Monday, July 23, 2012

San Diego student exchange sponsor PIE suspended; our own Danielle Grijalva is an international advocate for students

Danielle Grijalva, San Diego advocate for exchange students, helped expose problems.
See all Danielle Grijalva posts.

Student exchange sponsor suspended
Associated Press
July 19, 2012

Hundreds of high school exchange students could be affected by a State Department decision to suspend the sponsor-company that was to bring them to the United States.

A department official told The Associated Press on Thursday that Pacific Intercultural Exchange, or PIE, of San Diego was suspended from the popular exchange program on Tuesday.

The official said the agency is working with at least four foreign students now in the U.S. Other sponsoring organizations are trying to find host families for 455 students from 18 countries who had been recruited by the company, but they may have to put off their exchanges until later.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said PIE was suspended for "violating exchange program regulations," but wouldn't elaborate.

The State Department put the company on probation last year, reduced the number of students it could sponsor by 15 percent and ordered it to improve program administration.

A message seeking comment from PIE wasn't immediately returned Thursday. The company's website says it is a nonprofit organization that has facilitated exchanges for more than 25,000 high school students from all over the world since 1975.

The Exchange Visitor Program brings close to 30,000 high school students to the United States each year. Foreign students live with a host family and attend U.S. schools.

...Advocacy groups often blame the sponsoring organizations, designated by the State Department, for problems that have led to neglect and abuse of the participants, like not properly vetting host families.

Danielle Grijalva, director of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, said it's rare for the State Department to suspend an organization from sponsoring students.

"I believe this action by the State Department exceeds sending a simple `wake-up' call to its sponsors," Grijalva said. "We have nearly 30,000 high school students from across the globe anxious to come to the United States to learn more about American culture and spend thousands of dollars to do so. These students must leave our country at the end of their program with nothing less than a positive impression of the United States."

A lawsuit filed last year in Portland, Ore., alleges that a German student was molested after PIE placed the student in a home with a host father who had a criminal record for fraud.

The complaint, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, said the host father pleaded guilty in December 2010 to four acts of sexual abuse against the student. The lawsuit alleges that PIE did not do an adequate background check.

Earlier this year, AP obtained internal State Department documents that said a review by the agency last year found that 15 of its 39 "largest fee-charging" sponsors were in "regulatory noncompliance," though it didn't say what rules were violated. The memos said the State Department took steps to sever its relationship with one sponsor after the company placed a student "with a host family whose criminal background check revealed a murder conviction."

The State Department told AP in March that it had received 43 allegations of sexual abuse since the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, but it's not clear if any of those were students sponsored by PIE.

The State Department has adopted several rules designed to safeguard students in the high school program, including requiring all sponsors to photograph the exterior of the house, the kitchen and student's bedroom. Host families also must provide outside character references. Previously, family members and sponsors could be such references.

But the State Department documents also showed that the agency considered but dropped a plan to require FBI background checks similar to what are used by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts because it wasn't "feasible."

Important information for students going to USA under exchange programme
News Central Asia
23 July 2012

Ashgabat (nCa) — For the young students traveling alone for the first time, it is a big leap into the unknown when they leave home for a year of study in the United States, and stay with a family they never met before.

All kinds of things can happen out there when the students are disconnected from their familiar support system of family, friends and the society – and, unpleasant things do happen from time to time.

Except for those funded by the Department of State, most of the exchange programmes are fee-based. Spending several thousand dollars for a year of schooling and stay in the United States means big investment for an average family in Central Asia.

What if the dream turns into a nightmare? What if your daughter gets placed in a family headed by a sex offender? What if someone confiscates here passport and money under some dubious pretext? What if she has a problem but doesn’t know who to talk to you? —- She is thousands of kilometers away from you and she needs immediate assistance or advice: Who should she turn to?

There are several volunteer organizations in the US that offer assistance to the exchange students. The best among them, as far as we know, is the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CSFES).

Found by Ms. Danielle Grijalva some seven years ago, CSFES has evolved into a dedicated powerhouse for well-rounded and effective support for the exchange students.

In the United States... Ms. Grijalva has turned the tide nearly single-handedly in favour of exchange students. The tremendous courage to lock horns with the mightiest machinery of the bureaucracy, the moral timbre that never errs, the tireless pursuit to right the wrong, the boundless love that is not limited to just her own children, and the ability to keep a growing team of volunteers fully focused on the challenge are some of the essential traits that define Danielle Grijalva.

We would recommend strongly that any foreign exchange students in the United States (and also their parents), when faced by a problem should immediately contact CFES.

There are several ways to get in touch with them. The easiest is to go to visit the contact page on their website and send them a message.

It is also possible to phone them at 760-583-9593.

Their postal address is: Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, P.O. Box 6496, Oceanside, CA 92056, U.S.A.

Before you leave for the United States, it would be advisable to go the website of CSFES and read carefully the guidelines and tips provided by them. There is a wealth of information, gathered and created by them over the years.

Tips for Parents – When searching for an organization
(from CSFES website)

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