When packing for your trip, you may have come across packing lists that recommend bringing several small gifts from America to give to families or friends when you visit their homes. This can be a fun opportunity to share part of your home with others if you choose wisely. If you’re not buying more general gifts, keep in mind the ages and gender of your recipients as well as the area you’ll be visiting. While you shouldn’t overthink your gift choices, it is helpful to follow a few guidelines when picking out presents for a family you’ve never met.
Think local! Try to avoid things that are just “America” themed and choose items that have a connection to your home. If your town or state is known for its forests, maybe you could bring a book of photos of the wildlife. If you’re from Vermont, you could bring local syrup. Sports paraphernalia for your favorite team is one option, and music, games, and magazines can also be great cultural items. Mass-produced American knickknacks like a Statue of Liberty keychain can work for some occasions, but parents may appreciate a present that comes with deeper meaning than a mere souvenir.
Cook it up! A fantastic way to bond with family or friends is to pick your favorite home-cooked recipe (chocolate chip cookies, pancakes) and bring everything that you won’t be able to buy in your new country. Then spend a night making an American meal for everyone. You’ll be able to show off your skills in the kitchen (if you have any) AND indulge in some nostalgic grub. What a delicious way to share your culture!
Pack a Snack. Some people like to bring packaged snacks and packets of mixes from various foods like macaroni and cheese sauce, french onion dip, soup, etc. Again, these are fun gifts to enjoy with the family but are also comforting flavors from home. Don’t forget that some food items that are familiar to us can be bizarre elsewhere. I brought my French host family beef jerky and they were convinced I was trying to feed them dog food!
Take Toiletries! In many countries, simple items like American shampoo, cologne or cosmetics can be very overpriced and coveted. These items are a good option as well and many can be purchased in travel-size bottles to save space and money. My roommate in Ghana actually turned out to be obsessed with American deodorant and designer body sprays. If you have contact with your future family, they may even have requests for American products.
Last-Minute Mementos If you forget to buy gifts before you go, you can always pick up something from the airport or even go shopping after you arrive in your new home. Gifts are a thoughtful gesture and don’t need to come from America- a bottle of wine, chocolates or other delicacies can be picked up at a local store.
Hopefully those tips will give you some ideas, so get creative! And don’t forget- no matter what gifts you decide to bring, it’s always great to take a picture album with photos of your friends, family, and interests back home.