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Exchange Student Came Back With Extreme Weight Loss

When Jonathan McCullum left last summer to spend a school year as an exchange student in Egypt, little did he knew that he'd also undergo an extreme weight loss / starvation diet too!

Jonathan McCullum was in perfect health at 70kg (154 lb) when he left last summer to spend the school year as an exchange student in Egypt.

But when he returned home to Maine just four months later, the 1.75-metre teenager weighed a mere 44kg (97 lb) and was so weak that he struggled to carry his baggage or climb a flight of stairs. Doctors said he was at risk for a heart attack.

McCullum says he was denied sufficient food while staying with a family of Coptic Christians, who fast for more than 200 days a year, a regimen unmatched by other Christians.

The host family had a different take on what happened:

The host father, Shaker Hanna, rejected McCullum's story as "a lie," suggesting that he made it up because his parents were hoping to recover some of the money they paid for his stay as compensation.

"The truth is, 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," Hanna said.


Man, the "1.5 hour, six-people" diet works wonders!

Seriously, how obvious can a lie be?

(notice that he didn't specify the frequency of the meals either.. 'each meal' could have been weeks apart)
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Wow, that's just wrong. Why'd the kid even go to Egypt as an exchange student in the first place? Isn't there some other place he could have gone?
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Question: During the 6 months, did he tell no one this side of the world of what was going on???

Two words:



Ew. Sorry I said that.
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"The amount of food he ate at each meal was equal to six people," Sounds like that pissed him off and what? he withheld food for the rest of the 6 months? Arrest that guy.
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Hmm, most of the posters here are siding AGAINST the host family. Wonder why?

I think this guy's story isn't all it's cracking up to be. For one thing, it was HIS CHOICE to stay with the host family even though he could have left and went somewhere else. And perhaps he had some sort of eating disorder, look at the picture of him almost proudly showing off his "physique."

I'm not saying it's his fault but at least I'll wait and see the whole story before going off on an anti-Middle Eastern rant.
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@ Geekazoid

Are you sure you're not in the pay of Big Coptic?

I'm not sure how much more of the whole story you can expect. It seems pretty straight-forward to me, but if you want to believe this guy starved himself to the point of illness so he could blame some Egyptians, go right ahead.
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I think that it is not fair to judge an entire culture based on the head of this household's actions. Going to Egypt could be rewarding just for the historical sites alone. I think that the man complaining that he ate too much and was athletic is completely ridiculous.
He does not appear to be showing off anything, no one shows off with a feeding-tube in them.
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Jesus people, Egypt is not in Middle East, get your facts right dammit.

Egypt is in northern Africa.

So what, every dark-skinned person that comes from a country with a fancy name is a Middle-Easterner for you Americans now?
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My first thought was like that of Queer in the Cincy: worms. Or one big worm. Seriously, though, you can buy tapeworms in certain countries as weight-loss aids.

And if it wasn't a worm, why on earth didn't he contact someone back home and let them know he wanted the hell out of there because he was being starved?
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Sorry, but the kid is 17. He could have easily rectified his situation at any time. I understand he wanted to prove himself, but sooner or later, you have to put your life over pride.
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Check out and see what non-americans have to say about it.

I think if you really need to eat then you are going to find a way to eat.
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Ok, as a former exchange student, I have to say something that is really hard to admit: something similar happened to me about 20 years ago.

I was also a teenager. My host family, who my parents paid to feed me and let me stay in their home, forced me to sleep on the floor, and eat meager meals separately in the kitchen. They also expected me to be a maid for the family and a caregiver for an elderly family member.

When I didn't perform well, they cut my food. They held my money, credit cards, passport, and plane ticket "for safe keeping."

The host family monitored my phone calls and mail, so I couldn't say anything to my parents -- who I also didn't want to disappoint -- because I had asked to go on exchange, and it cost them a fortune.

This was a powerful and affluent family, and the daughter went to school with me. I didn't know anyone who I thought would believe me and help me.

I was so, so relieved to be back on American soil. I never admitted how bad it was to my parents; I was ashamed that I wasted their hard-earned money, while I let myself be abused.
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I feel like something is missing here on both sides...

also, one might take into consideration the difference in food portions in different cultures...just a thought.
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Well, 1, out of the U.S., people aren't always treated right (especially women. I'm in trouble.), 2, Coptic Christians NEVER eat for 200 days, as it said. I would say the kid ain't lying. Like I said, when you're not in the US, you don't get humane rights.

Another thing. That guy looks like he wasn't allowed to eat AT ALL!
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Sugz: I think most people know that Egypt is geographically located in Africa (except for the Sinai peninsula). However, culturally it is most closely aligned with the Middle-east: it's official name is The Arab Republic of Egypt, its people are 80-90% Islamic, and its official language is Arabic. (wikipedia)

In the introductory paragraph for the wikipedia article, it states: "Egypt is widely regarded as an important political and cultural nation of the Middle East."
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Also, I'm sure AFS pounded into his skull the importance of respecting the culture of the host family, no matter how outrageous it may seem, which I am sure fueled his persistence in staying with that particular family.
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sparge basically covered the point I was going to make. You have a pretty blatant anti-American streak, though. We don't all fit one mold, asshat.
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First of all you guys need to relax a little bet and stop pointing in bad way to a great country and great nation. I was born and raised in Alexandria Egypt and I'm coptic as well I think that kid just waneted some attention or his family are just some white trash that want to make some money over this!! In the other hand the Father from the the host bfamily seems to be an idiot for what he said "hour and half" that's wrong statement for him saying eats like "6 people" it's an expretion we use in Egypt to show how healthy he was eating the same when american saye eats like a horse I don't belive any of you are horses!!!!
Finally ther are at least 10 McDonalds in Alexandria alone and 10 KFC's and big mac meal will cost that lier not more than $3!!! so don't tell me this crab about starving him!!! plus Egyptian are so genuros specially when it comes to food!!
be more educated and look up Alexandria on line it's one of the most amazing city in the world.
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Sorry, Im also gonna add:

When people undergo different eating habits, especally while in a new unknown environment, you can mentally adapt and change without being aware of it. Maybe this boy took on a eating disorder without consciously realizing it right away. I mean, he is young, impressionable, and surrounded by people who are in the process of a religious fast.
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I think it was just a case of mismatched personality-types who are conflict-oriented and drama-oriented. Regardless of cultural, religious, or nationalist differences.
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What a dumbass.

Darwin was so close with this one.

Even a student should have enough COMMON SENSE to know how to feed himself.

And what type of a parent lets their "slow child" go off to a foreign land and NOT keep in touch - or give them enough money so that they could buy themselves food or fly home if they got stuck with a host family still living in the dark ages.
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jandzmom has a very good point, that the whole point of going on exchange is about being independant and immersing yourself in a foreign culture. contact with home is discouraged and often difficult to achieve, and who wants to look like a spoiled american crying for mama?

leslie, where on can i find the article? i'd be really interested to hear another angle on the situation.
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Yeah, he ate all that food, and still somehow lost 1/3 his weight, and risked heart attack, just so his family could try to get some money from poor people in another country. That's logical.
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Ok, I was an AFS volunteer in Egypt When i Lived their and AFS laws doesn't force their students to stay in a specific family and they allow you to change your family if you don't like your family or if you where badly treated and this is not done by AFS Egypt only but this is an International AFS Law, which my brother changed his family during his year program in the USA. and McCullum could have asked AFS Egypt to change his family because they don't offer him food, which i think they would do in the same day if they had evidence and buying food in Alexandria is the easiest thing you can do and you can also buy all kind of food their. what i think is that McCullum is not saying the truth, also Egyptians are very kind people and most of the people visited can feel this and that means if your family don't offer you food you can eat at your friends home. and the funny thing is that no one starves in Alexandria or all Egypt even poor people. and i think if i were hosted in poor African Countries by a poor family which doesn't offer me food i can still eat and not starve.
McCullum: you should say the truth.
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