First impressions are everything with your host family. Selecting good gifts for your homestay family is an easy way to break the ice and start on the right foot.
While it might be easy to put this off until the last minute, we recommend not waiting to pick up a mug or magnet at the airport a few minutes before you leave!
Putting careful thought and attention into your gift can show your family that you are excited to be a member of their household and look forward to connecting with them during your stay.
Don’t forget: investing time to build a positive relationship with your host family not only helps with your connection to the local culture, but you’ll also make leaps and bounds in your language learning during your time abroad.
Read on to find some tips and advice on choosing the best gift to bring your host family!
Why stay with a homestay family
Hopefully, at this point, you have already chosen to live with a homestay family during your time abroad.
The majority of Spanish Studies Abroad students stay with homestay families. They give you a unique insight into a foreign culture by allowing you to become part of a family. It’s the best way to practice your Spanish!
Our homestay families are carefully selected by our on-site staff to meet our program requirements. Many of the families we work with have been hosting our students for years!
When to give your host a gift
A few weeks before departure, you should receive some information about your host family, their address, who will be living in the house, and if they have children or pets.
Sometimes there might be a small description of the family and their interests or hobbies. Once you have this information, it’s time to start shopping!
Giving a present as soon as you meet your host family or arrive at their home is a great way to show your appreciation and break the ice.
We recommend presenting them with the gift your first day or at dinner the first night when the whole family is home.
Practice saying a phrase in the host family’s native language (for example, “Gracias por su hospitalidad”/”Thank you for your hospitality”). This effort is also another way to wow your hosts and makes a great first impression.
Looking for a simple way to say thank you to your host family and leave them a souvenir at the end of your stay?
You might give them some flowers with a picture frame, and a photo of you with your host family or a simple hand-written thank you card in their native language.
Saying goodbye can sometimes be hard. Many of our students form lasting relationships with their host families and continue to stay in touch with them for years to come!
Where to find inspiration
Gifts do not have to be expensive and should be more about the thought and personalization you put into it.
To help start to get the creative juices flowing, we’ve compiled a list of resources you can tap to get some host family gift ideas:
The Spanish Studies Abroad team
We are here to help! All of our team members have studied abroad before. They can provide examples of gifts that they have personally given or provide recommendations based on past students.
You local study abroad office or returning students on your home campus
Some of the best resources for recommendations are on your home campus! Reach out to your study abroad office for the names of students who have studied on your program. If you’re going on a Spanish Studies Abroad program, ask us to get you in contact with one of our alumni.
A local boutique or store in your hometown
Skip the big-box chains and shop local for a unique gift that says something about your home state or town. Also, university gear from your campus bookstore is always an option!
Still not sure? There are TONS of gift boards for homestay family ideas on Pinterest; there’s enough content to leave you browsing for hours.
Not all of us are skilled at making our gifts. Luckily Etsy is a one-stop-shop for all things handcrafted, vintage, collectible, or unique.
There are plenty of videos on Youtube for great ideas! You get to see first hand what other students have taken as gifts, and avoid any bad ideas. Here Kari – abroad in Spain – talks us through some gifts she bought her family. We like that she thought of both the kids and Mom & Dad:
Make it personal
Adding a custom touch to your gift based on your heritage or geographic location is a thoughtful way to share a piece of your background with your host family.
Our Admissions Advisor, Kira Hakanson, is Swedish-American. She got her host family in Ecuador wooden figurines of the dalahäst (doll horses), a traditional Swedish souvenir.
And when our Admissions Manager Abbi Eidt studied abroad in both Argentina and Scotland, she opted to bring a piece of the U.S. South with her – hot sauce and creole seasoning!
Bringing regional ingredients or food items that aren’t available in your host country also allows you to prepare a meal with your host family together and share a special moment – a fun and interactive way to share your culture with them!
What gifts not to get your host family
While we love the idea of food items, you will want to make sure you are not traveling with non-perishable items that can go bad in transit (think fruit, vegetables, cheese) or that could be potentially carrying a pest (no seeds, plants, soil, etc.).
Typically, shelf-stable items are a safe bet and keep in mind TSA regulations if you are traveling with carry-on luggage.
We also don’t recommend bringing wine or alcohol as gifts. Depending on the country you are studying in, the host family may be more traditional than what you are used to in the U.S.
Given that, it’s better to err on the side of caution when thinking about bringing alcohol into their home. Keep in mind, the Spanish Studies Abroad policy of no drinking in your homestay.
Avoid generic items that you might find at the airport (key chains, mugs, magnets). Host families who have been receiving students for many years likely have quite the collection of these items.
Our favorite gifts for your host family
To help you, the team has compiled a list of their preferred host family gift ideas. We drew from our experience studying abroad, helping prepare students to go overseas and speaking to them after they return. We encourage you to get creative!
Snack or food item from your geographic region or heritage
Bring something unique from your area that you can’t typically find in the country where you’ll be studying (ex: maple syrup, saltwater taffy, locally made chocolates, or jams).
Recipe card and ingredients
Similar to the above, you can take it a step further and make your favorite recipe with your family (brownies, pancakes, or oatmeal cookies, anyone?).
Board or card game, puzzle specific to your home state or region
Board games and puzzles also lend themselves as fun activities to bond with your host family.
T-shirt or baseball cap from your university or local sports team memorabilia
Being a sports fan can also help to bridge the cultural gap (for example, baseball is popular in Cuba and Puerto Rico, while in Spain fútbol – soccer – is king!).
Bringing a small print or painting of your city or region is always welcome.
If you’re particularly creative, this is the moment to showcase that. Whether you’re into photography, pottery, or painting – a handmade piece is a thoughtful and unique gift.
A photo book or photo album
Gift a coffee table book with images of your home state or region or a photo album that you can add to throughout your stay.
Blanket, Scarf or Tapestry
A blanket, scarf, or tapestry made in your home state or region (for ex: we love these Southwestern-inspired tapestries).
Overall, a thoughtful homestay family gift should be personal and relate your personality and background. It should help spark conversation with your host about your culture, heritage, or geographic home.
Remember that your host family may have accepted international students into their home because they want to learn about your culture as much as they want to share theirs with you.
Taking the opportunity abroad to interact with your host daily, learn about them and their background and practice the language will make your study abroad experience as rewarding as possible!