Story below is by Danielle Grijalva (left), director of CFES (Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students), an organization that works to protect exchange students who are at risk far away from home.
I was recently contacted by a mother from China. Her 16-year-old daughter is on a cultural exchange and experiencing great difficulties as a foreign exchange student.
At this time, the mother would like for her daughter to simply be placed with a suitable host family. Thus far, the first two families haven't worked out.
The first host family wasn't prepared to host.The exchange student wasn't allowed a key to the home. The house rule was that she was not allowed to be in the home alone. Recently, the exchange student waited six hours outside for one of her host parents to arrive. As per the email from the natural mother to CSFES:
"The families did not give her key. She had to be on the streets up to 6 hours, because she was not allowed to stay in the house if no one of the family was at home.
There was also an incident with her second host family wherein the exchange student hurt her arm while at school. As per the email sent by the natural mother to CSFES, "She had an accident in the school, fell on her arm, and according to the school manager, she needed immediate care and go to the hospital. The accident occurred at one o´clock. She was in hospital at 7.30, because the responsible person from the English organisation did not care. I cant tell you the name right now, because we are scared, that they assault my daughter even more. This is a known problem, that these organizations are only after profit."
There was great reluctance on behalf of the second host family to take her to be seen by a medical professional. Frankly, they couldn't be bothered.
The second host family is very distant according to the exchange student's mother. Repeatedly she as expressed her concerns to the sending agency in China, but they do little to help despite the many emails sent to the agency.
The exchange student is trying hard to remain strong. She wants to complete her program year which is scheduled to end in May. However, the student's placement agency has threatened to send her home early if she continues to complain. The agency has already stated that they will not try to find another host family to host this exchange student.
An area representative has been assigned to the foreign exchange student, but she, too, is equally distant. She does not want to be bothered with trying to secure another host family. The student has been threatened to be sent home early if she continues to complain.
Grijalva added, "We always ask the student placement agencies who is the impartial student advocate assigned to the student in situations such as these? It is important youth serving organizations do not allow for the same individuals to continue making the same mistakes that impact the well-being and safety of teens." But Grijalva went on to explain that this is a very unregulated, unmonitored industry that operates without oversight.
It may be a long four months for this student to endure should she decide to stay until in May. She is worn. Her second host family lives quite a distance from the nearest high school which requires a 90 minute commute each way to school. She deserves to complete her cultural exchange, which has been her dream. Her parents spent the equivalent of $14,000 for their daughter to study abroad as a foreign exchange student.
"The natural parents feel helpless" according to Danielle Grijalva, Director of CSFES. "CSFES has made several recommendations to help resolve the situation, but ultimately I reminded the mother that she will need to determine when her daughter has had enough; it may be time to send for her daughter."
In an email to the mother from Grijalva, "I am unsure whether your daughter plans to stay until May. Whatever the case may be, please, from my heart, be reminded that you are the parent. If there are too many struggles that your daughter has to endure, then, in my opinion, it may be time for her to return home. I have seen too many cases where exchange students return after months of mental abuse, and for some, they are never the same. I am not a doctor, of course, and not providing medical advice, but I have been contacted by natural parents across the globe over the past 13 years who have shared the depression their son or daughter has fallen into. Therefore, if you decide that your daughter should return home early, I am hopeful that your daughter will understand it is in her best interest. Believe me, in the end having to endure months of mental abuse... well, it honestly isn't worth it."
Grijalva says that she wishes more parents would ask pertinent questions prior to sending their son or daughter thousands of miles from home to live with complete strangers. She recommends natural parents be allowed to correspond with the host family their child will be living with. Grijalva said, "Sadly, many of these student placement agencies accept more students than there are host families available. These kids end up anywhere with anyone." A full, fingerprint, criminal background check is still not required of host families. Therefore, it is not uncommon for an exchange student to be hosted by a family member with a criminal background."
Grijalva explains, "It is all too common for parents to rely on the glossy brochures showing pictures of smiling teens that are presented to them at time of signing up their son or daughter to study abroad on a cultural exchange." She suggests that natural parents take their time in selecting a student placement agency that will be responsible for the well-being of their child while studying abroad.
Visit the website of the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Student and refer to Tips for Parents that appears on the website. www.csfes.org