Sometimes, military families get lucky and are assigned overseas – Europe or Asia. We weren’t that lucky, although Alaska and Hawaii count as overseas assignments. Moving abroad has pros and cons.
Arrangements for the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) usually take longer because you are moving across an ocean in most cases. First, you might be limited in what you can pack since housing sizes vary. Then, most moves require two shipments – hold baggage, which are the items you might need right away to set up house, and the second shipment of furniture. I know several people who received the second shipment first or both at the same time, so hold baggage doesn’t necessarily matter. Also, make sure to have several adapters since the electrical currents are not the same in Europe or Asia. Otherwise, you will have a house full of unusable electronics.
Moving abroad has many benefits for a family. Learning new cultural customs and meeting people from different lands is exciting. Imagine your children going to school in a small Italian town and immersing in the culture. And the history they will learn that is much older than the history of the United States. Our son-in-law, Staff Sergeant, lived in Europe during his formative years. He traveled an hour each way and crossed three borders to get to the International School he attended. And his son, Tony B., went to kindergarten and first grade at the same elementary school in England. How cool is that?
Of course, a big con to an overseas assignment is the distance from family. Tony B. was born in England the day the Good Chaplain reported to our base in Hawaii. I flew from Illinois to England, and four weeks later, I flew from England to Hawaii. Yikes! And the Good Chaplain didn’t get to meet his first grandchild until six months later.
Also, what we consider modern and state-of-the-art in the U.S. isn’t always the same in other countries. For instance, in England, Mrs. Staff Sergeant needed to get used to smaller appliances, and her oven temperature measured in Celcius instead of Fahrenheit. Due to the size and operation of the washer and dryer, it took about five hours to do a load of laundry. With a household of active males, laundry was always running at her house.
The book, “A Practical Handbook for the Air Force Chaplain Spouse,” much of which applies to all military spouses, lists three adjustments to moving overseas.
- Changes in climates and environments
- Living in houses of all sizes, styles, and descriptions
- Living in a variety of communities – small towns, big cities – where we are foreigners
Language is a significant barrier to moving to a foreign country. Even in Hawaii and Alaska, we needed to learn some local idioms and dialects to get along. I found through travel that locals appreciate it if you at least try to speak the basics of the language. I believe that after living in a community, you can’t help but pick up the native language.
Many of my friends who lived overseas lived in the community rather than on base. Some bases don’t have housing available, but choosing to live in a small town, helps get the feel of the culture and customs of an area. You most likely will feel awkward and out of place for a time until you adjust to your new surroundings and make friends with your civilian neighbors, but the experience of doing so can be incredible.
Creating personal relationships with your civilian neighbors, learning the language, shopping in the local community, and getting involved in local activities will go a long way to fitting in abroad.
Until next time,
What was your biggest challenge moving overseas? Respond in the comments section below.