Friday, March 21, 2014

Trying to Prevent a Future Bad Exchange

Okay – maybe I’m not being fair.  Maybe some family in Kazakhstan is putting up with an unpleasant American teen who wants to be waited on, won’t show up for appointments,  is generally rude, and cares nothing about Kazakhstan culture.  Maybe it was a fair exchange.  But it wasn’t my badly behaved teenager who invaded their country.  And maybe that’s the core of the problem.  Maybe families in different countries should just swap children for a year and leave the rest of us out of it.

But, that isn’t likely to happen.

I’m taking the free class on thinking at

One of the points the teachers of this class makes is that interviews are useless as determinants of how someone will do in a new job.  Most people can be nice for half-an-hour. These teachers suggest instead, that a future employer ask a potential employee “What have you done for the past 4 years.”  The past is a likely indicator of the future.

I say all the more so for someone who will live with you for the next year.  I wasn’t allowed to interview my exchange student before she was dropped off in my living room with her luggage.
I got to meet and play with my dog at the Animal shelter.  The State Department treats a human being with less care and concern than the pet rescuers treat a dog or cat.  This needs to change.

I think the FLEX program interviewers could protect families from an inappropriate exchange student like the one I got if they asked potential exchange students, “What did you do in your out-of-school hours for the past 4 years?”  A question like this would elicit answers that are likely to reveal which students are curious about art and culture and their fellow humans.  My exchange student would likely have answered, “I study all the time so I can get into a good college.”  Since exchange students aren’t supposed to spend their year abroad in their rooms, reading textbooks, such an answer should exclude students like the one I got from the program, even ignoring her Princessy behaviors.

Other questions that might exclude students who should stay home include:

Do you prepare (or help prepare) meals for your family?

Do you do your own laundry?

Do you wash dishes?

Do you set the table?

What do you talk about at the dinner table?

What was the most interesting dinner table conversation you had this week?

Do you help take care of your family’s pet(s)?

Do you know how to sew on a button or mend a torn seam?

Do you usually meet your deadlines?

When you missed a deadline, what did you do? How did you notify the people who were depending on you?

Do you show up at the agreed time for appointments?  If you are late, what do you do?
Are you interested in trying new foods?

What would you do if your host family served a meal that you thought tasted terrible?

What would you do if a member of your host family became ill?

What if caring for that person meant your host family couldn’t keep some of their promises to you, like taking you someplace, or shopping with you?

What do you do when you disagree with somebody?

What do you do when somebody disagrees with you?

Do you have a favorite type of music?  Art? Movie?

What do you do / say / plan when you discover that people with you have different tastes from yours?

What do you most look forward to doing / seeing / experiencing in the country you want to visit for a year?

What do you think you’ll do as a member of another family for a year?

I also think it is inappropriate to limit applicants to those who already are fluent in the language of the country they will visit.  This limits applicants to the upper class in most countries.  I think finding and selecting students who really care about the world and other people should take precedence.  Language immersion camps could be offered for students who are otherwise appropriate for the program.

Exchange programs are supposed to develop future leaders, who having made friends in other countries during their year abroad, will not want to start wars with their friends.

When the program selects someone inappropriate the exchange fails twice. First, the selected student gains no friends or appreciation for the visited country. In fact, such a student may become hostile to the visited country because it is not like home. (My student has asked if she can live in the Russian part of town with a family that speaks fluent Russian.)  Second a student who could have met the goals of the program was not selected and therefore does not experience the desired friendships.

The student exchange program needs a major overhaul.

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