As long as I have lived in the United States, I have always been in touch with Armenian international students (both high school and university), except for this year (though the kids are scheduled to leave after June 2006, so the year is not really over yet). Some of them have become best friends, especially the kids from 2003-2004. Oh, even when I was back in Armenia, I still had friends who would come to the U.S. to participate in the program.

Attached Image
Romella, 16-year-old
FLEX 2005-2006 student
(from 6 News)

I do not know why I didn’t get to meet the kids from this year, but I am fairly glad I did not have such an opportunity.

If I did, I would also know (or know about) Romella Papazyan, a 16-year-old kid who died a month ago while she was driving an ATV. Please do not misunderstand or misinterpret my words… If I knew her, her death would be very devastating for me, which is the reason that I have stated my having been glad at not encountering this year's class.

I encountered the news about this girl’s death in American newspapers. Washington County Pilot-Tribune and Enterprise, for example, wrote a commemorative article about Romella on 30 December 2005, and published her photo as well.

I do not wish to further elaborate on the details of her accident, due to the fact that describing this tragedy is not the reason I am writing this. I simply want to take the opportunity to express my concerns about the organization, FLEX , which brings about 50 exchange students from Armenia to the U.S. every year for high school studies. My concern is not about Armenian kids being “spoiled” by American high school standards. C'mon. America is not the one who is gonna spoil them. If they are already spoiled, they will become much more spoiled here indeed (like a girl whose sister I knew in Armenia). But, I wonder, why is it that those I call my friends, not simply individuals I have become acquainted with, but true friends, do not get spoiled, i.e. participate in immoral behavior, while in the United States?

My primary concern is the American families who host these kids. And the concern comes from a person who personally knows at least two of these families and from a person who has been told many stories by these kids about their host families.

I once even e-mailed the administration of FLEX expressing my concerns about the host families. I was told it was not my business. But this family I know (who are great people, and who have become my friends too) told me that the families go through long processes of trainings, etc.

Long processes? Well, here are some things that happened too:
When a friend of mine from my High School in Armenia was a student in the U.S. in 2002-2003, he was staying with a single host father, who would expect the kid to pay from his scholarship to buy food for the host father. From last year, there were two girls (one of them was not from Armenia) staying with a single host mother. This woman would not buy food or not do so on a regular basis, so the kids spent many nights being hungry (I have personally met both of them in the spring of 2005). Finally, after tolerating one year, they requested a family change for the last week before they left for their homes (they were also forced to work at the business place that the host “mother” owned). One of my best friends (2003-2004 Alumni) has told me that there have been “far worse incidents” with her girlfriends and their host families, but I did not ask her to share these stories. There are more examples of course….

I think the problem is in the selection of the host families. Many of them are people who have never had children and thus do not know the proper method by which to treat these international students. Some of them are single adults, who are bored and want to have a host kid for a year. But the abusive stories are so numerous, that I highly doubt if this program actually benefits the students, as the program claims to aim.

And by the way, Romella was not wearing a helmet, according to the newspapers, when she was driving. Are the host parents going to answer for this?

I guess it is not my business, according to FLEX.