When you’ll be living with strangers for a few months it’s customary to bring a gift or two to give to your host family upon arrival. To select a thoughtful gift is not as easy as it sounds because transportation, customs, and time constraints are often involved, and the fact that they are strangers further complicates the selection process (which is already complicated by a tendency to overthink everything). Standard suggestions are T-shirts or baseball caps (because every kid in every part of the world is the same size and is going to be excited by a Seahawks T-shirt, right?), coffee table books of where you live, and food products from your region. Calendars with photos of the area are often suggested as a practical gift that shows the hosts where you’re from. Beware, though, that not everyone’s calendars start on Sunday, as ours do, in which case they are all but useless as appointment-scheduling devices. When looking at coffee table books, it soon becomes apparent that they mostly look the same: If one had never been to Oregon, Idaho, Washington, or western Canada, there’d be nothing to distinguish one book from another. In our case, our most famous local product is Starbucks, which would be as exciting as us receiving a bottle of Heineken from a Dutch guest, and families who host several college students a year probably have enough coffee table books full of beautiful photographs to construct another wing onto the house. I’m not a fan of knickknacks and so I tend to avoid giving those to people unless I know they like such things, and someone who hosts multiple students every year probably already has stacks of useless but well-intentioned baubles.
The day before C2 left for Chile we found these at a small art gallery. They are fused-glass coasters (there were many different colors and styles), each about 4 inches square, made by a local artist. They’re thick with rounded edges and corners, so they won’t break easily between here and there and while being bashed around in a suitcase for a week before meeting the host family, and they can be used as trivets as well. Until our last-minute trip to this little gallery (not in our town, of course) we could find nothing (thought of a Christmas ornament made by a local artist, couldn’t find one) and so had settled on candy and a coffee table book, with the intention of me sending gifts more personally tailored to the members of the host family after C2 gets to know them. I’ll still do that, but until then she feels good about giving them these. I may go back to buy some more.