What should host families do with their international student’s stuff when they move out? | Dear Angela

Now that daylight savings time has started, and we have entered the final stretch of the school year, the question we get from host families more often than any other is, “what do we do with all our international student’s stuff?”

These collections of belongings leave many host parents puzzled as they seem to just grow exponentially over time. How is it that international students who arrived with two suitcases have accumulated material possessions that no longer fit in a car? Amazon and other vendors frequently drop stuff on our doorsteps, and many of us don’t really know the extent of the hoard until we are confronted with it around graduation time.

There are a few lessons we have learned the hard way during this past year. Shipping items back halfway around the world is definitely not worth it. The shipping costs (think $600 for an average Home Depot moving box) are astronomical, and the international student will have to pay import duties on all the items once they reach their home country. The paperwork is daunting and includes an itemized list of every single item. Every sock, every pen, every notebook needs to be logged on the paperwork. Check out sevenseasworldwide.com for more information.

This is the time to encourage your international student to Marie Kondo his or her belongings. If it doesn’t spark joy, sayonara! Once they are done purging, the ideal outcome is to have no more than two suitcases to take to their native country. Here are some tips:

Pass on textbooks to classmates. Some schools have a textbook exchange program, while other international students sell their books via social media. New students will appreciate discounted prices for textbooks and will likely pay it forward when they leave.

Discard class notes, tests, and flashcards. The one exception here would be AP class notes; as we know, some kids do refer back to these once they are in college (especially AP Biology, Physics, and Chemistry).

Donate clothes to the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or any other organization you support. Many international students from East Asia typically don’t buy gently used or consigned items as they don’t know the item’s history. Culturally, they feel the past owner’s energy might still be part of the item, and that’s why they avoid it. They are not familiar with donating items to these organizations and will need to be educated.

Some towns have youth shelters that would be thrilled with the stuff your international students won’t take home with them. Inform your student that all donated items need to be clean and folded.

High ticket items like gaming chairs and computers should have good resale value. Encourage your student not to wait until the last moment to sell these items. Craigslist and Facebook sales groups are great platforms. Do warn them of scams involving cashier’s checks and sketchy buyers.

Please be aware that we discourage keeping your student’s items for them until they come back after summer to go to college. If you chose to do this for them, there will be no Cambridge storage fee reimbursement, and the student should know that you are not responsible in case of loss or damage. Educate your student on the reality of American dorm room sizes. Many will be in for a surprise.

We would love to learn from you all and hear about the creative ways you have dealt with your student’s ever-growing collections. Please share your success stories with your local SDM.

Ready, set, … purge!

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