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Homestays!

Can you believe we are already nearing our departure date for China? As we begin working on our final travel preparations, we wanted to give a bit of guidance and a few notes regarding an exciting component of our adventure: homestays!

As one of our 9 Course Components, we consider homestays to be a valuable opportunity and a great way to learn on the course. Homestays are about an exchange of ideas, language, and familial feeling; about immersion into a language environment, about learning the social rules of local communities from regular people, and about forging bonds with people that can and do last for years to come.

We know that buying a gift for someone you’ve never met can be tricky! Hopefully this post will help spark some ideas or clarify what may or may not be appropriate.

HOW MANY GIFTS SHOULD YOU BRING?

You’ll have the chance to stay with at least two homestay families (one in a rural village and the other in Kunming). In addition, we’ll be entering other communities on our travels where a smaller gift could be nice. Along the way, we can assure you that there will be many people offering us a great deal of hospitality. Ultimately it is up to you how many gifts you’ll bring – but it’s recommended that you have at least two gifts.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF GIFT GIVING?

Consider a few of the reasons why it is a good idea to bring a gift…

  • To remind the family of you when you leave
  • Give something useful to the family
  • Expand the family’s perspective of your home culture
  • To share or teach something
  • Stimulate a conversation
  • Show the family something about you
  • Show your appreciation for their hospitality

WHAT ARE SOME GIFT IDEAS?

  • A small photo album of places in your hometown, favorite vacation spots, you, your family, pets, etc. (10-15 photos).
  • A tote bag with an image or name of your city.
  • Something you made (pottery, a painting, a knit hat, a handmade postcard/collage about your home, a song…).
  • A small, high quality product from your area.
  • A local food specialty such as hot sauce, jam, or sweets. This is great because you can enjoy it together and watch their reactions. Great for those moments where it feels like there’s nothing to say or nothing you can say.
  • A small toy or game from your country
  • A small musical instrument, such as a harmonica, maraca, thumb piano, or tambourine. If you can play it, that’s even better!
  • A small photo book or calendar depicting scenes of area or maybe the country’s national parks.
  • A nice, new, crisp paper bill of your home currency. Often people are very interested in seeing the currency you use at home, and so having a few new one-dollar bills is a great, inexpensive gift for a kind restaurant owner or a new friend you meet on the train.

KEEP IN MIND…

  • We’re not sure how many family members there are, ages, interests, etc. Gear your gifts towards something that could be enjoyed by all.
  • Please don’t bring anything too expensive. Nobody should be showing up with an iPod to give to a rural family. While it’s up to you, try not to spend more than around $30 USD per gift. It’s not the price that is meaningful but the intention you put into selecting the right thing.
  • Only bring food that is cooked or processed; otherwise, your gift might never make it to the family. I’ve been on courses where students brought maple syrup in a glass bottle that broke in their bag – it was a sticky situation!
  • In addition to a gift, we also suggest bringing photographs of you and the people who are important to you. Families especially like seeing photos where the person they know (you) also appears.
  • Please make sure photos are modest. This means being mindful about the signs of wealth that appear in a photo. Please, no photos depicting alcohol. Modest also means clothing-wise: no bathing suits or revealing outfits, please.
  • Glass isn’t a great idea when traveling. Wrap it in many clothes if you must.
  • Something I always like to do is carry a stack of ‘Thank You’ cards (or blank cards) that will accompany a gift or serve as a gift in and of itself. Cards or written thank you’s are thoughtful ways to express your appreciation to people who we spend a significant amount of time with or who has taught, helped, hosted, or encouraged you in some way. You also might want to use cards to thank other group members for their support.

AVOID:

  • Clocks or watches for seniors – Clock pronounced as [zhōng] in mandarin, means “the end”. Therefore, giving someone a clock implies “your time is up”. The same applies to the watch.
  • Umbrellas – Umbrella pronounced as [sǎn] which means “separation” in Chinese. It implies the friendship may not last.
  • Medicine for the healthy – Giving someone medicine as a gift implies that the receiver will get sick. But in recent years health care products are becoming a popular gift for seniors.
  • White and black for gift wrapping – In Chinese culture, black and white are colours associated with funerals or unfortunate things and considered unlucky colours. Therefore, it’s better to make gift packaging red or other warm colours, symbolizing happiness and harmony.

AT LAST…

The best homestay gifts are from the heart—something that connects your family with you. So ask yourself some questions and you’ll come up with something perfect for sure!

And with all of this being said, we now leave you with the gift of possibility… happy homestay gift shopping or creating!

All the best,
Kristen

& your instructor team