Whether you’re staying with a host family or just visiting a B&B, it’s never a bad idea to travel with some small gifts to share. For the neighbor that brought you homemade recipes during your stay, for your Resident Director who took care of your every need. It’s important to say thanks in your own language, with something that you find special.
Here are some basic ideas, and things to think about while choosing the right gift.
* Price – Let’s be real. We know you’re not rolling in the dough. You’re a college student! Let us be the first to tell you, more is not always best. Your foreign host will not know if you spent $20 or $5, so don’t sweat the price tag. Save that money for Belgian chocolates.
* Size / weight – Remember that whatever you do decide to buy, you’re going to have to pack it. That’s right – in your already crowded suitcase. Likewise, keep in mind that although Bath & Body Works gift packs make a great travel-sized gift, it’s also a liquid. If you’re checking a bag, you’re golden. If you’re flying with a carry-on, anything over 3 oz. is a no no.
* Amount – With your eye on the price tag, you will want to think about how many people you plan on gifting. If you’re abroad for the long term, is it something you can have mailed to you from home if you need an extra? How much room do you really have in your suitcase? We find that traveling with 3 or 4 small items is useful.
* Cultural sensitivity – How much do you know about your destination? In some places, name brand labels are important. In some locations, alcohol is forbidden. In still other places, religious items are not welcome. It won’t hurt to do a little research to find out what is appropriate for your specific city and country, just to be safe.
* Story – If you’re going to give a gift, mean it. Just like when you’re bargaining in the markets and talking to shopkeepers, you will find that there is a story behind their wares. My own gift-giving while traveling has ranged from Mike & Ike’s (candies made in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA) and the Moravian Star (a holiday ornament symbolic of my hometown).
* What to give? This is the hard part, right? You’ve thought about all the above issues and still don’t know what to do. Here are some ideas to get you started:
– Candy. Be aware of temperatures as you travel .. no one wants melted truffles in their suitcase.
– Textiles. Dish towels or napkins that are made where you live.
– Games. Do you think Italians are familiar with “bags?”
– Small, portable gifts like hand-dipped candles or handmade gift cards.
– Ornaments. Keep your suitcase in mind when selecting glass or other fragile items.
– Food stuffs. Your favorite hot sauce, or BBQ seasoning. Be careful with the liquids!
– Recipes. Local food can also be delivered on a recipe card; plan to cook together.
– University goods. A mug, postcards, keychains .. the list is endless.
– Clothing. This can be difficult because of sizing, think accessories like hats or scarves.
– Something personal. Do you knit? Make your own jewelry? Fancy photography? Share it.
For some good ideas on what’s Made in Illinois, consult the Illinois Farm Bureau’s magazine Illinois Partners. Likewise, a quick Google search for “host family gift” will point you to many previous discussions in education abroad forums.