Care Packages for Abroad

I first sent a care package abroad when my father was deployed in Iraq in 2005. The packages began with themes, such as a Saint Patrick’s Day box with green and white beads and sugar cookies with green icing, and grew from there. Gradually, I was including happy meal toys that could be distributed to the children that he would pass on the road. Poptarts was a common request of his, which I would send alongside chili cheese flavored Cheetos (his favorite snack).

 While he has been stateside since 2006, I have found myself still taping packages as if they are being sent to the Middle East – which, I will admit, has annoyed some of my friends and family here in the states when trying to open items I send. Sending packages abroad has decreased in recent years, as the pricing of international mail has gone up – and is determined by weight and size. Every now and then, though, I find myself putting together a package for friends I have met and shared memories with.

 American candies are often a staple – be it marshmallow Peeps for an Easter package, Smarties, fruity gum, or Swedish Fish for friends who had previously thought that Swedish Fish were actually fish – rather than a gummy. s’mores flavored Poptarts were one of the items that I really wanted while abroad – and have become a staple in my packing for international trips. As long as they don’t crumble (at which point they just become messy while still tasting good), they can be great ways of sharing American foods with native and international friends while abroad – and are a great way of getting a little taste of home when you are homesick.

 I had received two care packages when I was spending 5 and a half months in South Africa. My mother sent me an “Easter basket in a box” – with little decorative bags so I could create “Easter baskets” for my friends with American candy and window clings that decorated my room long after the Easter season had passed. My grandmother sent me a general food package – with Mexican cheese, Poptarts, Zataran’s red beans and rice, and other similar goodies. I truly appreciated both boxes during my relatively long duration away from home at the age of 20.

 Some people believe such care packages while abroad can lead to students sliding backwards out of cultural immersion, with instead becoming homesick. While this is a valid concern, I believe receiving such packages help students share their cultural or typical foods with their friends, which in the process, creates new memories. One such memory I have is of a friend of mine from South Africa who was afraid to try Mexican food. After making it a couple of times, we made a bet with this girl – which if she lost, she had to try some of our Mexican food that we made. She lost the bet, tried the food, and while she did finish it – I doubt she will try it again often. (She also had the cleanest plate I have ever seen someone eating a burrito to have.)

 My two packages came about halfway through my trip – which for me, was perfect timing. It was about the time that I was beginning to miss certain foods (such as Mexican cuisine) but not quite ready to go home yet. After another couple of months, I was reaching my final week in South Africa. My pile of American foods was vastly diminished to only a few items that I gave to a close friend of mine who loved to cook – and I truly missed Mexican food again. I remember returning home to the United States, and spending that first week back eating all of my favorite foods (with the first day back including two Mexican meals), watching cable television, spending time with family, and doing whatever I wanted on the internet – which I believed to be super fast in comparison to what it was in Pietermaritzburg. However, as my mother would tell you, after a few days of this “breather,” I was ready to pack up and travel again.

 That is what care packages can do for anyone away from home – they allow the receiver to have those moments of comfort and familiarity, before they challenge back into the adventures of life. I would highly recommend creating care packages for international friends who return home after graduation, former students that your family has hosted, loved ones deployed overseas, and anyone else that you think might enjoy a few moments of eating something familiar in another land. Just make sure you don’t try to send chocolate in the mail – especially during the summer months – as the pieces will probably arrive in the form of a melted liquid rather than the unique shapes they once were!

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