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9/11 - a few thoughts for Host Families and Au Pairs

Posted by Kristen Nielsen Donnelly on Sep 11, 2017 9:28:04 AM



Today marks the 16th anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington, and the subsequent horrors of that day. For host families (and for many other American families), this day may have an established rhythm. Perhaps it’s not marked at all within the family, or perhaps it is heavy with ritual. I live in suburban Philadelphia, where many folks were directly affected and have strong ties to memorializing the day, but have lived in other parts of the country where it is less distinct.


For au pairs, this may be the first “patriotic” event they encounter in the U.S., and they may be unprepared for what the day will look like.


First of all, dearest host families, be aware this day may feel odd to your au pairs. While the day is certainly internationally significant, it is not thought of the same way outside of our shores. If you are a family that marks the day specifically, perhaps by attending a memorial service or participating in a 5K, make sure to address this with your au pair ahead of time. Your au pair may feel anxious about appropriate behavior, or may not really understand why the day is so important to your family. Even if you don’t really mark the day, the media will be. They’ll be replaying footage (sometimes quite graphic and emotionally upsetting) on the news networks and arguing about the subsequent armed conflicts; the whole day may feel weird to non-Americans living here. (Personal note, my Northern Irish husband never knows quite what to do with himself on the day, wanting to be respectful to national pain, but not feeling it for himself.)


Next, dearest au pairs, it’s probably going to be a strange day for you. There’s going to be a lot of American flags. Emotions will run high in many people. There are probably going to be parades or memorials, both in smaller towns and larger cities. Many organizations are going to hold events and ceremonies. It’s not an official bank holiday in America, 9/11, although I have a feeling it will be at some point. 


I say it’s strange, by the way, because it’s America’s most recent significant event, but we don’t really memorialize it communally. For some of you from smaller countries where events like this are marked as one, this is perhaps going to feel disrespectful. It may also seem like a completely normal day, and your host family doesn’t remark upon it at all. This may also seem unusual or bizarre to you. That’s completely okay; just be aware of your own feelings and the attitudes of your host family. Have a conversation about it if you’re concerned.


As with all things, I advocate communication and honesty for everyone. Ask questions and be respectful with the answers you’re given. However September 11, 2017 is marked in your family, perhaps spare a thought for the families who are given no choice but to mark it, as it changed the very course of their lives. Families of victims, service people, first responders, innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and those suffering illness from the residual effects and debris; remember always that the ripples of that day are still happening.

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Topics: Culture, Holidays, Politics, American Culture, Au Pairs, Host Family, World Culture, Community, Heroes, Traditions, Respect, National Pride, Patriotism

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