoser.

EF har kontaktet kvinnen for å få til en minnelig løsning. Slik løsning er etter det ombudet kjenner til ikke oppnådd.

Saksnummer: 10/487
Diskrimineringsgrunnlag: nedsatt funksjonsevne
Lovanvendelse: diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven § 4
Dato for ombudets uttalelse: 19. august 2011


Ombudets uttalelse

Sakens bakgrunn

Framstillingen av sakens bakgrunn bygger på partenes redegjørelser til ombudet.

A søkte Education First (EF) High School Year om å få gå ett år på High School i USA. A var seksten år på søknadstidspunktet. EF ba A opplyse om eventuelle psykiske plager i søknaden. A opplyste at hun hadde fått diagnosen sosial angst for en tid tilbake, og at hun var i ferd med å avslutte behandling hun har gått til for denne.

EF avslo søknaden i brev av 12. mars 2010. EF begrunnet avslaget med at ett år på High School ville kunne bli en for stor påkjenning for A med tanke på hennes sykdomsbilde. EF innhentet ikke flere medisinske rapporter fra leger i Norge. Søknaden ble derimot sendt til flere av EFs vertsland for en vurdering. Alle kontorene ga tilbakemelding om at de ikke hadde mulighet for å plassere A. Avslaget var basert på disse tilbakemeldingene.

EF High School Year er en avdeling av EF Education First i Norge. EF High School Year arrangerer utveksling for ungdommer som ønsker å gjennomføre ett år på videregående i utlandet. EF High School Year bistår i denne prosessen med søknad, forberedelse, visum og andre praktiske arrangementer før avreise.

EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study er organisasjonen som tar endelig stilling til studentsøknader. Organisasjonen lokaliserer vertsfamilier i henhold til retningslinjer fra US State Department i USA og følger opp studentene når de har ankommet. EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study er lokalisert i USA.

I dette tilfellet har EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study automatisk avslått søknaden da A var under behandling da søknaden ble levert.

A opprettet klagesak ved brev av 14. mars 2010.

Partenes syn på saken

A mener hun har blitt diskriminert på grunn av sin diagnose, siden EF High School Year skriver i avslaget at det er på grunn av hennes sykdomsbilde hun ikke får reise som utvekslingselev. På grunn av hennes sykdomsbilde begrenser EF dermed hennes mulighet til å gjennomføre det andre på hennes alder, uten diagnose, har anledning til å gjennomføre.

A stiller spørsmål ved om EF har lov til å stille krav om at personer med psykiske lidelser ikke får muligheten til å gå et år på High School i USA, og på hvilket grunnlag EF kan anta at dette er en for stor belastning for henne. Hun mener også det ikke er riktig at hun skal straffes fordi hun er åpen om sin lidelse, og stiller spørsmål ved om diagnosen skal begrense hennes muligheter videre i livet.

EF High School Year viser til at det gjøres en individuell vurdering for hver person som søker med EF High School Year. Vurderingen gjøres av personell ved kontoret i Oslo etter et personlig intervju og i samarbeid med kontoret i vertslandet studenten søker til.

Alle studenter som søker blir vurdert på grunnlag av personlighet, om de synes egnet som student, karakterer på skolen, sykdommer og inntrykk som de gir på intervjuet. Kravene utarbeides i samarbeid med EF High School Year sine samarbeidspartnere i vertslandet, herunder EF Foundation for Foreign Study, som gjennomfører plasseringene hos vertsfamilier og skoler, samt de videregående skolene i vertslandene.

EF-programmet er lagt opp slik at studentene bor i private familier og går på lokal High School. Vurderingene som gjøres av EF er om det vil medføre problemer for EF å plassere en student hos en vertsfamilie, og å plassere en student på en videregående skole. EF High School Year viser til at i denne saken vil det være problemer med begge deler. Skolene i USA vil være tvunget til å ta hensyn til eventuelle problemer som måtte dukke opp i løpet av året, som for eksempel i sosiale settinger på skolen. Det blir også vanskelig å finne vertsfamilie. Det vises til at det er et problem for EF at det er svært vanskelig å finne vertsfamilier som vil ta i mot kronisk syke. Vertsfamiliene får selv bestemme hvilken elev de vil ta i mot, og i de fleste land, inkludert USA, får familiene ikke betaling. De påtar seg å være vertsfamilier kun fordi de er interessert i fremmede kulturer, og fordi de liker å ha ungdom i huset.

EF High School Year viser også til at et utvekslingsår kan være en tøff påkjenning og at de må vite at alle studentene er forberedt på de utfordringene de møter i løpet av et helt år. Ofte er et utvekslingsår den første reisen som gjøres uten foreldre/foresatte, noe som kan gjøre det ekstra utfordrende for studentene. Dersom EF High School Year i samarbeid med kontoret i vertslandet mener at det blir vanskelig å finne vertsfamilie, må de takke nei til studenten. Hvis ikke vil EF sitte med ansvaret om man kommer til august uten å ha funnet familie, og studenten kanskje vil stå uten skoleplass i Norge.

EF High School Year viser for øvrig til at dersom det framkommer ny informasjon som ikke tidligere har blitt presentert, vil det som regel bli gjort en ny vurdering av søkeren.

I avslaget skriver EF High School Year at de har kommet fram til at ett år på High School vil bli en for stor påkjenning for A på grunn av hennes sosiale angst. Det vises til at det kan være en stor påkjenning for en ungdom å tilbringe et år borte fra familie og venner, og at de av hensyn til både studenten selv og vertsforeldrene har satt et krav om at utvekslingsstudentene ikke må ha noen form for psykisk lidelse.

EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study avslo automatisk søknaden til A da hun var under behandling da søknaden ble levert.

Rettslig grunnlag

Ombudet kan gi uttalelse om et forhold er i strid med diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven eller ikke, jf. diskrimineringsombudsloven § 3 tredje ledd, jf. § 1 andreledd nr. 3.

Direkte diskriminering på grunn av nedsatt funksjonsevne er forbudt, jf. diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven § 4 første ledd.

Med direkte diskriminering menes at en handling eller unnlatelse har som formål eller virkning at personer på grunn av nedsatt funksjonsevne blir behandlet dårligere enn andre blir, er blitt eller ville blitt behandlet i en tilsvarende situasjon, jf. § 4 andre ledd.

Forskjellsbehandling som er nødvendig for å oppnå et saklig formål, og som ikke er uforholdsmessig inngripende overfor den eller dem som forskjellsbehandles, anses ikke som diskriminering etter loven her, jf. § 4 fjerde ledd.

Ombudets vurdering

Ombudet har tatt stilling til om EF High School Years avslag på As søknad om å delta på utvekslingsprogram til USA innebar en forskjellsbehandling i strid med diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven § 4. Ombudet bemerker at EF Foundation for Foreign Studys handlinger faller utenfor diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetslovens geografiske virkeområde, jf. § 2 andre ledd. Ombudets vurdering av saken begrenses derved til EF High School Years behandling av As søknad. Saken vurderes etter bestemmelsen om direkte diskriminering.

Sosial angst er en psykisk lidelse som etter loven utvilsomt er å anse som en nedsatt funksjonsevne. EF High School Year skriver i avslagsbrevet til A at EF High School Year av hensyn til både studenten selv og vertsforeldrene har satt et krav om at utvekslingsstudentene ikke må ha noen form for psykisk lidelse. Det er derfor klart at det er årsakssammenheng mellom As diagnose og avslaget på søknaden hennes. Det foreligger derfor i utgangspunktet en direkte diskriminering. Det er dermed spørsmål om unntaket i § 4 fjerde ledd kommer til anvendelse.

For at forskjellsbehandlingen skal være lovlig må den ivareta et saklig formål, være nødvendig for å oppnå dette formålet, og behandlingen må ikke være uforholdsmessig inngripende overfor A. Alle de tre vilkårene må være oppfylt for at unntaksadgangen skal komme til anvendelse.

EF High School Year viser til at formålet med forskjellsbehandlingen av studenter med psykiske lidelser dels gjøres av hensyn til studenten selv, og dels av hensyn til vertsforeldrene. EF High School Year viser også til at det er vanskelig å skaffe vertsforeldre i slike tilfeller.

A skriver at hun har gått til behandling for sin sosiale angst, men at hun nå er i ferd med å avslutte behandlingen. Slik ombudet oppfatter A mener hun at hun på søknadstidspunktet fremdeles hadde en psykisk lidelse, men at denne ikke innebar at det vil være en for stor belastning for henne å reise som utvekslingsstudent.

Forarbeidene uttaler at det bør vises tilbakeholdenhet med å akseptere overbeskyttende holdninger overfor mennesker med nedsatt funksjonsevne som saklige hensyn (ot.prp. nr. 44 (2007–2008) side 107). Mennesker med nedsatt funksjonsevne må i utgangspunktet kunne velge å utsette seg for ulike typer risikoer, på samme måte som andre.

Dette utgangspunktet kan imidlertid ikke gjelde absolutt. I saker som dreier seg om umyndige elever ved videregående skole bør utvekslingsorganisasjonen på selvstendig grunnlag ha et ansvar for å vurdere om eleven er egnet, og om eleven vil håndtere å være borte fra familie og venner i et helt år som utvekslingsstudent.

Ombudet finner at hensynet til den som forskjellsbehandles kan være en saklig grunn til å avslå en søknad om å delta på utvekslingsprogram. Det avgjørende må imidlertid være om avslaget er konkret begrunnet i hvordan den nedsatte funksjonsevnen arter seg for vedkommende holdt opp mot innholdet i utvekslingsprogrammet.

EF High School Year skriver i brev av 13. desember 2010 at hvis ”en søker har kroniske sykdommer vil vi nesten alltid spørre om mer dokumentasjon fra student/foresatte/lege på tilstanden og hvordan dette kan påvirke utvekslingsåret til studenten. Dette blir så sendt til EF sitt kontor i vertslandet som avgjør om studenten kan aksepteres basert på retningslinjene fra myndighetene i hvert vertsland.”

I dette tilfellet mangler det konkrete opplysninger fra lege om hvordan den sosiale angsten arter seg for A. Søknaden ble automatisk oversendt stiftelsen EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study i USA, som avslo søknaden med begrunnelsen at hun var under behandling på søknadstidspunktet, uten å be om ytterligere informasjon.

Dersom EF High School Year hadde innhentet ytterligere opplysninger i As tilfelle, er det likevel ikke sikkert at søknaden ville blitt innvilget av EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study i USA. Uansett er det et poeng for ombudet at A har blitt avskåret fra å få en individuell vurdering av søknaden sin.

EF High School Year overlot til stiftelsen å vurdere om mer dokumentasjon skulle innhentes. På den ene siden kan det argumenteres for at dersom EF Foundation for Foreign Study uansett ville komme til å avslå en søknad, er det en unødvendig prosess å innhente i mange tilfeller nokså personlige opplysninger om en diagnoses innvirkning på et utvekslingsopphold. På den annen side hindrer en slik behandling søkeren i å få legge fram et mest mulig korrekt bilde av seg og sin situasjon. Om opplysningene skal framlegges vil være opp til søkeren/søkerens foresatte å avgjøre.

EF Foundation for Foreign Study skriver i brev av 31. mars 2011 at ”EF Foundation does not accept students to the program who have engaged in psychological or mental health-related conceling or treatment”. Ombudet utelukker likevel ikke at det vil kunne ha betydning for EF Education for Foreign Studys behandling av søknader på hvilken måte den legges fram fra EF High School Years side. Det er lite trolig at EF High School Year ville videreformidlet As søknad dersom EF Foundation for Foreign Studys behandling av søknader fra søkere med psykiske lidelser var så kategorisk som beskrevet. Det vil være særlig viktig ved en slik framleggelse at søknaden gir et mest mulig korrekt bilde av søkers situasjon.

EF High School Years framgangsmåte i den aktuelle saken synes å være i strid med deres egen praksis omtalt ovenfor. Det er dermed ikke mulig for ombudet å foreta en vurdering av hvorledes As diagnose ville ha innvirket på et utvekslingsopphold. All den tid EF High School Year ikke har bedt om de nødvendige opplysningene fra A, kan ombudet vanskelig slå fast at forskjellsbehandlingen er saklig ut fra hensynet til å beskytte A.

Hensynet til vertsfamiliene og at amerikansk rett etterleves sikres av EF Educational Foundation for Foreign Study i USA, og faller utenfor virkeområde til diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven. Dersom søkeren får en individuell behandling av EF High School Year i Norge, men får avslag av landet vedkommende søker utveksling til, faller dette utenfor norsk diskrimineringslovs virkeområde.

Det kan imidlertid oppstå spørsmål om det er i strid med norsk diskrimineringslovgivning å formidle utvekslingsstudenter til land som forskjellsbehandler søkere i strid med norsk diskrimineringslovgivning. I dette tilfellet vil ombudet ikke vurdere dette, da ombudet har kommet fram til at A ulovlig ble avskåret fra en individuell vurdering på et tidligere tidspunkt i prosessen.

Konklusjon

EF High School Years avslag på As søknad om å delta på EF High School Years utvekslingsprogram i USA uten å innhente informasjon om hvordan diagnosen arter seg for A er i strid med diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven § 4.

Likestillings- og diskrimineringsombudet har ikke kompetanse til å ilegge erstatnings- og/eller oppreisningsansvar. Spørsmål om erstatning og/eller oppreisning avgjøres av domstolene, jf. diskriminerings- og tilgjengelighetsloven § 16, jf. § 17. Ombudet vil likevel oppfordre partene til å komme frem til en minnelig løsning i saken. Vi ber om tilbakemelding innen 19. september 2011 om hvordan EF High School Year foreslår å løse saken, dersom EF High School Year velger ikke å bringe saken inn for Likestillings- og diskrimineringsnemnda.

Oslo, 19.08.2011

Sunniva Ørstavik
likestillings- og diskrimineringsombud

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

2009: EF: Incentive booklet for representatives

EF 1

EF 2

EF 3

EF 4

EF 5

EF 6

EF 7

EF 8

EF 9

EF 10

EF 11

EF 12

EF 13

EF 14

EF 15

EF 16

EF 17

EF 18

EF 19

Problemer: Truet med pistol, måtte skrive under på erklæring før hun fikk reise hjem

Kvinneguiden 1 / Kvinneguiden 2:

V.H. skriver:

«Jeg tror enkelte organisasjoner er verre enn andre, og er årsak til problemene. De tar ikke seriøst det å finne gode vertsfamilier, de bare ser på hele utvekslingssystemet  som en forretning.»

«Vet om en jente som var utvekslingselev i USA…»

«Hennes opphold endte med at hun tok med telefonen i skapet og ringte hjem etter hjelp mens vertsmoren lette etter henne rundt i huset med pistol. Selskapet lot henne ikke få hjemreisebilletten før hun signerte en erklæring om ikke å saksøke. Måneden etterpå fikk vertsfamilien tildelt ny student…»

«Hun sa det var flere andre utvekslingselever i området, gjennom samme selskap, som opplevde diverse miserable ting som at de måtte bo på en madrass på  vaskerommet  osv. Jenta her ble presset til å skrive under en erklæring om at hun ikke ville saksøke  selskapet før de ville gi henne hjemreise-billetten. Alle familiene hadde vært med i programmet i flere år, overveiende  sannsynlig  blitt klaget på, og ikke strøket  fra noen liste…»

«Ikke reis med EF.»

EF Foundation for Foreign Study: «Agreement»

Her er en versjon av en oppførselskontrakt fra EF. Dette gjelder en elev som dro til USA 2006. Eleven har tydeligvis blitt flyttet til et nytt hjem. EF påstår at avtalen gjelder selv om eleven ikke  skriver  under. Interessant juridisk punkt kan man jo si.

EF Foundation Behavioral agreement p2

EF Foundation Behavioral agreement p1

Problemer: Språkreise var partyferie for mindreårige

Publisert 31.01.2010 22.31
Haakon E. H. Eliassen
hei@tv2.no

Alkohol, festing og innpåslitne hotellgjester ble en del av studiehverdagen for tre venninner (15) fra Bergen.

De tre 15-åringene fikk en tidlig smak på voksenlivet da de dro på språkreise til Malta i fjor sommer.

De tre venninnene ble plassert på et hotell midt i partyområdet.

Rebekka, Andrea og Margot mimrer mens de blar igjennom den nye 2010-katalogen fra EF Språkreiser.

I fjor dro jentene sammen til Malta på språkkurs i regi av EF Språkreiser. Men med på kjøpet fikk de flere uannonserte opplevelser.

Innpåslitne hotellgjester

Den første overraskelsen var bostedet, som ikke var et studenthjem, men et helt vanlig hotell med innpåslitne guttegjenger:

– Vi trodde jo vi skulle bo på et studenthjem, det var det inntrykket vi fikk. Men vi havnet på et vanlig hotell, omtrent midt i partygaten, sier Andrea Tviberg Frammarsvik (15) til TV 2 Nyhetene.

Og blant hotellgjestene var flere guttegjenger med festglade italienere i tyveårsalderen, som la seg etter de norske jentene:

Banket på midt på natten

– Midt på natten banket det på døren og vi trodde det var lederne, men på utsiden sto mange italienere. Innpåslitne og ville inn, derfor satt de en fot i døren, husker Margot Kortebein Birkeland (15).

– Vi ble forsøkt sjekket opp av 27-åringer, de var veldig påtrengende og hadde ingen hemninger, tilføyer Andrea.

Vorspiel og barturer

Jentene forteller at mange av de mindreårige kursdeltagerne drakk alkohol i løpet av oppholdet, enten på hotellet som lå tett ved partygaten, eller på barer og diskoteker.

– Det var nesten sikrere å gå på bar, dersom man ikke ønsket å bli tatt, sier Andrea.

Jentene forteller at kontrollen for å avdekke regelbrudd var lite effektiv, selv om lederne gikk rundt og sjekket og foretok pusteprøver

Spydde i bøtte

– Hun ene lederen gikk inn til en som lå å spydde i en bøtte, og var helt ute. Han klarte å komme seg unna ved å si at ble dårlig på grunn av en vannpipe, sier Andrea.

– Hva gjorde dere for å unngå å bli tatt?

– Vi spiste sjokoladepålegg før lederne kom og sjekket oss, ler de i kor.

– Vi tok Nutellaboksen og det funket tydeligvis bra. Hun ene lederen sa at her lukter det bare sjokolade og alt i orden, smiler Margot.

12-åringer på bar

Venninnen forteller at jenter helt ned i tolvårsalderen fikk kjøpt alkohol på barene i området.

– Det var ingen som spurte om legitimasjon, og spesielt jenter slapp lett inn på utestedene. De var overhodet ikke strenge, forteller Rebekka Isehaug Kristensen.

– Vi bare gikk bort og så bestilte vi en drink, sier de tre, som viser frem foto av barkartet med «Tequila shots», «Sex on the beach» og en rekke andre drinker.

Jentene forteller at alt gikk bra, til tross for fristelsene og mulighetene. De passet på hverandre, og ingen skeiet helt ut.

– Hvis dere ville, kunne dere drukket hver dag uten å bli tatt?

– Ja, det tror vi, sier de tre i kor.

– Grundig lurt

– Det som jeg ikke synes er akseptabelt er jo det at vi ikke blir opplyst om at de skulle bo på et vanlig hotell. Jeg hadde aldri sendt min datter av gårde på en språkreise om jeg visste at de skulle bo på et vanlig hotell midt i partygaten med mange andre gjester på samme hotell, sier Gro Frammarsvik som er moren til Andrea, til TV 2 Nyhetene.

Hun er helt klar på at foreldrene betalte for at de skulle bo på campus.

FØLER SEG LURT: Mor Gro Frammarsvik føler ikke at EF hadde kontroll på ungdommene på språkreisen.

– Og da ser du for deg at de bor på en type studenthjem hvor kun språkelever bor og hvor de har god kontroll på elevene. Jeg føler meg rett og slett lurt av EF og jeg føler at de har ikke hatt noen kontroll på ungene slik som de bodde på hotellet, sier Frammarsvik.

Hun mener også at det er uholdbart at reiseselskapet blander 14-åringer med 18-åringer i en gruppe.

– Det er jo helt feil, det er så stor forskjell på en 14-åring og en 18-åring at de har ingenting sammen å gjøre på et slikt sted, mener Frammarsvik.

Nulltolleranse for alkohol

På hjemmesiden til EF Språkreiser presiseres det at barna er trygge: «Ditt barns sikkerhet, vår største prioritet».

Overfor TV 2 poengterer EF Språkreiser at man i regelverket har nulltolleranse for alkohol og studenter som velger å bryte avtalen, må reise hjem til Norge. I en e-post til TV 2 skriver Kirsti Kollenborg, daglig leder i EF Education, at det dessverre har vært 20-40 studenter de siste årene som selskapet har måttet sende hjem til Norge fordi de har brutt reglene.

– Vi synes det er trist, men understreker viktigheten av at reglene som studenter og foreldre får før språkreisen må holdes av respekt for både medstudenter og ledere, skriver Kollenborg i en kommentar til TV 2 Nyhetene.

– Ikke sendt hjem

I følge jentene ble noen studenter tatt og fikk husarrest, men ble ikke sendt hjem.

– Det var åtte stykker som ble tatt noen dager før vi skulle dra hjem. De fikk husarrest, men fikk bli til vi reiste hjem fordi de ikke fikk tak i billetter, forteller Andrea.

–De bryter loven

– Det skal være samsvar mellom markedsføringen og det du får som kunde. Selger de seriøsitet og trygghet, så skal barna ha trygge rammer, sier forbrukerombud Bjørn Erik Thon til TV 2 Nyhetene.

Han mener dette er et brudd på markedsføringsloven fordi det i så fall her kan være snakk feil markedsføring.

– Hva bør foreldre gjøre?

– Det foreldrene bør gjøre er å sjekke grundig på forhånd, søk på nettet og sjekk blogger. Der finner man både positive og negative erfaringer rundt disse reisene, sier Thon til TV 2 Nyhetene.

Thon mener også at du kan klage på produktet dersom du ikke har fått det du er blitt lovet: