(Note from ed.: This comment on Salla Rautiola’s case was too long for the comment section. I am therefore posting it as a guest post)
When you sign up with an organization that “specializes” in International Student Travel opportunities, you think of Students that are ambitious and are excited to learn and experience new life in a different country. These organizations usually provide great moments for foreign students to learn academically as well as learn about the country they temporarily reside in.
In 2011, when I was going back to Gisele-Lalonde Secondary after the Summer break, I noticed an Exchange student at our school and I introduced myself. Salla Marisa Rautiola. At the end of the day I knew she was Finnish, she was on an exchange trip for 1 year attending our school. Her goals were to learn about our academic system learn about Canadian culture, learn and practice her French and English language and participate in the exchange by meeting with other exchange students and their families.
STS Canada was the organization she was doing her exchange with. I knew nothing of this international student exchange organization till now. Salla had a host family about 10 minutes away from my home. Her first host family… It was a single Jamaican woman, with a European base boyfriend, as well as another exhcnage student residing in the home. My first thought was.. If she is coming here to learn about our Canadian culture, language, traditions, etc.. why was she placed with a family that has no Canadian roots?? Secondly, the home she was in, was causing problems that were not addressed before Salla arrived in Canada:
Allergies to Pollen, Cats and Dogs : The house was unorganized, dusty, boxes with old stuff in the halls, a “smell” that was in the carpets and furniture, also that the host mom had little to no interest for Salla’s nutrition, there were bugs in the window sills, mold around the walls in some rooms.
I was asking myself why this was not taken care of before Salla had arrived to Canada. I was told that the regional supervisor’s responsibility was to make sure the houses were ready to host exchange students. Sandra Hanniman was tSalla’s regional supervisor at the time and showed no interest in making sure the host homes were up to standards.
Salla had allergy problems with her eyes, skin, and headaches daily and nothing seemed to be getting better. She was late for school because of this, she had misunderstandings with her host families because of this, and the bigger issue was that it was interfering with Salla’s experience in Canada as an international exchange student. When Sandra was asked about the home and why it was in such disorder, she had claimed that the house was checked and that it was messy before Salla arrived because they were “preparing/cleaning” for Salla’s arrival. After weeks passed, Salla had enough. With not changes made, no cleaning was done, no problems were truly addressed by STS, let alone the regional supervisor.
I asked myself, “Are these supervisors and hosts, only doing this for the money?”. I asked myself this because of they’re behavior towards Salla. They did not treat her like a student that wanted to learn more, meet new people, experience fun adventures with Canadian students she met here at her high-school, etc. The hosts treated her more like a child. With rules, schedules, chores, responsibilities like babysitting and cleaning up what mess was not hers. “This should not be the experience exchange students get when they visit Canada”, I told myself. Roselyn, the Jamaican host mom, was severe in terms of visiting rules. I was never allowed to enter her home to visit Salla because she wanted no one inside here home. I can understand because it is a messy maze where she can get in trouble if someone knew the condition of her home as an STS host. She did not allow Salla to leave the home after certain hours of the night (8-9pm) so I had to visit her at the doors of the home..
After the mess, the smell, the allergies, the Jamaican host, the lack of “Canadian hospitality”, Salla had enough. She demanded that Sandra moves her homes immediately because she could not deal with this any longer.
Note: Sandra, the regional supervisor had contacted STS Finland to let them know the quality of the home Salla was staying in. She told Finnish attorney’s that the house was “Fairly tidy and alright”….”To whose standards was this to?” I asked myself, Also what in the world does “alright” mean? Satisfactory? Okay? Shit?
This is where I got to know the lack of management knowledge that Sandra had with this STS organization. Once we approached Sandra together, Salla and I suggested to find another home that meets the standards of STS and also the exchange student..
So the silly regional supervisor thought it would be smart to place Salla in her home temporarily while she finds a replacement home for Salla. Sandra has 2 dogs and 1 cat… Which Salla is allergic to. Sandra has no time to help and show Salla around the new area and where she can find what she needs. At this point I realized that STS is not a quality organization… Sandra was asking her friends to help her out, people that are not even signed up with STS to host exchange students. This means that Salla was basically coming to Canada to stay at Sandra’s friends house?? “This is not what the Rautiola family paid for.” I told myself.
I was angry at what was happening. There was not initiative from Kim Berry, STS Canada manger at the time to help Salla and Sandra find a new home.
My Family was shocked with how the renowned organization STS (Responsibility, Safety and Quality)… was passing around a student like a present nobody wants. The organization was pathetic and quite frankly embarrassing. It was so hard to find a home for Salla at this time, that Sandra was asking un-qualified people to bring in Salla Rautiola because the regional supervisor was desperate. Was this reported to the head office of STS, I am not sure.
My Family took Salla into our home temporarily so that she can be with a family that actually cares about her and her experience here in Canada. This was a decision that was made by us, we are not qualified by STS to host a student, but we did. Because for the sake of Salla’s experience and health here in Canada, we did not want her spending this valuable time moving from house to house, issue to issue. For the first time in months Salla was at ease and she was relaxed…
A few days later, Sandra calls with an “offer” to Salla mentioning she has a host Mom who would like to take her in, a single woman (again), French-canadian who has a little place about 5 minutes from my home. Christine. When we dropped Salla off, the house seemed clean, organized (or more so than the last home), friendly and warm. There were two dogs in the house again..
This was again, another worry of ours. “So this organization really does not give a shit about its students. Like STS Canada took more students that they can handle.” Which completely overlooks their slogan “Responsibility, Safety and Quality”
Weeks go by and things are getting a little better in terms of allergies, irritations and physical problems with Salla. Although the issues with the host Mom still were present. Salla was not so happy with her “host” mom, although she did not want to complain because she had no clue where she would go next… a zoo.. a dump??
Now because Christine was not a true host Mom, ALL THIS TIME, Sandra had made a meeting with Kim Berry to discuss what will happen next with Salla. (Behind her back of course)
Around December 2011, Salla had received a call from her mother at school, telling Salla that she was not going to be able to continue the exchange through till the end of the program. That she was going to be sent home early (January) because of “complications” with the STS documents Salla’s family provided…
They claimed that the medical documents that Salla had, did not mention her allergies and specifics about them. LIES! This was false and STS Canada (Kim Berry) wanted to send Salla back home because she was a “problem” apparently. STS Canada claimed that they did not have the home that Salla needed because they had not received all the documents from the Rautiola’s. (In Finland, Marjo Rautiola, Salla’s Mom made sure to find the copies of the documents where all allergies were taken down, including dust and pets. The same document was signed by the Rautiola’s family doctor for approval)
I think that they were lacking the resources, money, common sense to admit that they made mistakes and they did not fix them… INSTEAD they tried to bury their problems by finding all these “solutions” to Salla’s issues.
We had a meeting at the STS office where Sandra drove us to speak with Kim Berry about what was going to happen now… There was no discussion, no negotiations, no one even asked Salla what she wanted to do or even try and do to fix the problem so she can stay in Canada… Instead, Kim Berry had a nice packet filled with plane tickets, airport maps, timetables and reading material and told Salla she was leaving on a set date and that STS can not keep trying to help Salla because she has too many issues.
First off: STS Canada never even helped Salla or tried to. As I mentioned above, they treated her like a piece of luggage, never asking her opinion or offering different options. They only provided her with solutions that would personally help Sandra through this problem and to avoid any backfire. STS Canada was clearly just trying to desperately fix this to avoid bigger problems…
In Finland, for the last weeks, Salla’s mother was contacting STS Finland and STS Canada offices to find out exactly what was happening with her daughter in another country.. Right? Because it’s okay for a mother to worry about her daughter when she is abroad, especially when she has no idea where or why she is where she is. No answers for weeks from both STS offices. When they did answer, it was with vague solutions and vague objectives. STS Canada did not even show effort into Salla’s case. They gave up on Salla and it was a shock to all of us. The Rautiola Family, My Family and our friends, knowing that STS is in charge of thousands of students worldwide and they have this many problems with only one student?
“They have to be stopped and more responsibility has to be shown to exchange students and more yet, the parents of the student.” I told myself.
But no, we were all left in the dark as STS planned this all behind our backs, to send Salla back home.
The worst part is, that STS has never admitted to any of these accusations and they secretly bought Salla’s plane ticket early December. This means that STS was planning on sending Salla back home, with no warning, no refund, no alternative offers and then made the smart decision to tell those it will affect.
I was disturbed by the people in charge of this whole operation, Kim Berry and Sandra Hanniman from STS Canada and Country Manager, Yannick Becu, from STS in Canada and Country Manager, Mira Silvonen, from STS in Finland. The host parents, all pretended to be so caring for Salla at first, but when problems arose from their own mistakes, their solution is to give up and send her back? I know this is ridiculous and selfish for an organization of any sort to do this to foreign exchange students or to anybody.
When Salla returned home, we stayed in touch with their family. Because STS still had not admitted to any of the crimes they committed while Salla was in Canada.. So the case began. Marjo Rautiola, was writing STS management this whole time, requesting information and processes they will follow to ensure the safety of Salla in Canada. Little information was given back. “I am not going to lay down while these people treat my daughter like shit”. This sparked a great controversy between STS and past exchange students who have been involved with similar issues through STS around the world. Blogs were filling up, websites were being taken down and the families of those affected started requesting answers that STS has never and never will have. Although we all know exactly what happened. There was a lack of caring, interest and support from STS management to the students. They were unorganized, unprepared and shockingly, they did not even want to be a part of this program “which they never were”.
Salla’s experience in Canada was not what she expected. She did not experience the Canadian life here in Ottawa like she was promised by STS. She did not reside in a home where she would practice English and French like she was promised. The hosts were no glad and excited to host Salla, like STS promised, STS did not look after her while she was here…. Like they promised!!?
How many other student’s lives will this organization play with before families have had enough of these lies and secrets that STS has kept from the Rautiola Family and Salla?