Problems with Youth Exchange Programs

Last week, President Obama reiterated the need for nations not to cling to stereotypes of one another, but to talk openly and honestly and to engage those unlike themselves. Student exchange programs and other culture-to-culture programs help break down these stereotypes. For this reason, I have been deeply saddened to hear multiple accounts of neglect and abuse of foreign exchange students residing in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.

I have been told repeatedly that cases like these are rare and are caused by a few bad actors.  However, I do not believe that a few bad apples are the only problems. After I and my staff participated in meetings with the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the Department of State, the Executive Director of the foundation responsible for placing these students, and the individual students involved and then reading Secretary Clinton’s response to my initial questions about youth exchange programs, I have concluded that aspects of the foreign exchange system are deeply flawed. Exchange organizations should not have the discretion to determine whether someone with a drug conviction can host a student. Crimes such as this should automatically disqualify the ability to host a student.

In the coming weeks, my office will work to ensure that protections within the industry are strengthened. When overseas families place their children in our care, they should have confidence that we will do our utmost to protect them.

Foreign Policy
Youth Exchange