Exchange Students Abused In U.S.

exchange student, boy CBS

Danish foreign exchange student Nicklas Rassing always dreamed of this day: when he would graduate from an American high school.

His parents spent $8,000 to send him to America, investing their faith in a California company called American Intercultural Student Exchange. But, as CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports, the company sent Nicklas to live with a 61-year-old single man who molested him and then tried to keep him quiet.

"He wouldn't let me speak in English," says Nicklas. "He was listening on the phone when I talked to my parents."

Eventually Nicklas was able to sneak a text message on a cell phone to Denmark.

"We were 6,000 miles away. We couldn't act. We couldn't do anything," says his father Peter Rassing.

Because, they say they couldn't reach anyone at AISE. After a full weekend of frantic calls, they finally got Nicklas out.

Thai student Mary Vattanisiriporn was living in a house with two other AISE exchange students and four young children. She was sleeping on a couch in a garage.

Before that, AISE had placed her in a run down home in Montana.

Sally Arguilez Smith rescued Mary and began to investigate AISE after hearing several stories from its exchange students, including Nicholas.

"I didn't feel they showed any concern for the welfare of these kids," says Smith. "This is not what the exchange program is supposed to be about."

She alerted the U.S. State Department. In a letter obtained by CBS News, the State Department sanctioned the company for not properly training its employees and put AISE on one year's probation.

In addition, the council of standards for international educational travel has removed AISE from its list of accredited programs. Most high school officials use the trade group's list as a guide for which programs to allow in their schools.

AISE director of field services Judy Scott says the company has an excellent record in 22 years of placing foreign exchange students.

Asked if the process that the host family has to go through before they are chosen is rigorous, Scott says, "Yes I think it is. I mean there's a lot of personal questions they have to answer."

Scott defends Mary's living conditions as adequate. As for Nicholas, Scott says, "AISE had no way of knowing that this would happen. It's very unfortunate and we regret it."

But not enough to give his family a refund or any kind of apology.
  • Jaime Holguin

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