Ashgabat, 23 July 2012 (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 with 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? —- 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, where legal traps surround every good intention, 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 visit the contact page on their website http://www.csfes.org/page3.html 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 to the website of CSFES (http://www.csfes.org/) 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)
CSFES is receiving requests from parents to recommend suitable student exchange organizations. While CSFES is not in the position to make such referrals, we offer the following when making this very important decision:
Fingerprint Background Checks:
Ask specifically if the student exchange organization conducts fingerprint background checks. If the answer is no, search for another company.
In Case of an Emergency:
Check how well the student exchange organization responds to emergencies, especially of an evening, weekends and holidays. Find out the emergency telephone number in which to call. Then call the telephone number. The response will tell you if this is a responsible organization.
Reviewing Student Profiles:
When visiting the exchange organization’s website, what controls are in place to prevent easy access to the student’s profile? Is personal information easily accessible complete with the student’s photo? Is this the method in which you would like for your son or daughter to be placed by the student exchange organization?
There is an increase in sexual predators targeting children through the Internet, therefore, this is a vital concern to CSFES.
Host Family Information:
In the event you have progressed to receiving your son or daughter’s prospective Host Family information packet from the student exchange organization:
Check to see that this family’s interests are similar to your son or daughters.
If your child has allergies or asthma; is he/she being placed in a home with animals or those who smoke?
**Be very concerned if prior to your son or daughter’s departure, you are notified by the student exchange organization that there has been a sudden change with the Host Family selected for your child. If you are told the Host Family is no longer the same “due to a divorce or unforeseen circumstances,” etc., this is a major concern to CSFES.” **
You will be told that a Welcome Family will instead await your son or daughter. It has been our experience that this gives cause for your child to potentially be bounced around among Welcome Families many times prior to a “permanent” family being secured. Does the organization pre-screen welcome families, including fingerprint background checks?
As per the United States Department of State regulations, Section 62.25 (d)(3) “Ensure that no organizational representative act as both host family and area supervisor for any student participant whom that organizational representative may host.”
Your son or daughter should not be placed in a home where his/her host mother or father is also the organization’s supervisor, area representative or regional director. This provides no neutrality in the event your son or daughter has concerns or an emergency.
Secure High School Placement:
Do you have a letter of acknowledgement from the high school your son or daughter will attend?
As per the United States Department of State regulations, Section 62.25(f)(4) “Under no circumstance shall a sponsor facilitate the entry into the United States of a student for whom a school placement hs not been secured.”
Student Identification Card:
As per the United States Department of State regulations, Section 62.25 (g)(4) “An identification card which lists the student’s name, United States home placement address and telephone number, and a telephone number which affords immediate contact with both the Department of State and sponsor in case of emergency. Such cards may be provided in advance of home country departure or immediately upon entry into the United States.”
Parents: Make certain your son or daughter has this information; complete with a telephone number that will provide immediate contact with both the Department of State and sponsor.
** In the event your child is not provided with a Student Identification Card complete with the above-referenced information, prior to departure or arrival into the United States, please notify CSFES immediately. **
Ask who has the final say on the selection of family. If you have concerns about the family (age of host parents, etc.) and you are told that if you have to accept the family — ask more questions.
CSFES asks that parents:
1) ask for a copy of the child protection policy of the agency responsible for placing students.
2) ask for a guarantee in writing that the home of the host family has been inspected and the privacy of the student in bathroom and bedroom ensured.
3) ensure that their children are aware of what constitutes sexual harassment given that most rapes are preceded by touching the thigh, commenting on the sexual attractiveness of the student, “accidentally” touching breasts etc., which if ignored leads the perpetrator to think that it is acceptable to proceed further.
4) ask if the agency informs the student of telephone numbers to call if abusive behavior occurs (police, rape crisis centers, etc) ? If not, do not use that agency.
5) make certain your child can access the passport and return ticket if an unacceptable situation is encountered.
6) ensure your child knows how to phone home from overseas.
7) ensure they know how to contact their consulate in case they encounter problems that the agency ignores.
Here is a related AP story carried by The Washington Post:
US State Department suspends high school exchange student sponsoring organization
By Associated Press, Published: July 20
JACKSON, Miss. — 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.
The program is a fun and rewarding experience for thousands of students, but it has come under some scrutiny over the years. 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.”