Buying Gifts for Peeps Back Home

Alissa with her Family (Left to right: sister, mom, brother, brother’s wife, me, dad standing up)
Photo Courtesy: Alissa Mustre

United States is one of the most sought after destination for students across the globe. According to project Atlas, 974,926 international students enrolled in the institutes across USA in the year 2014-2015, and the numbers are growing annually. Amidst this rise a lot of effort has been put into helping them to cope with the new culture and system. But along with diversity, students also bring expectations from home. These expectations range from career paths of the students to some small electronic gadgets.

In this piece we will talk about some of these items that international students are expected to send back home. We interviewed three Students from three developing countries which are one of the major exporters to USA and are among the top 15 treading partner of USA.

Alissa Mustre is an undergraduate student of law, society and justice, and political science at University of Washington. She is from south eastern part of Mexico and came to USA in the September of 2014. The poor quality of education in Mexico persuaded Alissa to Study in the USA. Since she is in USA, she gets a lot of request from people back home to get them some products and items. Alissa says that apple products and fashion wears are something that people back home ask her to bring. When asked what kind of items your family and friends wants you to bring home to them she says “Mexico has cool things but they don’t have modern things that the US has. So, like if it’s Christmas, especially, than they give me a list of Christmas presents to buy for all the people.” She further adds “Mostly its expensive clothing items like GAP and Lacoste and electronic gadgets especially apple products because it is cheaper in USA”.

When asked what challenges she faces to fulfill these demands she says, with a frown, “There is custom where they open my bag and give me a look that says Are you smuggling these things to sell or something like that.” She further adds “If I forget something my mother will be mad at me and at the end will get all emotional.” Talking about items requested by friends she says, “My friends usually order online and send it to my address but I still have to carry them. If I forget they will start giving sarcasm.”

Alissa believes that she is one of few Mexican students who at least do not have to worry about the expenses for the items because her family back home supports her. She says that since the Mexican value the efforts and sacrifices their parents make, they work day in and day out in USA so that they can express their gratitude towards their families, especially through gifts.

Suning Li

Suning Li is an undergraduate student studying Biology. She is from china and has been studying in USA for pat two years. Li chose to study in USA because she believes it was easier to come to USA than get an admission in a very competitive Chinese university. Also, her family thought that the American Education System was better.

According to Li cosmetic products and medicinal products are things that most of the people in china ask for or expect from someone visiting the USA. According to her cosmetic products are cheaper and are better in the USA therefore her families and relatives send her a list of products they need before she visits China every year. Likewise people have high degree of faith in American Medicines compared to Chinese. She says “Sometimes relatives ask for health products. Like, Fish oil is not so good if they are produced in China. They know that in America the quality of the products is good.”

She also stated that some students buy cosmetic products in America and sell them in China with a profit margin because they are in such high demands and the tax can amount up-to 50% of the actual price. According to her this has led to changes in laws which limit the non taxable cosmetic products to be under the value of $3000.

Hari Sending message to his father

Hari Krishna Murali is a final year Graduate student of Aeronautics studying in Seattle who is originally from Bangalore, India. He has his father, mother a sister and a brother in law back home. When asked if people back home want you to get them things, Hari Replies “Yes, that’s definitely there. It is one of the biggest jobs down at the US, being a transfer agent”. He says it’s mostly electronics products that people back home want. He believes the tax, especially, import tax makes things more expensive and that is why people want to get something from USA. Recently he bought a Go-Pro for his cousin. He also sends money back home that he earns from working as research assistance because his mother believe that she can save it for him in a better manner than he can. “Gifts are something I buy out of my own sense of respect and responsibility. Chocolates and watches are the safest gift and I also buy items for people if they ask me to but they usually don’t.” says Hari.

Bringing gifts to people when you go back home has become a part of a culture of international students in the USA. Items like technical gadgets and fashionable clothes cater most of the expectation. These products tend to be expensive and many students struggle to meet these expectation.

It is also interesting to see how people in rapidly developing nations are showcasing their consumption power through items that the students and immigrants send back home from the USA.

This story was produced by a student in the “Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI)” program, a collaboration between The Seattle Globalist and FIUTS, supported by the U.S. Department of State. The program brings 20 undergraduates from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Nepal to Seattle. Participants study journalism and new media, and participate in volunteer and service activities, leadership workshops, and cultural excursions. The story is an example of student work and has not yet been through the Seattle Globalist’s standard editing and fact-checking process.