Stikkordarkiv: #SkittogRot

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

Reklamer

Problemer: Bytte familie, lite mat, trusler, psykiske problemer

AFS lover deg trygghet, sikkerhet og hjelp gjennom året. Det var ikke akkurat det jeg følte jeg fikk i Japan, rettere sagt i byen jeg bodde i et halvt år. Jeg har fremdeles mareritt om det som skjedde, og er helt redd de skal komme etter meg igjen. Fulgte meg helt forfulgt og sett ned på. Her er min historie.

Vertsfamilie nr. 1 var veldig åpen med meg og fortalte meg mye om fortiden sin, selv om det veldig personlig. Dette gjorde hun til og med før vi møttes, da vi snakket en del sammen på Facebook før jeg dro. Jeg var glad for at hun stolte sånn på meg, og lyttet hver gang. Siden hun var såpass åpen følte jeg at jeg kunne gjøre det samme (sa ikke så veldig mye), men det ble fort for mye for henne. Hun fortalte meg at hun ikke fikk sove etterpå og virket svært nedfor. Dette skjedde flere ganger med småting også. Hun gråt foran meg fordi en utvekslingselev ikke klarte å få seg venner på skolen, og hun bekymret seg for hver minste ting jeg sa. Først tenkte jeg at det var bra at hun var så omtenksom og opptatt av andre, men det ble for mye. Det var ikke normalt å reagere sånn; å ikke sove og være så sliten at man dro til lege. Hun brukte meg som psykolog! Skjønte da at jeg burde være forsiktig med hva jeg sa til henne, for hun ble så utrolig påvirket av det. Jeg ville ikke se henne slik og ønsket henne alt godt, derfor begynte jeg å holde ting inni meg for hennes eget beste. Hun kunne tydeligvis ikke takle flere problemer enn sine egne, og jeg ville ikke at hun skulle ha det sånn. Det er vanskelig å holde så mye inni seg, og etter hvert ble jeg sliten og forvirret.

På grunn av dette hadde vi dårlig kommunikasjon. Det var vanskelig å snakke med vertsmor, og jeg hadde mye hjemlengsel men prøvde å holde det for meg selv. Dette ble de sinte for og tok som om jeg var en dårlig person, selv om jeg faktisk gjorde det for deres skyld.

Det var også ubehagelig at vertsmor og LP snakket stygt om andre utvekslingselever, både de som var der nå og hadde vært der før meg. Det er ikke lov. Å høre på alt det var veldig ubehagelig for meg og jeg skjønte snart at i Nagaoka var alle venner, alle visste alt og spredde rykter.

Senere den uken møtte jeg to LP-er («rådgivere» i AFS) for å snakke om problemene. De tok opp de samme problemene om og om igjen, selv om jeg allerede hadde snakket med min egen LP og vmor om det. Følte de var flinkere til å høre til å høre på meg og jeg fikk fram at jeg var veldig motivert til å prøve videre. Likevel fikk jeg høre ting som at det var meg det var noe gale med, ingen kulturer er sånn, det spiller ingen rolle. Jeg måtte bare sitte der og nikke som en robot, smile og si takk uansett hvilke fæle ting de sa til meg. Så dro jeg til en midlertidig vertsfamilie.

Heldigvis hadde jeg det kjempefint der og alt gikk naturlig. Jeg følte at jeg kunne være meg selv, og det var ikke noe problem. Usikkerheten og de vonde følelsene forsvant, og jeg tilbrakte mer enn gjerne all tiden nede i stuen. Jeg hadde det kjempefint der og har fremdeles kontakt med dem, håper jeg kan dra på besøk der en gang. En lang stund hadde jeg nesten begynt å tro på det folk hadde sagt; at det var noe galt med meg, at jeg virkelig var en dårlig person. Det var ikke sant. Jeg er utadvendt og forståelsesfull, noe som blir godt tatt i mot på skolen også. Da jeg kom tilbake fortalte jeg til sjefen (for AFS sitt lokallag her) hvor fint jeg hadde hatt det, og jeg følte at vi passet mye bedre sammen. Fikk beskjed om at det ikke spilte noen rolle siden jeg kun hadde vært der i en uke, og at det ikke handlet om at vi passet sammen, men at jeg oppfører meg bra.

Dagen etter skulle vi endelig ha et møte sammen med min egen LP, sjefen, vertsmor og meg. De snakket om det samme de hadde tatt opp før, og spurte om hva jeg synes. Hver gang jeg forklarte meg fikk jeg bare protester. Uansett hva jeg sa fikk jeg ingen forståelse, og de av avbrøt meg midt i med å rope «stopp!» med håndflaten mot meg. Jeg vet at siden jeg blir sett på som et barn her, så har ikke forklaringene mine så mye å si. Og jeg satt der og følte at de rett og slett spurte fordi det er det de burde gjøre, ikke fordi de faktisk var interesserte. Det var vmoren og sjefen som snakket til meg, LP-en hørte på. Alle disse møtene og samtalene gikk på japansk, da kun en av dem kunne engelsk (og hun fikk jeg ikke snakke med).

Vmor var så sint at hun måtte puste skikkelig tungt for å roe seg ned, og det fikk meg til å følge meg ganske ukomfortabel. Jeg har aldri sett en voksen oppføre seg slik. Det kom frem enda flere «problemer» med meg, og de var helt usaklige. Det var som om hun prøvde å få dem til å se mer og mer ned på meg, og det var lite logikk i det hun sa. F.eks. har både hun og AFS bedt meg om å alltid si i fra hvis jeg har vondt i hodet, og den morgenen hadde jeg det så jeg sa i fra. Jeg hadde forklart til henne at jeg hadde tatt medisin og at det var over, men dette var hun tydeligvis ikke fornøyd med. Hun klaget i vei. tiden oppførte jeg meg rolig, i motsetning til slik sjefen og vmor holdt på det meste av tiden. Om jeg hadde oppført meg sånn hadde jeg fått beskjed om at jeg ikke kan kontrollere meg, men det er tydeligvis greit at de gjør det.

Jeg følte meg tråkket på og oversett. De var helt overbeviste om at jeg var en dårlig person og uansett hva jeg hadde sagt, så ville det ikke ha hjulpet. Jeg måtte bare nikke til alt og si unnskyld. Det har vært så mange misforståelser og de spør, men lytter ikke. Det verste var at jeg fikk høre at jeg ikke kunne bli en god lege og mor, og dette såret meg veldig. Jeg vet at man ofte er ekstra hard her når man kjefter, men er ikke dette å gå litt for langt? Hvordan kan man si sånt til et annet menneske?

Senere fortalte vmor meg noe jeg lenge hadde mistenkt; at hun har PTSD (hun har vært hos lege og alt). I det siste hadde det blitt verre igjen, og jeg forklarte for henne at jeg hadde holdt ting inne for å gjøre det bedre for henne. Hun sa hun var lei seg for at det gikk utover meg, og at hun synes jeg egentlig var snill og god. Vertsfamilier som er psykisk syke kan ikke være det, så AFS Nagaoka hadde brutt reglene nok en gang.

Etter de to ukene hos vertsfamilie nr.1 flyttet jeg inn hos nr.2 igjen, og har hatt det veldig fint her. Jeg bestemte meg for å starte på nytt, og hadde ikke lyst til å snakke med vfamilien om det som var. Noe jeg likte godt med den uken jeg var der sist, var at de ikke spurte om noe som helst. Denne gangen derimot, fikk jeg høre at sjefen hadde fortalt dem alt. Etter at jeg dro hadde hun spurt dem om hva de synes, og de sa at de synes at jeg var kjempegrei og det var ikke noe problem i det hele tatt. Sjefen prøvde straks å overbevise dem om det motsatte. Om og om igjen sa hun at jeg ikke var en god person, mens vmor nr.2 sa at det var jeg jo. Sjefen hørte absolutt ikke på dem, og la ut om historier de aldri har nevnt for meg (at jeg kalte japanere for dumme, at jeg holdt på å slå vertslillebroren min). Jeg har aldri blitt sint på ham, og jeg har aldri sagt noe slik.

Sjefen la ut om meg, men uansett så ville ikke vfamilie nr. 2 tro på henne. Og det sa de om og om igjen, men hun ville ikke høre. Hun sa at jeg måtte hjem hvis de ikke fant vertsfamilie, og vmor nr. 2 kunne ikke forstå hvorfor. Hun gråt i evigheter fordi hun synes det var så urettferdig, og hun kunne ikke forstå hva jeg hadde gjort galt (jeg var jo en så god person). Så det er ikke bare jeg som føler at jeg har blitt behandlet urettferdig, og at det meste ikke er sant. Jeg vet at alle japanere er forskjellige, men det var ganske gale når hun gråt over det.

Jeg er kjempeglad for at de er på min side, og at det er japanere som er enige med meg. En stund ble jeg så sliten av å høre alle de fæle tingene, at jeg nesten trodde på dem. Jeg begynte nesten å tro at det folk hjemme i Norge hadde sagt til meg hele livet, var feil. At jeg er en dårlig person, at jeg ikke forstår andres følelser, at jeg ikke passer inn i andre kulturer. Jeg følte at jeg holdt på å miste meg selv. Mange ganger holdt jeg på å besvime av alt stresset.

Men det de sa var feil, jeg er en god person. Jeg forsto vmor nr.1s følelser og tilpasset meg for hennes skyld, selv om det ble misforstått. Skolen og vfamilie nr.2 likte meg kjempegodt, og jeg kunne være meg selv.

Jeg synes det var unødvendig av sjefen å fortelle vfamilien om det som hadde skjedd. Hva om de hadde trodd henne? Hvordan ville de ha behandlet meg da? Det er også i mot reglene.

Jeg ble ganske paranoid etter dette, og var redd for å snakke med noen fra AFS der. Jeg var redd hver gang telefonen ringte, for det gjorde sjefen ofte. Følte meg innelåst, fanget og jaktet på. Ble stresset hver gang jeg må snakke med de andre LP-ene, og var livredd for å gjøre feil. Var så redd for sjefen at jeg rett og slett ikke ville ha noe mer med henne å gjøre. Det ble et halvt år med trusler, folk som ropte til meg i telefonen, og det var helt traumatisk. Har aldri følt meg så lite verdt hele mitt liv. De sa jeg var ubrukelig, kunne aldri bli noe, forsto ikke andre mennesker, var ingenting, duger ikke til noe. Og så tvang de meg til å gjenta det, smile og si takk. Ble helt hjernevasket.

Vi hadde flere møter med AFS. Jeg var alltid så kvalm, svimmel og redd, og jeg fikk Jacob til å være i samme rom. Prøvde å hilse på dem, men de overså det og begynte heller å glefse til meg. Jeg torde ikke si noe, og sa bare at jeg trengte å diskutere det med de ekte foreldrene mine og AFS Norge. De bare lo av meg og sa at det spilte ingen rolle hva foreldrene mine syntes.

Videre gikk de igjennom ting de hadde snakket om før, og kalte meg for dårlig mor, lege, person og tvang meg til å gjenta det. De hevet stemmer og sa at jeg var udugelig, skulle ikke vært her, og at de ville at jeg skulle dra hjem. De lo av ting jeg sa, sukket og stønnet, og avbrøt meg. De par gangene de lot meg snakke kunne de rope stopp midt i og vise flat hånd mot meg. De protesterte mot alt jeg sa, ba meg ti stille og sa at jeg var rar, at jeg ikke passer inn i noen kulturer, at jeg ikke hadde noe der å gjøre. De sa også at hvis det ikke gikk bra i neste vfamilie, kunne de ikke finne en ny en til meg. De sa det var siste sjanse, men jeg hadde jo ikke fått en eneste sjanse! Den første vertsfamilien skulle jo aldri ha blitt det.

Så fikk jeg en ny, permanent vertsfamilie. De var alltid opptatt og jeg måtte bare holde meg hjemme. Vmor jobbet til ti-elleve om kvelden, mens vfar også kom hjem sent. Jeg synes dette var litt dumt, men tenkte at vi måtte bare bruke den tiden vi hadde så godt jeg kunne. Så snart folk kom hjem snakket jeg med dem, og var ekstra hyggelig. Etter hvert som tiden gikk følte jeg at forholdet vårt ble verre og verre. De tok veldig lite initiativ til samtaler, og hvis vi først snakket fikk jeg bare «åja» tilbake. Dette var det samme med alle i vfamilien. Vfar var hjemme hele tiden i helgene, men han satt på pc med øretelefoner og var opptatt med det hele dagen. Jeg prøvde å snakke så mye med ham som mulig, men det virket som om han ikke forsto hvorfor, og jeg fikk stadig spørsmål om jeg ikke var sulten, sliten, hadde noe annet å gjøre. Det samme med vsøster, og det var alltid jeg som holdt samtalen i gang. Flere ganger da jeg kom inn for å snakke fikk jeg høre at du kan godt være på rommet, er du ikke sliten, du bør vente. Følte meg ikke velkommen eller en del av vfamilien, og det var bare jeg som prøvde. Følte meg ensom og etter hvert synes jeg det var ganske ubehagelig å være hjemme. De snakket mye med hverandre og hadde det kjempegøy, mens jeg ble ignorert

Da jeg først kom hit sa vertssøster at de var litt spesielle, og det merket jeg. Huset var fullt av fluer! De glemte ofte å kaste gammel mat slik at det var fullt av fluer og skittent! Jeg hadde noen ganger problemer med å spise maten deres pga. dette, og de ble veldig sinte. Nesten hver dag måtte jeg spise middag alene, og ofte var det kun brød. Det var lite mat i huset og vanskelig for meg å lage noe selv (ble mye koppe-nudler). De pleide å kjøpe brød, men flere ganger da de påstod at de hadde det var det ikke noe igjen til meg. Jeg måtte ofte kjøpe min egen mat.

Jeg ønsket å bytte vertsfamilie (slik jeg også ville med den første), men torde ikke si i fra. De kom bare til å bli enda sintere, og jeg fikk bare holde ut.

Vfamilien ignorerte meg mer og mer, og jeg begynte å forstå at noe måtte ha skjedd. En annen dag kom det gaver fra Norge, inkludert brunost. Vmor lagde hele tiden unnskyldninger for å ikke smake, og hun ga aldri gaven til vsøster.

Det var ofte ubehagelig stemning og de glefset til meg for ingenting. De prøvde aldri å bli kjent med meg, noe jeg synes er synd da jeg liker å bli kjent med nye folk. Vertsmor spurte meg om jeg synes hun var skummel, og sa at det var best om jeg gjorde det.

Uken før hadde jeg i tillegg et møte med LP, men hun nevnte ikke vfamilien en eneste gang. Fikk da inntrykk av at alt var bra, og vi snakket kun om ting som skulle skje videre. Dagen etter festivalen dro jeg til Shibata, og hørte ingenting fra AFS. Hadde det så utrolig fint der, og å komme tilbake til Nagaoka var et slag i trynet. En sint LP ringte og sa at hun kom i kveld for å snakke med vfamilien min om Tokyo, og jeg ble helt forskrekket. Jeg prøvde å spørre om hvorfor de kom, men da la hun bare på. Ble kjemperedd og tenkte at nå kom de til å fortelle om hvorfor jeg dro til Tokyo, om alle løgnene deres, de forrige vfamiliene osv. Det kunne ikke skje! De kom til å vende vfamilien mot meg, slik de hadde prøvd før.

En stund senere kom LP og selvfølgelig lokalsjef, og de ba meg også være med i samtalen. Det første de sa var at på lørdag skulle jeg til Tokyo, og jeg husker at jeg tenkte at nå sender de meg hjem, herregud de gjør det, nå kan jeg bli glad igjen. Men nei, de sa at jeg skulle bo der fra nå av, og de visste ikke hva som ville skje videre. Vfamilien bare nikket og så sint på meg. Så forklarte de at vfamilien min hadde gitt meg opp, at jeg skulle flyttes igjen. Jeg ble veldig lei meg, for dette kom ut av det blå. De hadde ikke sagt noe på forhånd og det er faktisk i mot reglene, og jeg ble helt forferdet over at det hadde skjedd ting igjen og at jeg ikke fikk sjansen til å rette dem opp igjen. De begynte å snakke dritt om meg igjen og skjelte meg ut. De ropte og jeg måtte bare sitte der. Vfamilien nikket bare og oppførte seg som om de visste om alt dette!

Videre nevnte hun ting som liksom hadde skjedd, at jeg hadde vært frekk(?) mot AFS, dårlig mor, lege, person, duger ikke til noe, burde ikke vært der. Det samme sa vmor og hun ropte meg til og med opp i ansiktet, utrolig skremmende. Lokalsjefen hadde sannsynligvis fortalt vertsfamilien mye dritt om meg, det er i mot reglene. Vfamilien skal ikke kunne få vite detaljer om hva som har «skjedd» før. Det første var at de mente at jeg hadde vært inne på vforeldrene mine sitt rom (og de nevnte selvfølgelig ikke at søsteren min også sover der, og hun ba meg komme inn og lese manga når jeg ville), når jeg hadde fått tillatelse til å gå inn der! Jeg hadde også spurt flere ganger om det virkelig var helt greit. Det andre var at de mente at jeg hadde brukt opp alt batteriet på en DVD-spiller uten å si det til dem. Nå vet jeg ikke om de bokstavelig talt mente batteri eller utladet, for jeg har aldri sett den en gang! Visste ikke at de hadde det en gang!

Videre ble jeg skjelt ut, avbrutt og kalt for så mange stygge ting. De gjorde narr av meg, lo, sa at jeg ikke kunne klare det, var bare til bry, var ingenting. Jeg følte meg verdiløs og trakket på, og det gjorde så vondt å høre på dem. Lokalsjefen sa at jeg ikke forsto andre mennesker, kom ikke overens med noen, og sist men ikke minst løy hun om at skolen ikke ville ha meg. Hun sa at skolen synes jeg deltok for lite i timer, og de ville heller ikke ha meg. Vmor nikket og glefset til meg om at jeg ga opp for alt, at jeg ga opp bare fordi ting var vanskelig (snakker de om??). Hun gjorde også noen bevegelser med armene som jeg ikke forsto, og da jeg spurte om det bare lo de av meg alle sammen og fikk meg til å føle meg så dum. Lokalsjefen sa til og med at hvis jeg hadde bodd i hennes hus hadde hun slått til meg, og hun gjorde også den bevegelsen med hånden! Jeg har senere fått bekreftet at hun sa dette, og at hun faktisk har gjort det mot en annen utvekslingselev! Dette fikk jeg høre fra en annen som hørte henne nevne det. Jeg ble jo omtrent truet med vold! Utrolig behagelig.

Og det verste var at jeg måtte bare sitte der og nikke, smile og si takk, takk for alle råd. De spurte meg «synes du ikke at du er en dårlig person?», og jeg sa bare at jeg har dårlige og gode sider. De bare lo. Hva skjedde med alt jeg hadde gjort mot dem? Hvor hyggelig jeg var?

Men alt løste seg til slutt. I august kom jeg til slutt til verdens beste vertsfamilie i Kamakura, en liten by utenfor Tokyo. De ble som en ekte familie for meg, og har hjulpet meg gjennom så mye. Jeg er utrolig glad i dem og de i meg. Den første kvelden hos meg sa de at de ikke visste hva som hadde skjedd, men at de visste at fra nå av kom alt til å bli bedre. Det er sant. Det halvåret hos dem var det beste i mitt liv, selv om min morfar gikk bort oppi alt sammen. Der var de også en god støtte. I går fortalte jeg dem denne historien, og de ble veldig sjokkerte. Det er ikke normalt for japanere å oppføre seg slik mange i Nagaoka gjorde. Vertsfamilien sa de var helt flaue og skuffet over hva som hadde skjedd der, og at det ikke var normalt for japanere å holde på sånn. Det har jeg også skjønt etter alle de fantastiske japanerne jeg har møtt utenfor AFS Nagaoka. I denne kulturen der man alltid tenker på andre, vokter sine ord og handlinger er slike ting som jeg opplevde helt uhørte.

Slike mennesker har ikke noe med landet de bor i å gjøre. Vi er alle forskjellige, takler slike påkjenninger på ulik måte, og noen av oss burde kanskje tenkt oss mer om. Japan har gitt meg så utrolig mye, og det er mange flotte mennesker her. De i AFS Nagaoka er frivillige og jobber hardt, det setter jeg pris på, men det er mye som burde vært annerledes.

Men hvordan kunne noe slikt skje? Hvorfor ble jeg behandlet på denne måten? Vertsfamilie nr.1 var gode venner med alle i AFS Nagaoka, og ble sett opp til. Vertsmor var syk (noe lokalsjefen påsto at hun ikke visste), og de var ikke klar for å ha meg der. For at det ikke skulle komme fram at det var fordi de og AFS Nagaoka hadde gjort en feil, ble all skylden lagt på meg. Jeg er utlending, et barn og ikke en del av den venneflokken. Men det er viktig å få fram at flere av de frivillige i AFS Nagaoka var gode å snakke med, og jeg er glad de var der. Dessverre fikk jeg ikke lov til å snakke så mye med dem, noe jeg skulle ønske jeg kunne.

AFS Nagaoka hadde også vært gjennom utrolig mye stress med utvekslingselever som brøt mange regler, veldig vansker med å finne vertsfamilier, og LP-er som slet med sykdom. De hadde hatt mye å stri med og ville ha så lite bry som mulig, og da noe skjedde tok de alt det stresset og sinnet ut på meg. Lokalsjefen var en ganske eldre dame som var øverst i hierarkiet, så hva de andre vertsfamiliene mente om meg spilte ingen rolle. Det var ingen som kunne hjelpe meg. Hun hadde mye makt og utnyttet det. I tillegg var hun venner med mange på hovedkontoret i Tokyo, så der hadde jeg også vansker med å bli trodd. De virket også ganske skeptiske da lokalsjefen hadde sagt så mye stygt om meg, og jeg følte at de hele tiden så etter feil. De prøvde så godt de kunne, det er jeg takknemlig for, men de var tydelig påvirket av sitt vennskap til lokalsjefen og ting hun hadde sagt. Heldigvis fikk jeg til slutt en ny sjanse her i Kamakura, hos en utrolig vertsfamilie jeg aldri kan få takket nok. AFS Tokyo var flinke og vi løste det til slutt. Samme med AFS Norge, Jacob, min norske familie og venner. Jeg er evig takknemlig.

Vanlige problemer: Farlig nabolag, skittent, advokathjelp

Atle Torgersen (19) fra Vegårshei landet sist høst på den videregående skolen  i Tvedestrand. Her trives han veldig godt, etter et år med dårlige  erfaringer som utvekslingsstudent i England.

Publisert 26.03.2012 kl  23:18 Oppdatert 26.03.2012 kl  23:32

– Jeg skulle ønske at jeg hadde gått alle tre årene her i Tvedestrand, sier  Atle som er russ denne våren.

Han forteller at han nå har gått på tre forskjellige videregående skoler. Det  først året tilbragte han på Drottningborg i Grimstad, før han tok et år som  utvekslingselev ved Bedford college i England.

Drottningborg var han fornøyd med, men oppholdet i England ble en lite  hyggelig opplevelse.

Han synes den engelske skolen var ok, men er svært kritisk til opplegget som  det norske skoleutvekslingsselskapet hadde laget.

Uheldig med vertsfamilie

Atle legger ikke skjul på at han var misfornøyd med vertsfamilien.

I følge Atle var det ikke noe hyggelig hjem. Han måte dele rom med en elev fra  Tyskland, og den kvinnelige huseieren hadde rot over hele huset. De fikk  heller ikke noe god mat.

Atle legger ansvaret på utvekslingsselskapet som han mener gjorde for dårlig  jobb med å finne passende vertsfamilie.

– Jeg betalte 65.000 kroner for oppholdet i England. I tillegg var det noen  veldig dyre turer som de arrangerte. Med tanke på hvor mye jeg betalte for  skoleåret i England, synes jeg at jeg fikk lite igjen, sier han.

Ble slått ned

Atle forteller også om en uheldig episode med en annen ungdomsgjeng, som førte  til at ble han slått ned i gata der han bodde, og fikk en smell i hodet.  Skoleutvekslingsselskapet ble gjort kjent med dette overfallet.

– Men jeg fikk ingen oppfølging i det hele tatt, sier Atle som synes det var  skuffende.

Den unge vegårsheiingen lengtet hjem, og i vinterferien reiste han til  Vegårshei. Selskapet forbød imidlertid sine utveklingsstudenter å reise hjem  under hele oppholdet i England, ifølge Atle.

Kastet ut av programmet

– Det ble til slutt så mye uenigheter mellom oss at det endte med at jeg ble  kastet ut av selskapets program etter sju måneder i England.

– Du er vel ikke spesielt kranglete?

– Nei, de som kjenner meg, kan ikke helt skjønne hvordan dette kunne skje,  sier Atle med smil.

Han legger til at han sammen med foreldrene sine engasjerte en advokat  etterpå, og etter mye korrespondanse fikk han tilbakebetalt 17.000 kroner av  skoleutvekslingsselskapet.

Lærte godt engelsk

– Noe positivt fikk du vel igjen for oppholdet i England?

– Ja, jeg fikk lært engelsk skikkelig. Jeg ble veldig god i engelsk.

Atle trekker også fram at han ble godt kjent med flere lærere på skolen, og  han fikk heldigvis bo hos en av dem, da han ble kastet ut av selskapets  program.

– Hun var veldig hyggelig. Det var som natt og dag. Jeg fikk eget rom og bo i  et rent hus.

Tilpasningsdyktig

Atle mener at han slett ikke har vanskeligheter med å tilpasse seg. Han  forteller forøvrig at han var på språkreise på Malta allerede den sommeren  han var ferdig med ungdomsskolen. Der likte han seg kjempegodt, og var  veldig fornøyd med STS som arrangerte språkskolen på Malta.

Nå har han det utmerket på Tvedestrand og Åmli vgs. Han forteller at han ble  tatt godt i mot av medelever og lærere da han begynte sist høst. Atle synes  skolen har et godt miljø og bra lærere.

Mange muligheter

– Du er snart ferdig på skolen i Tvedestrand, og skal begynne på et nytt  kapittel i livet?

– Ja, egentlig har jeg mest lyst til å bli pilot, men jeg har ikke de rette  fagene. Jeg har søkt på mange skoler, og jeg vet ikke helt hva det blir. Kan  tenke meg å studere økonomi eller jus. Tror det blir jusstudier.

Vent med å reise

Når det gjelder erfaringene som utvekslingsselev i England, konkluderer Atle  med at det kanskje kan være lurt å vente til etter videregående skole med å  oppfylle sine utenlandsdrømmer.

– Når du er 18-19 år og myndig, er du mer moden, og har mer du skulle ha sagt  hvis det oppstår problemer, fastslår Atle Torgersen.

Problemer: Bytte familier, familiekonflikt, overfylt, ingen hjelp

Complaint to the US Department of State against EF and their representative Nettie Lowery
Dato: Tue, 04 Dec 2012 20:50:33 +0100
Fra: L
Til: DOS
CC: Diverse

U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20522

Attention:Div

Dear Sirs and Madams,

I remind you of the story of my own M’s meeting with Forte International Exchange Association and their representative Becky Sanderson. Below is the story from a mother of the treatment of her daughter by another representative, this time from EF. It is clear that the representatives of the various organisations are getting away with traumatizing exchange students coming into your country for «the adventure of a life-time». Instead they leave the US with the impression that they are not taken seriously and that adults are free to treat teen-agers as they like. This is something that the Department of State needs to take seriously.

To whom it may concern,

Complaint about the treatment of my daughter, XXXX, by EF USA/Norway and their Fayetteville, North-Carolina representative Nettie Lowery.

Early on XXXX was given the XXXX family in Fayetteville, North-Carolina as her host-family. They were a young military family consisting of mom, dad and a one-year-old son. The dad also has a daughter from a previous relationship. She does not live with the family.

The family had planned a vacation to Tennessee before school-start and wanted XXXX to join them. EF advised XXXX to leave ahead of time so she could be part of this vacation and that way get to know the family. XXXX left four weeks ahead of time – August 1, 2012.
In spite of being afraid of flying, XXXX was booked for four flights. She also had to travel on her own. At the airport XXXX and her mom were met by an inexperienced representative from EF. XXXX got her tickets and it turned out there were only two of them. The EF-representative was not able to give an answer as to why there were only two tickets. Neither could she tell XXXX at which airport XXXX needed to pick up her luggage and where it continued on its own. XXXX was told to ask at Information in New York and ask about the tickets there.

The flight information the family had received from EF included four destinations, but the reservation confimation only had three destinations. When we aired this with the representative, she had no clue and felt XXXX should get an answer in New York. The phone card we had been given had been filled and registered by the family, but it did not work. The representative was not able to address this problem either.

After 36 hours of travel, XXXX was met at the next to last airport by host mom. Worn out, XXXX arrived at a home that stank, where it was dark and filthy and where noone greeted her. In addition there were more people living in the home than we had been told. In addition to the family XXXX had been told of, the host-mom’s sister, the host-mom’s mother and three dogs lived in the house. XXXX is afraid of dogs and had not been told about the pets.

It turns out the courts had refused visitation rights to host-dad and that the family were going to court the week after XXXX’s arrival. This was the alleged vacation to Tennesse.

XXXX’s representative, Nettie, told XXXX that she had not wanted to approve the family, but that EF higher up had overruled her.
August 12, 2012 XXXX was removed from the home of the XXXX family. She was then placed with with XXXX. XXXX stayed with XXXX a few days until EF had approved the next temporary home. This time XXXX moved in with XXXX. XXXX  could only stay with XXXX a couple of days as XXXX was awaiting her own exchange student and therefore would not be able to fit another exchange-student into her home.

After a couple of days XXXX with XXXX, XXXX was then moved to Nettie, her own representative. XXXX’s experience with the XXXX’s had been traumatic. Having to move into three temporary homes did not help the matter any.

Nettie turned out to be an awful host-mom. She threatened and bullied XXXX. In the end XXXX became so afraid of Nettie that she was unable to tell her how she really felt. Nettie had threatened XXXX with dire consequences if XXXX was troublesome. XXXX was told in no uncertain terms that Nettie could make serious trouble for XXXX. She would make sure that XXXX would never be herself again. XXXX was also told that Nettie’s salary was based on how many exchange-students Nettie was able to place and that XXXX would be held responsible if she did not stay with the next family. Nettie told XXXX that she could care less what happened to XXXX and coerced XXXX to sign a «Contract of Behavior» where among other things XXXX had to promise to stop crying, to love and respect her «mother» and to speak English at all times (see below).

It gets worse. Nettie brought XXXX along to an acceptance-interview with her supposed next permanent family, the XXXX. At the XXXX’ home XXXX was displayed and «interviewed». Still present, XXXX was discussed and evaluated. This was how she was approved by the XXXX. This is illegal! The students aren’t supposed to be presented with name or picture to a potential host-family ahead of time. It is extremely difficult for young girl to experience this kind of evaluation, especially considering what had passed previously. Their representative is supposed to be a «safe» person, someone the exchange student can turn to in difficult situations.
Before the papers were in order, XXXX was placed with the XXXX. They stated that they did not dare ask EF about this because they saw how terribly Nettie treated XXXX, and they were afraid that Nettie would remove XXXX from the family if they dared question anything.

Conversation started September 15: 7:56am

Host mother

  • I am sorry to bother the two of you, but I am hoping that maybe somebody would be willing to tell me what happened. XXXX was adjusting nicely, doing better in school, getting more comfortable with the family, or we thought so anyway. I knew she had not made a final decision whether to stay or leave, but she was finally smiling, seeming to settle in, I know she was sleeping, I could see it in her face. We had all been making plans for the fair this weekend, and for making some trips to Washington DC, going down the coast and maybe new york in the spring. I went to work on Monday, while I was gone she decided to go home. She has never spoken to me again. She never told me she was going home, she never said a word abut why all this happened. I know her start in the States was not good, but my family and I opened our home and our lives to her. While we are not perfect we are decent people in a decent home. I don’t mind so much that she went home, I just wish someone would tell me what happened. XXXX is a lovely young lady with a wonderful spirit, which is why is suprises me so much that she simply never said a thing. She has also removed both my daughter and I from her FB account, which is her right, I simply find that I would really like to know what it was that we did to her that was so horrible that she simply will not speak after staying in our home and being a part of our family. If either of you would be willing to explain that, I would truly appreciate it. On another note, I intend to call EF now that I know XXXX is back home and settled and discuss her contact here in the states. She had placed XXXX with us before all of the paperwork was done, and her treatment of the child was completely unpleasant and unprofessional. Unless either of you has a great objection I intend to speak to the people in Boston about it. I had told XXXX that I would do that, I just did not want to do it while she was with us for fear that they would move her again.

Host mother

  • Oh XXXX I can stand. Have no fear for me. Whatever you need of me just ask. I wish I had known. I just did not know what my family had done. I told XXXX I would say nothing about Nettie while she was here for fear they would take XXXX from me. I just did not know why XXXX was mad with us. We are a bit silly and unorganized but i thought we were normal. Whatever you need, I will send whatever you need and I am calling nettles american boss on Monday. If I have my way she will no longer have a job. Please know my family and I would have never participated in threats to your daughter and if our name was used we had nothing to do with it. I have never treated any child like that.

 

The XXXX lived way out in the country and were very religious. Mrs. XXXX was not interested in XXXX having contact with anyone outside the family. XXXX and the host-family were asked if they would like to visit another Norwegian (Sue) living in North-Carolina, but the XXXX would not allow this. XXXX was then invited to go with the same person to a Greek festival, but she was not allowed to do that either. After that conversation XXXX’s host-mom had pulled her into her room and yelled at her saying that she was not to have people call their house to convince XXXX to go out. After this XXXX was only allowed to speak with people in English.

Friends of Sue then offered to host XXXX for the rest of the year so she might experience a normal year. All of the information about that family was sent to EF. EF would not let XXXX move until mediation/councelling had been done with the XXXX.

XXXX had by this time become so broken in spirit that she and I decided that the best place for XXXX would be with her mother. After arrival in Norway XXXX was evaluated by the family-doctor and he concluded that the previously healthy young lady had come back to Norway with depression and anxiety problems. Even now XXXX struggles with nightmares of EF taking her back to the US.

We wish to accomplish several things with this complaint:

1. EF should refund the whole program fee of NOK 78 762.

2. In addition EF should refund all of the extra expenses that have been placed upon our family due to this avoidable situation. This includes all of the trips we have had to make, medical expenses and a vacation that was cut short: NOK 110 000,-

3. In addition, XXXX’s representative, Nettie Lowery should be held responsible for her actions and expelled from the EF system.

4. The State Department needs to make certain that all of the exchange organizations (including EF) are held responsible for their actions.

Sincerely

XXXX (mother)

Copy: Div


Behavioral agreement from EF

Vanlige problemer: Bytte familie, skittent

– Jeg føler meg fortapt.

Sofie Braseth | an.no | Publisert 11.11.13 21:27

Trude Gundersen fra Mosjøen har gledet seg i årevis til utvekslingsåret i USA, og har reist med EF Education First. EF er verdens største private utdanningsselskap, og tilbyr språkreiser, språkkurs, utveksling og studier i utlandet.
  • Jeg er nå bosatt i Boise, Idaho, og er uten familie. Den første familien jeg ble plassert i var ikke bra. De hadde et veldig lite og skittent hus, og vertsmoren i familien sa brått ut at hun hatet meg og ville aldri se meg igjen. Det resulterte i at jeg måtte flytte ut fra hjemmet, sier Gundersen til AN.

Hun sier at EF i ettertid beklaget at hun ble plassert i et hjem som hadde utrygge omgivelser, og at de ikke hadde gjort en bra nok bakgrunnssjekk på familien.

  • Nå forteller de meg at jeg må vente på en ny familie. Jeg har nå ventet i over to uker, men har ikke fått en ny enda. Jeg har også blitt fortalt at jeg må gå rundt og spørre folk på skolen min om jeg kan bo med dem. Jeg er en av utrolig mange utvekslingsstudenter som opplever det samme, og dette synes jeg ikke er greit i det hele tatt.
– Må være positiv

Gundersen sier at hun føler at EF ikke er seriøse i jobben de gjør.

  • De sender studenter fra hjemlandet sitt ut i verden uten å ha nok vertsfamilier til alle. Organisasjonen er lite behjelpelig med å finne vertsfamilier og forteller oss at vi må være positive og bare vente. Vi sitter her og venter på å få nye familier. Områderepresentanten min har 5 studenter å plassere. Hun har ringt rundt 100 familier, og har ennå ikke fått en familie til noen av oss. Vi er mange studenter som overhodet ikke er fornøyde med oppfølgingen vi får etter å ha betalt over 80 000 kroner for å komme hit.

Gundersen forteller blant annet om en norsk venninne i USA som har byttet fire vertsfamilier på to uker.

Nå ønsker 17-åringen å nå ut til de som ønsker å dra på utveksling, eller har vært gjennom det samme.

  • Det er så mange ting som man må være obs på når man begir seg ut som utvekslingsstudent, og slike situasjoner er absolutt ikke akseptable, sier Gundersen, som har skrevet et blogginnlegg om hvorvidt USA-drømmen er verdt det: «Begynner virkelig å lure på om denne drømmen er verdt det lengre. Jeg begynner å tenke på hvordan ting hadde vært om jeg var hjemme nå. Savner alt så forferdelig mye. Savner vennene mine mest av alt. Føler meg fortapt i denne situasjonen fordi jeg ikke har noen venner her jeg kan fortelle om hvordan jeg føler det til.»

Jobber med forventninger

Lena Sjøttem er country manager for EF Norge. Hun sier at de sender ut mange studenter hvert år, og at de jobber en del med ungdommenes forventninger i forkant av reisen.

  • Vi har faste rutiner når noen opplever noe som en utfordring. Vi har kontaktpersoner på stedet, og på hovedkontoret i Boston. Vi er opptatt av å følge rutinene, sier hun til avisen.

Sjøttem understreker at EF er nøye i sin utvelgelse av vertsfamilier, og at alle vertsfamilier må skrive søknad. Deretter har EF intervju i hjemmet, der vi møter alle familiemedlemmene.

  • Vi bakgrunnssjekker alle familiene, og gjør også en finansiell sjekk. Alle familiene må også framlegge to referanser som sier at de egner seg til å være vertsfamilier.

Sjøttem sier at EF i utgangspunktet finner vertsfamilier til alle ungdommene de sender ut.

  • Det er viktig at familiene matcher studentene så godt som mulig. Det er vårt ansvar å finne gode vertsfamilier til studentene.
– Kan oppleves annerledes

EF-manageren sier at av alle de sender ut i løpet av et år er det veldig få som ikke trives.

  • Vi forstår at noen opplever utfordringer i løpet av oppholdet. Det er noe vi må takle individuelt, men vi jobber en del med å sette de riktige forventningene i forkant av reisen. Det kan oppleves som tøft for mange hvis de har svært høye forventninger, og ting kan oppleves annerledes enn man trodde i forkant.

————————-

Du kan følge Trude på bloggen hennes. Hun har siden fått seg en ny familie som det ser ut som om hun trives med.

2009 Jul 21: Warrant of Arrest for Edna Mary Burgette

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ‘American family’

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

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

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

Such hopes were worth a lot to Ms. Lago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until now, that was rarely the case.

Long-standing issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School concerns

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

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

Mrs. Burgette had placed the student in the home.

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

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

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

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

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

National problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal investigation launched

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

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

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

Parents question whether this was done.

Other foreign exchange placement agencies say they follow the rules.

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

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

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

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

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

Shattered dreams

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

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

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

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

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

Contact the writer:  shofius@timesshamrock.com


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