Presents for Your Presence: Giving Your Host Family the Perfect Gift

by Published

Should I get host family gifts? Duh! This question pops into the minds of many travelers when they suddenly realize that “homestay” is exactly what it sounds like – they’ll be living under one roof with strangers (not to mention also with their kindness, openness, and generosity). A homestay is an invitation to understand others’ day-to-day lives better.

What better way to nail that first impression than with gifts for your host family that emulate your gratitude (and shows off your pride for your home country a bit)?!)

“Welcome” or “housewarming” gifts to give your host family are the perfect way to break the ice and get conversation flowing at the start of your homestay. They don’t have to be super fancy or super expensive, but host family gifts generally are representative of your home country, state, or town and are given within the first few days of your arrival. Not only should you be prepared to say “Hello!” with good host family gifts, you can also plan ahead for the eventual thank you gifts for your host family too.

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small wrapped box in brown paper with red accents
Good host family gifts aren’t usually large and elaborate, but serve as a little ice breaker and introduction to you and your home country.

So, now that you know gifts for host families are the norm, your head’s probably spinning, brainstorming what KIND of gift to buy for a house full of strangers from a completely different country and culture? Don’t worry if a solution doesn’t come quickly – gift giving is a skill that some people are born with and others are doomed to struggle with their whole lives. Whichever category you fall under, here are a few host family gift ideas to keep in mind before you venture abroad to live in a homestay:

Be Unique

Good host family gifts are always unique. Many host families have been housing international students for years, so when it comes to gifts, it’s safe to say that they’ve seen it all. Keychains? Check. Miniature flag? Double check. Typical figurine? Check, check, check. The first gift idea you think of is likely something your family has received in the past. Rather than giving your family the task of finding room in their cupboards for yet another mug, try to think outside of the box.

Is there something unique that your state or city is known for producing? For instance, Megan from Indiana brought her host family in Namibia locally churned maple syrup; “It doubled as a fun activity, as I taught my family about pancakes and we covered ‘em in the delicious, sticky goo.”

Another way to be unique when giving gifts for your host family, and be sure it is something they definitely don’t have (while not breaking the bank), is to try making a DIY gift – we think creating a photo collage of your favorite places back home is a good place to start. Oftentimes, a homemade host family gift speaks volumes compared to a store bought one, and your host family will be left with nothing but a great impression of you and how much you care. Want to take it a step further? The internet is a fantastic place to begin your search for DIY host family gift ideas (Hello! Pinterest much?).

assorted handmade soaps
Choose a gift that represents a specialty from your hometown— bonus points if it’s handmade!

Talk with Housemates for #Inspo

If you know other international students will be living with you in your homestay, contact them for gift inspiration! Ask what type of gift they are planning on giving and how much they’re planning to spend. That way, you can coordinate on the types of host family gifts you will each be bringing. If you and your housemates are from the same area or attend the same university, you can also consider pitching in together and purchasing some really nice gifts to give your host family. 

Keep in mind that host family gifts can be purchased after-the-fact, too; while it’s nice to bring a little slice of your hometown, collaborating with homestay roomies can be a little easier once you’re already there. Make a thank you dinner, print favorite photographs together, or splurge on that gift for the kids in your home that your host mom’s been eyeballing at the mall.

Think About Collections as Gifts for Your Host Family

Creativity isn’t for everyone, and if you’re not super into the whole Pinterest/scrapbook scene, you may want to look elsewhere for gifts to give your host family — you won’t want to give them something that looks like it was made by a five year old! If you are having a brain meltdown from trying to be unique, think of a gift that can be added to a collection (just try to stray away from keychains and mugs). That way, if others have given your host family a similar gift, it won’t matter; you’re just adding to the collection! A magnet, a book about your state or city, and a collectible spoon are all great collectors items — if you can collect it, you can give it!

“My mom and I both collect ‘Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil’ figurines, so I invited my homestay mom into the tradition by getting her a few of her own. We both had a laugh!”, said Jamie from Texas.

homemade cookies in a basket
If you can swing it through customs, maybe whipping up a batch of your famous cookies would be a great host family gift.

Give a Conversation-Starter

A good gift for your host family shouldn’t just be representative of where you’re from; it should be something that acts like an ice-breaker between you and your host family. Meaningful gifts can spark questions, laughter, and confusion (the good kind!) – before you know it, you and your host family will learn immensely about one another just from one single gift.

You can also prepare something to say that will explain your host family gifts and link it to your hometown. Before arriving, practice saying a sentence or two about the gift in your host family’s native language. You’ll be sure to make a good impression by making the effort and you’ll even be taking your first baby steps in learning a foreign language— talk about killin’ two birds with one stone. 

Keep Portability of Gifts for Your Host Family in Mind

Maybe you hail from the great state of Wisconsin and want to give your host family a delicious dairy product. Before picking out the perfect cheese wheel, think about how far it will have to travel; no one is a fan of stinky cheese (except maybe the French!). When it comes to fresh produce or any form of beverage, ask yourself first if it will make it through airport security and customs. Next, ask if it will stay fresh during your journey.

Lastly, make sure it won’t take up too much room in your suitcase. Afterall, luggage space is precious to travelers — just because you’ll be gifting doesn’t mean you won’t receive anything back. 

Think About Family-Friendly Host Family Gifts

We trust that you won’t get anything inappropriate for your host family (hint: leave your whoopee cushions at home), but rather than guessing at what each member of the family might want, go for something that everyone can enjoy. A souvenir from a popular landmark in your home country, a decorative house arrangement, or even a few framed photographs are all viable options. Kick it up a notch by bringing a game for the whole family to play, a playlist that means something important to you (and eventually to them – because #danceparties!), or even a couple copies of your favorite films or movies.

fresh cut tulips wrapped in brown paper
You’ll also want to give your host family a thank-you gift at the end of your stay. 

Don’t Forget Thank You Gifts for Your Host Family!

Sure, you want to knock the first impression out of the park, but you can also plan ahead for small thank you gifts for your host family when end of your homestay comes, too. Many travelers pick something up in the local market or shopping center (or cook a meal, like previously mentioned) as thank you gifts for their host family. But, since you’re super-awesome and super-prepared, plan ahead and pick up not one, but two gifts to give your host family before you even set foot on a plane.

Top Ten Host Family Gift Ideas

  1. Board Games
  2. Your Favorite Snacks
  3. Something Handmade
  4. Frisbees
  5. T Shirts / Baseball Caps from Your University or Hometown
  6. Books with Photos of Your Home Country/Family
  7. Artwork
  8. Card Games (or Souvenir Decks of Cards)
  9. A Journal with Notes to Them from Your Loved Ones
  10. Rug, Scarf, or Any Other Fabric Item Made in Your Home Country

The best part of bringing gifts for your host family is not that you may potentially receive one back, but that you get to see the reaction and joy emanate from the person receiving the gift — and besides, who doesn’t love getting showered with compliments and “thank yous” afterwards? Follow this guide for gifts to give your host family, and the best possible gift you’ll receive from them in return is a whole new place to call home!

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