Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Welcome to America

Michael Gromek is a 19-year-old Polish exchange student who came to the United States only to find himself trapped by his Christian fundamentalist host family who tried to banish the devil from his soul and wanted to recruit him to help set up fundamentalist Christian churches back in Poland. Michael did not have a happy experience with his first American family.

His story first appeared in SchoolSpiegel, a SPIEGEL web site that solicits stories from school kids about their experiences. The excerpt below is from the republication of his story in DER SPIEGEL.
Things began to go wrong as soon as I arrived in my new home in Winston-Salem, where I was to spend my year abroad. For example, every Monday my ost family would gather around the kitchen table to talk about sex. My host parents hadn't had sex for the last 17 years because -- so they told me -- they were devoting their lives to God. They also wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart.

My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops. They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying 'Michael, it's time to go to church.' I hated that sentence. When I didn't want to go to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn't allow me to have any coffee.

One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is separated from my father. They were appalled -- my mother's heart was just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her to stay with her husband, they said.

Then, seeing as we were already on the topic of God's will, the religious zealots finally brought up a subject which had clearly been on their minds for a long time: They wanted me to help them set up a Fundamentalist Baptist church in my home country of Poland. It was God's will, they said. They tried to slip the topic casually into conversation, but it really shocked me -- I realized that was the only reason they had welcomed me into their family. They had already started construction work in Krakow -- I was to help them with translations and with spreading their faith via the media.

It was clear to me that there was no way I was going to do that. The family was appalled. It was a weird situation. After all, these people were my only company at the time. If I hadn't kept in touch with home through e-mail, I might have been sucked into that world.

It was only after four months that I decided to change my host family. I had kept hoping that things might improve, but it was futile. Telling them that I wanted to go was the most unpleasant moment I experienced in that half year. Of course they didn't understand -- how could they? They had grown up with their faith and were convinced of it, and then suddenly I turned up and refused to fit in.

From that moment on, I counted the days. The two months that followed my decision were hell. My host parents detested me. There were constant rows. I could sense that they just wanted to get rid of me. They didn't know what to do with me any more.

67 days later, I was finally in a new family. They were young, actually more friends than host parents, and I was very happy there. …


Larry Gambone said...

I find this apalling. What the hell is the matter with the organization promoting such exchanges? Host parents should be well screened to keep psychos like these away from students.

Anonymous said...

My experience has been that the organizations promoting exchanges are more worried about keeping the funds used to send a kid to the States than they are about ensuring each child has a postive experience. I quit working with one organization after they determined the best way to solve an issue was to remove 2 exchange students (that I counseled) from a home where they were miserable but to make that family their new counselors! The CSIET needs to look more at how the exchange organizations handle complaints from exchange students and less on how paperwork is completed to solve this problem!