Hi all! Can you believe it’s less than three weeks before our departure date for the Silk Road? Thanks Uttam, Madeleine, Wade, and Beatrice for posting introductions. For those of you who haven’t, please post soon. We are excited to know you and see your faces! Everyone’s curious who they will spend 6 weeks on this amazing journey!
As we begin working on our final travel preparations, we want to give a bit of guidance for our exciting adventure: homestays! Homestays are about exchanging ideas, language, and culture; sharing moments with locals, laughing through awkwardness, and experiencing authenticity; immersing yourself in a lifestyle and learning the social rules of a society. It’s such a valuable opportunity and a great way to learn on the course.
We encourage you to bring a gift to the home stay family. But we know that buying a gift for someone you’ve never met can be tricky! We hope this post will help spark some ideas and clarify what you’d like to bring.
How many gifts should you bring?
We will have the chance to stay with two to three homestay families (one near Rebgong, the Amdo region of the Tibetan world, and one or two in Kyrgyzstan). We will visit other communities on our travels and can assure you that there will be many people offering us a great deal of hospitality, so having an extra gift or two can be nice. In China, it’s customary with many people to give gifts. It is a great way to show appreciation for the hospitality we receive and to demonstrate the gratitude we may not always be able to express. So the The number of gifts is really up to you, but we recommend you have three gifts, one for each of the homestay families that will shelter you, cook for you, protect you, and learn with you. Having something very small as a backup is also nice in case you feel you make a special connection to someone on the journey.
Why do we give gifts?
What are some of the good reasons why you choose a gift?
- To remind the family of you and the incredible memories you share together when you leave
- To add something you think is useful to the house
- To expand the family’s perspective of your home culture
- To share or teach something
- To stimulate a conversation
- To show the family something about you as a person
- To show your appreciation and love for their hospitality and kindness
Here are some specific 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, such as a Frisbee or a Peg Triangle Solitaire game often found in Cracker Barrel restaurants in the U.S., a puzzle, a coloring book.
- 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.
- Hand lotions, scented candle, or fingernail polish.
- A burned CD with the best music from your country. Remember your audience; your host grandma might writhe in pain when you play the latest Kendrick Lamar track, but she might really enjoy Billy Holiday or some folk music. Instrumental music might be nice for someone older, while something with lyrics in your native language might spark your host sibling’s curiosity.
Keep in mind:
- Please don’t spend more than around $20 USD on a gift. It’s not the price that is meaningful but the intention you put into selecting the right thing and the gratitude and respect you demonstrate when you give it. Overly expensive gifts can create awkward situations.
- We’re not sure how many family members there are, ages, interests, etc. Gear your gifts towards something that could be enjoyed by all.
- 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!
- 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 or you wearing a bathing suit or other revealing outfit (this goes for guys as well as girls).
- Glass bottles and frames are liable to break and probably aren’t a good 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.
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!
With all of that said, we now leave you with the gift of possibility… happy homestay gift shopping or creating!
All the best,
Tindy, Noam, Luke.