Culture, ah culture! It is sooo important to be cultural and honest in our world! Do not cheat anyone or exchange culture and honor for money! Today we will discuss another WAT myth from the Work and Travel chapter of the Half-American book. We will talk about “cultural exchange” component of the program, or to be precise the acute lack of it …
Ready for the exchange? Let’s get cultured in America 🙂
Myth #6: Myth of the cultural exchange and building “lasting and meaningful relationships”. Are slaves back in America?
Anyone who attended work and travel presentation was probably wondering – what are agents talking about when they mention cultural exchange? What kind of international, student, and even cultural exchange is it, for which one needs to pay thousands of dollars and prepare six months?
Unfortunately, students do not have a clear and objective view of the program before and after wat presentation. But why would participants bother to understand cultural exchange of the wat program? What is more important for them is that agents said that you can earn an average 6000 bucks and even 10,000 or more, travel around the country, improve English, gain experience in an international company and so on and on. Such promised “pluses” of the program are abundant and degree of their coolness often directly depends on the impudence degree of the wat agent…
So what is that cultural exchange of a work and travel program???
Maybe it is washing hundreds of dirty dishes and scrubbing dozens of American toilets every day? Or maybe it is a working 16 hours a day on two jobs throughout the whole summer? Or perhaps it is working in strip clubs, topless bars and escort services? Or maybe it is living with 10 other people in a room or in a bus with removed seats? Or living and working in stables of the “fashionable” hotel? Or maybe it is trips to the nearby church and homeless shelter for the free food? Or perhaps it is evening trips to cafes and begging for donuts to be thrown to garbage???
If all that is a cultural exchange of the work and travel program, and not a hoax, then I will gladly admit my mistake and start believing in aliens 🙂 But, most likely, agents promised you, and then you signed up and paid thousands of dollars for something else… Now let’s put emotions aside and as always, sort it out together and step by step.
To begin, read again Myth №1, the one that is about money. Having carefully calculated your earnings, you will quickly understand that you will have to work at least two jobs in order just to repay the program’s cost. Of course, you can indulge yourself with the hope of traveling around the country and visiting 50 states at the end of the summer, but … alas, you either will not have money, time, or simply the desire and energy to spend so hard-earned money. You will have to choose between maximizing earnings in a short 3 months to repay borrowed money for the program, buying iphone promised by agents and traveling around the country at your own expense. Moreover, after 80 hours of work per week and living in substandard conditions, students have very little energy and desire for “cultural exchanges” whatever that may mean. So in that case, what kind of “cultural exchange” do work and travel agents sell to naive students and their parents?
Now, the most important and interesting thing about this “cultural exchange” program is that if you want to travel around the country and see the places shown by wat agents on marketing brochures, you will have to pay extra money from your pocket. No doubt, everything looks just amazing on wat presentations and advertising brochures – no wonder, since professional marketers prepare them. But thousands of dollars paid for the “program” gone to the pockets of the sponsor and agents — not even a penny of these fees will go on your imaginary travels around the country. So get ready to open your pocket once again boys and girls! Yep, that is so true – after paying thousands of dollars to the agent, you have to pay for all your trips yourself again! An of course, do not forget to pay back the money you borrowed for the program …
Actually, it all seems, to put it mildly, rather strange and even paradoxical – students have to pay $3,000 and make a lot of effort to realize one thing upon arrival. To realize that they must become like slaves for the next 3 months of the program, work like robots on two jobs and feel physically and even morally exhausted. If something goes wrong, you can not just make your mind and leave the work – this may lead to termination of your visa. Therefore, most likely you will have to put up with any conditions at work. You have spent thousands of bucks on the program and now you have to be quiet and endure. They got you, baby… That is the freedom of the cultural exchange of the work and travel program. As one of the participants noted: “It is sad to give away more than 3000 dollars to become a slave.” Another participant added: “I had to work like in hell”. The absurdness of such a 16-hour work “cultural exchange” is just mind boggling…
Next, in order to find out with whom to “exchange culture”, go to Career Myth and English Myth. Working at low-paid, unskilled, and despised-by-Americans wat jobs will rather get you accustomed with Hispanic culture and others, not an American one. Moreover, it is not rare that participants share culture with students from … their own country and even the same university, as was shown by many examples.
You probably noticed how everything is expensive in America (with the exception of your services). Unless your parents have deep pockets your “cultural exchange” will be limited to your menial job with minimal pay – the work despised by Americans. Although here comes up a logical question – what scrubbing toilets and washing dishes has to do with the cultural exchange? Exacty, nothing. You will certainly get to know how the weed smells like, learn hispanic language and … and… and that is pretty much it – that is your “cultural exchange”, baby. Although it seems more like a cultural deception, does not it?
So forget about promised “traveling through 50 states and abroad”. Unless you have rich parents but that is not for whom Mr. Fulbright created the program anyway. As one of the participants rightly noted: “We, of course, came for a dream, thought we would make tons of money, rent a car and drive around all states to Las Vegas, but in reality everything turned out to be a bit different… “. Broken dreams? Disappointment? Who knows these feelings?
Further, yes, you have a status of the “exchange visitor” in states – although you still have no clue what that really means to you and what rights you have. But that “exchange visitor” status probably does not matter to you at all since you will have to work on two jobs and not complain. Furthermore, to add confusion, on paper and during WAT marketing campaign agents call you “exchange student”. What does this even mean? Well… In reality, this pun has little in common with reality – there is minimal reciprocity in the program, no one is exchanging students with anyone, and you are not a student in states, but a source of cheap labor.
In addition to natural culture shock and being far from home on their own, these poor students begin to understand the myths of WAT program. Participants often realize that “easy and average” earnings of $6000 advertised by WAT agents is a complete bs around the second month of the program. Some feel frustration and indignation, some panic and fall into depression, some begin to cry as they realize their income is dismal compared to all the money they had spent and that they have little or no funds to travel and have “cultural exchange” – the very thing the program was designed for to begin with. Heavily borrowed to come to US, these young workers are now forced to get second and third jobs. As a result, these poor students become robots and perform repetitive tasks over and over every day all summer, without any possibility and, by that time, already desire for the “cultural exchange”.
But situation with the second job is not that simple either. Understanding of the money myth does not come just to one smart student, but to hundreds of program participants in the city. As a result, crowds of poor students begin to roam the streets in search of the work, further complicating the overall earnings situation – employers can now pay less with more people willing to work. In addition, students have to compete with army of local illegal immigrants ready to work for $5/hour. But even the presence of two jobs does not guarantee anything … Naive and desperate students are easy targets for shady recruiters and savvy greedy employers. Recruiters frequently deduct from student’s wages the cost of housing, transportation and other costs so high that the salary becomes meager.
To add pain, students often do not report a second job to a sponsor, and therefore they work, so to speak, illegally. Therefore, in case of any problems at the second job, there will be no one to complain and ask for help, as students are afraid that the sponsor will find out about the “illegal” work and cancel their visa. So paycheck cuts, sexual harassment, or any other harassment and offense becomes even more likely at the second job.
Ok, talked about work abuses, but what about the students who could not find a second job? Or they simply did not want to work 16 hours a day for the minimum starvation wage – after all, this is not why they paid $3,000 to wat agents for a “cultural exchange” program? True, not for this… but students are not invited to US to pay them high wages either. So in order to earn money promised by the agents or at least recoup the cost of the program, participants often start getting forbidden jobs with a higher salary. Girls, not rare, turn to sex and ero-industry: strip clubs, dance night and topless bars, escorts services, spa and massage salons – so practically they begin working in states like prostitutes under the cover of Work and Travel cultural exchange program. The young men, who are not yet in such great demand among similar businesses in America, cannot “easily” sell out and they have to work exhausting 16-hour shifts on other unauthorized jobs. As a result, there are often health problems with former and later participants, and of course the hassle for their parents.
Such is the “cultural exchange” of Work and Travel … Although all of this seems more like a cultural deception, isn’t it?
Should also be noted, it is unlikely that a student who barely speaks English, does not understand laws, and essentially still a child, will go somewhere to complain in a foreign country. And all this bureaucracy and unwillingness of the sponsor, that has partner like relationship with an employer, to solve problems takes time which is limited for participants to 3 months. Students often not only do not receive adequate support from the sponsor, but rather obstacles to change jobs where they might be abused. Agents, in turn, diligently downplay and sweep under the rug student complaints – if it becomes publicly known about the violations and deception of students from their agency, then this agency will have problems with the recruitment of participants next season and, therefore problems making money out of students.
As a result of this whole situation, the lion’s share of violations and harassment of students is not reported at all, not disclosed, and therefore remains unknown to the wider public. Worse, all the predators and thugs in wat chain continue their deceptive practices year after year and take advantage of naive students.
That is why, it is not surprising that such situation, when a student has to agree with any conditions and endure, often leads to the exploitation of poor students with dire consequences. Just like slaves and everything in the name of “cultural exchange” in America.
So that’s your work and travel “cultural exchange” my dear friend…
Relationship between employers, sponsors and agents deserves special attention and we will talk about it sometime separately.
In addition to our own analysis and the experience of other participants, it is interesting to know what is said about cultural deception in America itself. This will add objectivity and more interesting facts of the “cultural exchange” program. The following review of the American press convincingly confirms all of the said above. Moreover, the presence of a huge number of articles and attention from large American news and civic organizations to this topic emphasizes the prevalence and seriousness of violations in the work and travel program.
What do they say in America about cultural exchange/deception?
Culture Shock: The Exploitation of J-1 Cultural Exchange Workers. SPLC
Land of opportunity or close to slavery? The Post and Courier
AP IMPACT: US fails to tackle student visa abuses. Fox News
Cultural Visitor Or Laborer? J-1 Student Visa Program Fails To Deliver American Experience. Wyoming public media
In Alaska, young foreign workers on “cultural exchange” visas wash the dishes and make hotel beds. Anchorage Daily News
These articles and reports from American organizations are sufficient to reiterate the seriousness of the “cultural exchange” problem. So you can see that the myth of “cultural exchange” is a real myth that received widespread discussion and attention by the American public.
Anyway, thanks for reading, hope you will spend your summer, sharing cultures indeed and not trying to save on air mattresses. We wish you real and the best cultural exchange ever!
Good luck !!!
Want to earn promised “average” $6000, improve English, enhance your resume and refund your taxes? Good luck… but before you pay $3000 to Work and Travel agents check out these myths about the program:
- Money Myth
- English Myth
- Career Myth
- Tax refund Myth
- Medical insurance Myth
- Sex. Money. Work and Travel. Part One.
- J-1 visa interview with commonly asked questions (more than 100)
as well as other useful Work and Travel tips in the book
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