Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Exchange Student:
The Not-So-Strange Case of Jonathan McCullum

"U.S. Exchange Student Starved by Egyptian Host Family Loses 50 Pounds" FOXNews (February 27, 2008)

Jonathan McCullum, a 5-foot-9 teenager, weighed 155 pounds when he left to spend a school year in Egypt.
  • Good news: He made it back alive, and may survive
  • Bad news: He weighed 97 pounds when he got back to America
He says that the host family in the exchange program starved him. The man of the house over there, Shaker Hanna, says that's a lie, and that "the boy we hosted for nearly six months was eating for an hour and a half at every meal. The amount of food he ate at each meal was equal to six people," which raises a question.

Which did Mr. Hanna mean: that
  1. The American ate as much as six people would consume in a meal
  2. Jonathan McCullum ate as much meat as you'd get from six people
My guess is #1.

The Egyptian family was presumably following their religious rules, which has them (presumably) fasting more than 200 days a year.

Does this show how cruel and inhuman Muslims are?


The family are Coptic Christians.

So What?
  • Is running this news story anti-Christian?
  • If the host family followed Islam, would it be anti-Islamic?
  • Was my "as much meat as you'd get from six people" remark anti-Christian?
I'd say "no" across the board. Although that cannibalism crack was admittedly in bad taste.

On the other hand, this news story could be an indication of bias. "Exchange student starved while in Egypt" (Yahoo News (February 27, 2008)) tells that young Mr. McCullum's experience isn't all that unusual.

"The Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the exchange programs are rampant with instances of abuse and neglect.

" 'This is not an isolated incident. I'm aghast but I'm not shocked,' the committee's director, Danielle Grijalva of Oceanside, Calif., said after hearing McCullum's story."

Rampant abuse of exchange students, in a world where exchange students wind up even in small central Minnesota towns?1 That's dramatic. And this isn't news?

I could be wrong about this, but it's possible that traditional news organizations shy away from stories that might embarrass socialist regimes, or cast 'oppressed' people in a bad light.
1 We don't starve them, here in Minnesota. On the other hand, the winters here might be considered a sort of punishment.

Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students

"The Committee for Safety of Foreign Exchange Students (CSFES) advocates for the safety of foreign exchange students and was instrumental in the strengthening of the U.S. Department regulations for the protection of these young people."


Brigid said...

"We don't starve them, here in Minnesota. On the other hand, the winters here might be considered a sort of punishment."


But oh dear. The poor kid. Fasting is one thing, but to lose that much weight is pretty bad. And begs the question, if he was eating so much, how'd he lose all that weight?

Yolanda said...

First of all if Mr. McCullum was really being starved, why did he not take his father's advice and return home, then begin a thorough investigation? I do not buy his story one bit. Mr. McCullum suffers from Anorexia Nervosa, I know it when I see it. Been there, done that! Come clean Mr. McCullum!

Brian H. Gill said...

Brigid, Thanks.

Brian H. Gill said...


That, and a few other Psychological explanations, seem to be the conventional wisdom that's emerging among the better set.

Oddly, the corollary, that the host family's man of the house must have Münchhausen's Syndrome, doesn't seem to have been mentioned.

As for why McCullum didn't return, I can suggest anything from bullheaded stubbornness up, or down.

I'm afraid that your comment appears to be a case-in-point of how naughtiness on the part of non-western people is unthinkable.

Even when an advocacy group (CSFES) asserts that abuse like this is "rampant."

Brian H. Gill said...


Thank you for the comment, and insight.

I did a little checking: The link is to Visas International, a commercial service which appears to be based in Los Angeles, California. The domain has been registered since 2004. The company seems to have been around since 1964.

I appreciate informed comments, and links, when they are relevant to a post.

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