This complaint was posted on NAS on 1st Feb, 2022 and is a permanent record located here: https://www.nameandshame.com/cetusa-5YOM2/cetusa-big-hustle-id5ye26 .
CETUSA - a big hustle
This is how CETUSA treats their exchange students!
Actually, I wanted to have a great exchange year with good experiences in the U.S., however, it ended in disaster, and I had to fly back to Germany after only three months.
Let’s start from the beginning: I signed up for a ten-month exchange program in the U.S. with DFSR (in Germany) and CETUSA (Council for Educational Travel, USA) last year. I was very excited and anticipated for my year abroad. I received information about my host family who lived in Michigan in April of 2021, and I left for the US at the end of August.
The first month was going well and I tried to integrate until after a month and a half, things started to go worse and worse. This had several reasons: First, I lived very far from my school (over 20 miles) and was on the road for over three hours every day because I also had a class at the school, which was almost at my house, and I always took the bus there and back right after I went to school with my host father in the morning. In addition, my school, which was located on an Indian reservation, was quite small with only 50 students in high school. It was not very easy for me to make many friends with about 10 students in the class. On top of that, I had problems with certain people. I didn’t know how to deal with them because there was a language barrier between native English speakers and me.
So, I decided that I would like to change schools or just my whole placement because I felt uncomfortable and out of place there. I contacted my local coordinator (LC). She claimed that for some reason it was not possible to change schools and about whether I was allowed to change my whole placement, I could not talk to her either because she knew my host father as a friend as well as a colleague at my school. This made it even more difficult because she was biased as part of my school.
However, I did not give up that easily. I first contacted my American organization, CETUSA, by email and when after days I still did not receive an answer, I contacted my German organization, DFSR. There they said it was not possible to change at all and that I should please stay there until the end.
As a result, my mood deteriorated drastically. I was annoyed and felt very alone and left behind by DFSR and CETUSA. This was also perceived by my host parents who alerted my Local Coordinator as well as my parents. My coordinator contacted CETUSA and CETUSA contacted DFSR and DFSR contacted my parents in Germany too, after which they panicked even more. My mother was hugely worried about me and kept calling and texting me because, as she told me, DFSR often contacted her by phone and email several times a day to tell her things about me. Many of the ‘reports’ about me were not true, nor did they make any sense to me. For example, they once claimed that I had blocked all school contacts on social media. I didn’t do that, and I could have proved it myself. I asked who said that and how they came up with it. I was simply ignored by DFSR and CETUSA. I am not the first one where the organization told untruths to the parents behind the back of the exchange student. Something like this is mentally very stressful and does not solve any problems. On the contrary, it made the problems worse. I felt very pressured and simply didn’t know what to do in my situation. I know that it may be difficult for outsiders to put themselves in the situation of an exchange student. However, I would have expected help at least from DFSR as my German agency, unfortunately, I was not really supported by anyone. CETUSA tried to blame the misfortune on me – with success.
Nevertheless, I did not give up right away. I interpreted CETUSA’s statement to mean that there was a possibility of transferring if another high school would accept me. Therefore, I talked to the principal of another school where I already had a course to convince him to accept me. I told him about all my problems, including problems with classmates, because he specifically asked me about problems, and I couldn’t keep everything quiet. In the end, he said no on the grounds that my program had made an effort so that I could go to my current school.
The next day, an employee of CETUSA talked to me on the phone and insinuated that I had violated the J1 visa rules because it was the organization’s job to take care of the school. But I only asked if I could change and did not register. In addition, I was said to have talked very badly about my school as well as my principal, although I only told that the school was far away and small, and I told the principal about problems with other students because I wanted to be honest.
My parents received a Final Warning the following day, which was not discussed with me. Neither a staff member from CETUSA nor DFSR talked to me about it and explained why I was getting it and what exactly it meant for me – not even my Local Coordinator seemed to really know about it. Anyway, I was the one who told her that my mom had told me something about a warning. The Local Coordinator told me not to worry about it. That was very confusing. The organization didn’t seem to want to talk to me properly about it and inform me.
The next period was quite depressing, and I felt even more alone than before because, disappointingly, both DFSR and CETUSA ignored me instead of helping me. All communication was always through my parents instead of me: my coordinator reported something about me to the American organization CETUSA. That would then go to DFSR and DFSR would then always tell my parents to please tell me this and that. I was often very confused as to what was meant. No matter how many times I approached DFSR and CETUSA, it was all to no avail.
Despite all of this, however, I did everything I could to get better. I tried to do more with family and go downstairs more often. I also kept a low profile with certain people at school for several weeks to prevent arguments. One of the ways this was taken was that I was trying to block everything out. I was willing to talk at all times. Even when the school’s supervisor talked to me, I kept an open mind, even though I initially had my doubts about whether it would lead to a real solution. Apparently, there were also only several misunderstandings between some classmates and me, and fortunately we were able to clear them up.
But unfortunately, things did not go so well every day. The pressure that DFSR and CETUSA put on my parents, and they then put on me affected my mental health. I was easily irritable some days. Sometime after Final Warning, on a Monday, I had a little temper tantrum at basketball. This was very unnecessary of me, especially because it was only about a small thing. I then went to my host father from the gym to the school building and told him that I hated it all and didn’t want to participate anymore. I realized myself that it was more than stupid of me because I already had a warning.
The next day, I was notified by phone by a CETUSA employee that my program was now being reviewed and that I might be sent home. I apologized, of course, and said that despite the incident the previous day, I was making an effort to better adjust and integrate. In the days that followed, I did my best to make sure I could stay. For example, I took on volunteer tasks at my school. I helped clean the cafeteria after lunch. I also talked openly with my host family about everything.
On Friday of the same week, DFSR told my parents that I was being sent home and should leave the U.S. in seven days at the latest. This was decided by a program director from CETUSA, who – as several CETUSA employees told me – normally does not want to talk to exchange students. So, it means that a person who doesn’t know me decided that I should fly back to Germany after only three instead of ten months. I couldn’t believe it and still can’t. I tried to find out more about the
exact reasons why I must leave, but CETUSA always just told me not to discuss it. And when I told the one CETUSA staff member that I might get depressed if I had to go back so suddenly, I got a rude answer: It is not CETUSA’s problem if exchange students have mental problems during or after the exchange year. She also accused me of having mental problems before the exchange year and of being unsuitable for the program, neither of which was true.
I contacted the Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CSFES), a volunteer organization that advocates for the rights of exchange students. I was told that I was not the first case where CETUSA had come up negatively. Increasingly, CETUSA has denied assistance to exchange students1 and ten years ago the Department of State even had to ban CETUSA’s summer program2.
CSFES then sent two complaints to the Department of State against CETUSA. Once for sending me home for these causes and then another complaint for CETUSA not printing the Department of State number on my Student ID Card. This is a clear violation of the United States Department of State Regulations, Section 62.25 (g)(6)3. Unfortunately, no timely response came from the Department of State before I flew back to Germany. So CETUSA can easily control itself if the Department of State does nothing.
My parents were also supposed to sign a ‘Release Letter’ from CETUSA so that they would no longer have any claims against CETUSA and DFSR. We didn’t sign anything. We won’t get any money back anyway. I wonder where the money is going. DFSR and CETUSA have never helped me. DFSR even always ignored my calls, and they didn’t answer emails right away either. CETUSA was no better. I wonder what would happen if someone had an acute emergency. Would the situation be handled so lightly then as well? I am very disappointed in CETUSA! I didn’t think they would treat exchange students this way and how indifferent the organizations were to my mental health.
3 United States Department of State Regulations, Section 62.25 (g)(6):
An identification card, that lists the exchange student’s name, United States host family placement address and telephone numbers (landline and cellular), sponsor name and main office and emergency telephone numbers, name and telephone numbers (landline and cellular) of the local coordinator
and area representative, the telephone number of Department’s Office of Designation, and the Secondary School Student program toll free emergency telephone number.