US Embassy / International Student Network "Bait and Switch" SNAFU Causes Consternation
Saturday, March 31 2012 @ 01:13 PM UTC
Contributed by: Don Winner
A look of joy was drawn on their faces, hoping for their academic future. "I want to study international business," said one, and "I want a scholarship for astronomy," was heard from another. The hotel entrance was crowded once the evening fell. At 6:00 pm the doors opened and the euphoria grew. Parents with their children, school students in uniform, carrying university documents under their arms that they had learned through the media what was needed to be submitted (diplomas, report cards, school credits earned, proof of English language testing, etc..).
One desperate mother who had to return to La Chorrera to find some papers of her daughter, left mad: the event was nothing more than a show because they never accepted her daughter's documents. They only gave her a newsletter with instructions to go into the websites of the universities to make their applications.
Douglas Toscano, on behalf of the organization, apologized for the misinformation that was distributed in the country. He said the scholarships in the United States rely on each university, and they are not free, they are only providing information.
In a small room the people entered slowly, and then left disappointed. Word spread for the others to not lose their time. From inside one hopeful shouted "This is propaganda for Barack Obama, for politics." At 8:00 pm there was still a line, with shoving and stern faces. Some resigned people said "The United States has mocked the poor Panamanians." (Estrella)
Editor's Comment: Well, that was unfortunate. For the past couple of weeks the US Embassy in Panama has been blasting out Tweets about the upcoming deadlines for Fulbright scholarships, in Spanish. They are actively encouraging Panamanian students to apply for these scholarships, to study in the United States to earn a Master's degree. And it just so happened that about the same time there is this pay-to-play organization called the the International Student Network, Inc., or ISN. These guys take representatives from universities in the United States on tours of the countries in Latin America (and the world) to recruit students to study at their schools. They are not there to hand out scholarships, but rather to recruit potential students to pay the full fare to attend.
The ISN had organized their Spring 2012 tour of Latin America, starting on 20 March 2012 with stops in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; Medellin, Colombia; Quito, Ecuador; Guayaquil, Ecuador; and then finally Panama on 30 March 2012. Every day and in each of these cities, ISN advertises to their potential clients a schedule that includes "Morning Activities - Visits to the Top Tier Private High Schools, Visits to Top International High Schools. Afternoon Activities - Country Briefings By the U.S. Embassy Office, Education Briefing by USA Office. Evening - ISN Student Fairs: Open to Students and Parents."
And how much does ISN charge the US Universities to participate in this tour? "$2,950 Brazil Only, $6,950 Entire Tour*, $14,400 Entire Tour PLUS Regional Airfare and Visa Services." Also its somewhat ironic that ISN would be promoting a tour of Latin America to Universities, when according to their promotional materials, they think Bogota is located in "Columbia." (Guys, it's "Colombia" - with an "o".) If you would like to see their Promo Card for this tour, just click on the link and the PDF will download.
But anyway, there were two things going on here. On one hand the US Embassy was announcing the upcoming deadlines for the Fulbright scholarships, and on the other hand the ISN, Inc. was announcing their upcoming Expo to be held at the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Multiplaza. The stage for a massive "que, carajo" (Panamanian for WTF) was set.
Apparently there was some confusion growing among the Panamanians on 29 March 2012. People were asking the US Embassy via Twitter questions like "what are the requirements to apply for the scholarships today?" And the person handling the Twitter account thought they were talking about an upcoming event in Chitre, that is being handled by their economics affairs section. Whoops.
Once people started attending the ISN event, it didn't take long for them to figure out that it was not an event organized by the US Embassy, and that no scholarships were going to be handed out. The US Embassy quickly released this press release (in Spanish) in which they clarify the difference between the Fulbright scholarship programs, and the "expo" promotional tours organized by the private company International Student Network, Inc. Well, they got the date wrong in the press release. The ISN Expo was actually held yesterday, Friday, 30 March 2012, and the press release says it was on the 29th, but no big deal there...
So by now the ISN guys are gone, off to organize their next trip. The Panamanians who got caught in what felt to them like a "bait and switch" organized by the US Embassy will probably burn some flags or something. When I first heard about this whole thing early this morning, I initially thought the same thing, that the US Embassy had set it up using the Fulbright Scholarships as "bait", in an effort to lure students to apply to US universities. But, that was not the case. It seems this was just an unhappy coincidence, and now I'm sure there will be apologies all around. As the saying goes, shit happens - even with the best of intentions. Hey, there might be a silver lining to all of this - I just had an idea. Why don't we give all of those idiots who constantly protest over there at the University of Panama scholarships to study somewhere else (Canada, maybe?) - where they can "occupy Ottawa" or whatever. Always thinking, man. Gotta keep thinking...