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DIY Holiday Gifts for your Host Family

In the U.S., the Holiday season – regardless of what holiday is celebrated – represents a time for giving. Families come together to exchange gifts, food and to celebrate with festive parties and traditions.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and the chaos of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping has subsided, we are approaching the “crunch time” of gift shopping (and making) before the Holidays. Here are some cheap and easy Do-it-Yourself (DIY) gift ideas for your host family this holiday season!

Photo in a frame

Find or take a nice photo of yourself with your host family and print it out (you can have prints made at local drugstores or office supply stores). Put the photo in a simple frame and add some decorations, paint, or text quotes for an extra personal touch! If your family celebrates Christmas, you could even make them a small photo/frame ornament.


A Coupon book

Write down a few things that you could do for your host family (like chores or favors) on separate note cards or pages and then staple or tie them together to create a “coupon book.” Your host family will love your offers to help around the house!


Recipe in a Jar

Combine the dry ingredients for your favorite cookie, brownie, or other baked goods recipe into a large mason jar and seal it. Hand-write the recipe for the baked good down on a small note card and attach it to the jar. So easy! 



Customized Flower Vases

Find or buy some old/cheap water glasses or small vases. Then, use paper mache, paint, course paper, or glitter to decorate them for your family! You can wrap them up as gifts, or use them as decorations at holiday parties – either way your family will love this fun gift!


Write a Letter or Poem

A completely free, but very special gift you could make for your host family this holiday is to write them a letter or a poem about what they mean to you or your experience here so far. You can even frame or laminate your letter so that your family can hang it and be reminded of you always! 


These are just a few ideas of DIY gifts for your Host Families. For other ideas and more detailed instructions, just research “DIY Holiday Gifts” online. Have fun DIY gifting!


The holidays are a wonderful time of the year filled with joy, laughter and cheer! They are a great time for you to spend time with your host family, express gratitude and give the gift of cultural exchange! However, the overall excitement during the holidays may also cause stress that can lead to people being more vulnerable to injuries or accidents. CIEE wants you to have a safe and enjoyable holiday! Please consider the following safety tips for the holiday season: 

1.) Don’t drink or drive, or let others drink and drive. Remember the three D’s - No drinking, no driving, no drugs! CIEE has a zero tolerance policy regarding drinking, driving and drugs. If you are ever in a situation where your friends are drinking, remember that this can put your safety, and your program in jeopardy; and we advise you to contact your host family or local coordinator and find a way to leave the situation as soon as possible. Also, never get into a car where the driver has recently been drinking alcohol or you feel may be intoxicated. 

2.) Fasten your seat belt every time you’re in a vehicle. Just because the person driving your vehicle has not been drinking alcohol, does not mean that someone else on the road has not. Also, depending on your location in the U.S, the weather may be harsh and the roads can get very slippery in colder climates. 

3.) Dress to stay dry and warm. Wear appropriate outdoor clothing: jackets, layers, gloves, hats, scarves, and waterproof shoes. 

 4.) Be cautious around strangers. Unfortunately, not everyone has world-peace and goodwill on their mind during the holiday season. Remember to be mindful of who you talk to, always inform your host family of your whereabouts, trust your instincts, and be assertive. If you ever feel you are in a dangerous or threatening situation, do not hesitate to call 911 or call CIEE at 1-800-448-9944. 

 5.) Wash your hands. It's flu season! You don’t want to be ill during the holidays. Wash your hands often, especially after sneezing or coughing in your hands, using the restroom, and before you eat a meal. 

 CIEE wishes you a safe and happy holiday!


Did you miss your chance to enter the My American Bucket List contest? Is all this talk about Thanksgiving making you hungry? Maybe even homesick for some of your favorite foods from home?

USAHS Facebook Recipe ContestFill up and cheer up by entering our A Taste of Culture annual Recipe Contest. This is your chance to feed your host family some of your favorite foods. Be on the look out for more contest details & check out last year's entries to get some inspiration!

The contest runs November 16th - December 4th - get ready for the holidays with some new swag!




November Student of the Month: Fatahiya

Meet our November Student of the Month, Fatahiya from Ghana!

  Fatahiya 2

Above: Fatahiya enjoying a beautiful fall day at an apple orchard in Illinois

CIEE: What is your favorite part of your typical day in the U.S.?

Fatahiya: My favourite part of the day in the US is to catch my bus for school and at dinner when everyone talks about their day.

CIEE: What is your favorite American food?

Fatahiya: My favourite food is pizza and ice cream

CIEE: What has been the most surprising thing about America or your new host city?

Fatahiya: My most surprising thing is that America is not Hollywood because I thought every part of the country is just like they show on movies though I live in a great community which is the most important thing.

CIEE: What have you shared about your own home country/culture since you’ve been in the U.S.?

Fatahiya: I have shared so much but the one my host mum loves so much is that only chiefs ride horses in Northern Ghana.

CIEE: What have you learned about yourself so far?

Fatahiya: I have learnt that I can be anything if only I want to change the world, and that I am mature but not as confident as I thought

  Fatahiya 1

Above: Fatahiya and fellow CIEE exchange student Fatima, from Bahrain, meeting with U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowski to discuss student exchange, citizen diplomacy, education, and women’s rights. How cool!

Thank You For...

Thanksgiving is a time when we get together with family and close friends, and remember what we are thankful for. We thought this would be the perfect time to share some tips about how to show your host family that you appreciate all that they do for you.

  • Tell them “thank you” when they least expect it – In America, it is important to say “thank you” often. You probably thank your host family for rides to school, for the meals they provide you, for taking you to the movies and so on (if not, you should start). However, the best time to thank your host family for welcoming you into their home is when they are not doing anything for you – if your host family is relaxing in the living room, that is a perfect time to give them a big THANK YOU for giving you the opportunity to experience life in America.
  • Do more than what is expected of you – Most of you have chores at home, and doing those chores is a good way to show respect to your host family. Even better, show your host family that you appreciate them by doing little things around the house that are not assigned to you. If the trash is full, take it out. If you see a mess, clean it up. If your host mom is carrying groceries, offer to help.
  • Make a card – Whatever the occasion, giving your host family a card is a great way to say “thank you.” It is also a great way to teach your host family about holidays in your country. If your country celebrates Mother’s Day at a different time of the year than the U.S. (May 10, 2015 – mark your calendars), for example, surprise your host mother with a card or small gift.
  • Cook a meal – This is another great way to share your culture and say “thank you” at the same time. Your host parent(s) will appreciate having a meal cooked for them, and learn about the flavors unique to your culture.
  • Listen – This seems like an easy one, but we all forget to do this from time to time. We can become so focused on what is going on in our lives that we forget to listen to others. So if your host family listens to you about your stressful day at school, remember to check in with them and ask them about their day. 6a010536fa9ded970b01b8d08c45bc970c-800wi

Time for Fall


Welcome to fall (also known as autumn, also known as THE BEST SEASON EVER)! Depending on where you live, you might be experiencing changing leaf colors like in the photo above, chilly weather, or maybe (if you’re in the southern half of the country) weather that still feels like summer.

No matter where you are, there are some awesome things to do this season.


Fall is football season at most schools, and Homecoming is a big celebration that typically includes a big football game and a school dance. The event gets its name from the fact that high school alumni (students who used to attend the school) often “come home” to join in the celebration.

If your school has a football team, there’s a good chance a lot of your classmates are going to the Homecoming game – don’t be afraid to ask if you can join them at the game to cheer on your team!

The Homecoming dance is a chance for students to dress up and have fun – and some high schools elect a “Homecoming King and Queen” from the senior class.

Clubs and Activities

It’s the start of a new school year, so students just like you will be signing up for new clubs, activities, and sports! Take advantage of this time to try something new – your fellow American classmates will be doing the same thing.

This is a good way to get to know your classmates because while you (the international student!) are experiencing new things all the time, a club at the beginning of the year means that your American classmates are ALSO experiencing something new.

Fall Decorating

Pumpkin carving is a classic Fall activity! Ask your host family if they know of a place nearby that sells pumpkins, then buy one for each member of the family to carve. (They’re not too expensive – don’t expect to spend more than $10-$15 on a pumpkin.)

Your family might have some great pumpkin carving techniques – the website below also has some great tips!


You can also celebrate Fall by doing craft projects with fallen leaves, decorating your room or house for Halloween, going apple picking, finding a Corn Maze or a hayride, and planning your Halloween costume!

We hope you find something fun to do this season. Have a great Fall!

October student of the month - meet Kira!

Meet Kira from Germany!

Kira_SOTM Oct 2015

Above: Kira and a friend painting each other’s faces for a volunteer project

CIEE: What is your favorite part of your typical day in the U.S.?

Kira: I really enjoy the soccer practice with my team after school. I also love to go to the football and soccer games from my High School and hang out with friends.

CIEE: What is your favorite American food?

Kira: Reeses but sadly we don't have them in Germany!

CIEE: What has been the most surprising thing about America or your new host city?

Kira: The most surprising thing is that you can't walk anywhere in the US. You always have to drive even though you just want to go to the grocery store that is right across the street.

CIEE: What have you shared about your own home country/culture since you’ve been in the U.S.?

Kira: I taught my host family and friends some German words and I told them how different the different parts of Germany are. I'm looking forward to cooking them some German dishes!

CIEE: What have you learned about yourself so far?

Kira: I've learned that it's not that easy for me to step out of my comfort zone but when I do, great things happen. In addition I learned that I have a strong will and that I like archery.

Congratulations Manuela - your American Bucket List won you a gopro!

Congratulations to Manuela from Spain for her winning American Bucket List and selfie! Check out all the neat things she hopes to accomplish in Maine (shout out!) this year while she is studying in the United States.

You rock, Manuela - send us pictures of your new adventures!


Check out Manuela touring around Portland on a boat with an awesome light house behind her!

The American food Manuela wants to try: pancakes - and a big BBQ too!

The American tradition Manuela  most looks forward to: an American football game

The American activity Manuela wants to try: cheerleading - Manuela doesn't have that activity at her school in Spain - she thinks it's fun & interesting! 

The American holiday Manuela most looks forward to: Christmas - because in Spain they celebrate it but it's not the same. She wants to see the lights and all the Christmas trees & spirit. 

Manuela hopes to teach her host family: how to make Spanish tortilla - The Kennedy Family told her they are so excited about trying the Spanish tradition on New Year's eve of eating grapes for each bell until midnight!

Manuela 's biggest goal at school: to make a lot of international friends - it's important for her to learn the American culture and how to work together in class, because in Spain they class system is very individual. Americans do everything as a team and that's very different and interesting to Manuela. 

The American celebrity Manuela most wants to meet: Taylor Swift! She is a BIG fan of Taylor and dreaming of her is free :) We are hoping she spends her holidays in Portland too, Manuela!


 Congratulations Manuela - we hope you have the #CIEEBestYearEver!

Congratulations Tahir - Your American Bucket List Won You a GoPro!

Congratulations to Tahir from Pakistan for his winning American Bucket List and selfie! Check out all the neat things he hopes to accomplish in Oklahoma this year while he is studying in the United States.

You rock, Tahir - send us pictures of your new adventures!


Check out Tahir on top of the highest point in Oklahoma - Mount Scott in the Wichita Mountains! 

The American food Tahir wants to try: meatballs with spaghetti

The American tradition Tahir most looks forward to: prom

The American activity Tahir wants to try: kayaking

The American holiday Tahir most looks forward to: Christmas - because he has never seen snowy trees in his life!

Tahir hopes to teach his host family: how to cook Pakistani food because his host family (The Akin's!) love his country's food

Tahir's biggest goal at school: is to be prom king - we would vote for you Tahir!

The American celebrity Tahir most wants to meet: Angelina Jolie - she has been to his country 3 times to help people during floods.

 Congratulations Tahir - we hope you have the #CIEEBestYearEver!

Conversation Do's and Don'ts

Making new friends is one of the best parts of being an exchange student.  The CIEE Support Team made this helpful video to remind us of some Do’s and Don’ts when starting a conversation with a new friend.

Conversation Do's and Don'ts from CIEE Support on Vimeo.

Other Suggestions:

  • Be confident!
  • If someone asks you “how are you?” always remember to ask them “and how are you?”
  • Step outside of your comfort zone and talk to different groups of people.
  • Make it your goal to meet 3 new people every day.
  • Join clubs/groups/teams – this is a great way to make friends!
  • Pay attention to what classmates are talking about (movies, TV shows, music, etc.). If you don’t know anything about the topic…learn about it!

Conversation Starters:

  • Things you have in common – “What did you think about that History test last week?”
  • Upcoming events – “What are you planning to dress up as for Halloween this year?”
  • Hobbies – “What do you like to do in your spare time?”
  • Popular Culture – “What did you think about POPULAR BAND’s new album?”