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SCRANTON, Pa. — During his year as a foreign exchange student in the United States, 18-year-old Carlos Villarreal lived not with a welcoming family, but with two ex-convicts in a seedy house that smelled of dog feces and where the food was labeled "DO NOT TOUCH." He left 14 pounds lighter. Villarreal, a Colombian, had signed up for a pricey study-abroad program that promised an "unforgettable year" in America. What he and many other exchange students in northeastern Pennsylvania got instead was a year filled with shabby treatment bordering on abuse. "I just wanted it to end," he says.
The problems have been documented around the country: _ A woman in Anderson, Ind., pleaded guilty to having sex with her 17-year-old exchange student. Police said she threatened to send the teen away if he ended the relationship. _ A Minnesota official investigating the California-based Council for Educational Travel USA told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis he found problems including shoddy living arrangements and a failure to secure host families. The agency defended its practices. _ In Houston, a man who hosted as many as five foreign exchange students was arrested on child-pornography charges after police found hundreds of images. Interpol is tracking down the students. _ In Norfolk, Neb., a host mother pleaded no contest to accusations that she stole more than $10,000 from her two exchange students, one from Norway and the other from China.
Villarreal's family, meanwhile, is trying to get its money back from Aspect. But there are no hard feelings toward the United States. "I know there are good people and bad people everywhere. I was just unlucky," Villarreal said. "The U.S. is a good place, and I want to come back to Scranton."