Nominated by Jolien S. from Belgium
In October 2017, I arrived in Brooklyn as an au pair to the first-time host family of Lawrence and Nadeen Miller-Fankhauser and their two daughters, Sadie and Clara. Nine months later, I no longer call them my host family. They are my family and coming to live with them was one of the most rewarding choices I have ever made.
Moving thousands of miles away from home is enough to scare anyone just a little bit, but even before our match was finalized, my host family was looking out for me and assured me they would be there every step of the way to help me with whatever I needed. It also took a great deal of bravery on their part to open their home and hearts to a complete stranger. I am very grateful to be that stranger! When I arrived at the house, I was welcomed with bright smiles, hugs and some of Sadie’s artwork she made especially for me. I immediately knew I was home.
My host family completely embraces the spirit of the au pair program and all the benefits of a cultural and language exchange. They are always curious to try and learn as much from me as I learn from them: from Dutch words, to my grandmother’s recipes, to the Belgian Red Devils playing in the World Cup! Being able to share my life, language and culture with them, makes me feel right at home, and hearing Sadie sing our favorite Dutch songs just totally melts my heart!
From the moment I arrived in Brooklyn, my host family has been incredibly supportive and has tried to help me achieve my goals whenever and wherever they could: whether that was my ambition to attend NYU or planning a trip to California. They keep encouraging me and praise my independence and persistence. They keep pushing me forward and make me feel brave enough to keep checking wonderful experiences off my list. It also takes a lot of flexibility on their part to make this all happen, but they never complain. Their generosity has no limits. Thanks to them, I have also seen much more of the world than just New York City. They brought me along on family vacations to the Jersey shore and beautiful Mexico, a destination I had been dreaming of visiting, and they also allowed me the time off to travel to Louisiana and California. However, my most precious travel memories are from when I joined them in Ohio for Thanksgiving with my host mom’s family. Being included in this typically American holiday celebration as part of the family was a heartwarming experience I could never have had if not for the au pair program and my wonderful host family. It did not feel like hospitality. I felt like family. Their generosity also extended to my friends and family visiting New York from Belgium. They were always invited to come visit or even offered a place to stay so we could spend more time together during my time off. However, it is not always a big gesture like that, which makes me feel valued. Most of the time there are small things, like the exact stocking stuffers I never knew I wanted, that make me realize they really care.
When tragedy struck my family in Belgium and I lost my grandmother, I truly realized how much my host family saw me as one of their own. They went above and beyond to support me and make that sad time just a little less difficult for me. They immediately encouraged me to go back home, even though they knew it would be difficult to manage childcare without me around. My family and I will forever be grateful for being able to spend that time together.
Since my arrival in Brooklyn, there have been ups and downs, times when I had to pinch myself because I could not believe my luck and times when I missed my friends and family back home. There have been sunny days spent in the sandbox in Prospect Park and rainy days in forts made of sofa pillows. There have been crazy tantrums and dance parties in the kitchen. All of these memories will forever have a special place in my heart.
By nominating my host family for this award, I hope to let them know how big of a part they have played in making my au pair year the best year of my life and how grateful I am. They have helped me grow as a person, a speaker of English, and a multicultural citizen of the world. I hope to one day welcome them to Belgium with the same warmth and generosity they have shown me in the United States.
A special thanks goes out to Nadeen. Thank you for being my mom when I was sick, my big sister when I wanted to talk and my friend when I needed a laugh!