I-Team: Busted Dreams - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

I-Team: Busted Dreams

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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

Foreign exchange students jump at the chance to come to the United States for an opportunity at the American Dream. Some claim a staffing company in the U.S. promised them nice apartments and jobs at upscale hotels. But they said their experience was far from it.

Yiting Xiao is a student living in China. Last year she said she was given a unique opportunity to live and work in the United States.

She and her friend Zoe Wang said representatives from an American foreign exchange company visited their school and presented the students with several options including apartments and jobs.

"The pictures were quite good. The apartment looked clean, there's furniture in it." Xiao said.

"They told us we are going to have maybe three options to choose over our apartment," Wang said.

The girls said when they arrived in Baton Rouge, things were not quite as they had expected. The apartment complex was well-kept and clean but the unit was bare.

"In our whole apartment there were five students and we had two rooms," Xiao said. "One room slept three students, and the other two students. We have three mattresses in a room and they were in a row."

According to the arrangement by the company, Crowne Partnership, a subsidiary of Hospitality and Catering Management Services, each student is expected to pay a $100 deposit on her apartment and $300 rent a month, but the students said they were told the apartment would be furnished. It was not, and the girls said they were also promised transportation to and from work but they wound up walking 30 minutes each way.

"It's hard," Xiao said. "You feel tired. You know Louisiana's weather is so hot and in the summer it's even hotter."

Xiao and Wang were not the only students who said they had a hard time with the staffing company.

Four years ago, foreign exchange students who were also working for the same company, invited 9News inside their Baton Rouge apartment. Seven of them were sharing a three bedroom unit. They also slept on uncovered mattresses. They washed all of their clothes by hand and dried them on a makeshift clothing line in their apartment bathroom. They also walked long distances to work.

The President of Kergan Brothers, the company over Sonic restaurants, Gary Wilkerson said his company like many others in South Louisiana contracted with Hospitality and Catering Management Services after Hurricane Katrina because they had a difficult time finding employees.

He said a couple of years after he stopped dealing with them, the students kept showing up.

"I believe it was New Year's Day and we had a knock on the door," Wilkerson said. "We were closed and we had about like ten kids that were outside and they said, 'We're here to work at Sonic.' I said, 'Well we don't know anything about you coming in town.'"

Wilkerson said the young students were scared and confused.

"They were literally a ship without a rudder. They had no idea what they were going to be doing," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said he got them hotel rooms and found them jobs as car hops at Sonic restaurants in Lafayette and Baton Rouge. He said he tried contacting Hospitality and Catering Regional Manager Norbert Koch to find out what was going on, but Wilkerson said the representative was nearly impossible to reach.

"I don't know that I've even ever met him to tell you the truth. Everything was via email or over the phone," Wilkerson explained. "They would say things like they (the students) misunderstood the instructions, and I don't understand that because for me to get on a ten-hour flight to even get to the states from wherever they are, you just wouldn't do that unless you were crystal clear on what was going on."

When 9News researched Hospitality and Catering Management Services on the Better Business Bureau website, a red alert flashed next to the page.

The telephone number for its headquarters in Chicago is disconnected.

"I would never be interested in going down that path again," Wilkerson said.

Xiao and Wang moved back to China last October to continue their college education. While they said they had a bad experience the first time around they're willing to give their dream another shot.

"Most of the people in America they treated me so nice and made me feel welcomed in there and I still I want to go back," Wang said.

Norbert Koch, the regional manager for the staffing company, did not return phone calls or respond to emails from the 9News I-Team.

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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