One evening, nearly 8 years ago, I was at work when I received the call saying we had orders to RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom. The moments that followed included a whirlwind of emotions. Mostly excitement and fear. I had always heard some lucky few received orders overseas, but never imagined we’d be among them.
So it began…a few months later while my husband was at technical school, I found myself packing out, taking care of no fees passports, Visas, making pet arrangements, and gearing up for our new adventure. We were both brand new to the military, and had no idea of what would follow. However, I knew that life was about to drastically change for the next 3 years.
Now here we are, 8 years later, continuing life overseas. The experience has included a wide range of emotions, challenges, and so many lasting memories. I’ve been thrown out of my comfort zone, started a family, found my place in the military community, become a business owner, and mother, and so much more. Living overseas has opened my mind, my heart, and my soul to amazing possibilities. I am a different person now than I would have been if our path had taken us a different direction, and for that I am extremely grateful.
I’ve experienced my ups and downs, just like everyone else. However, there are a few things worth sharing I’ve learned along the way about living overseas as a military spouse.
1. Whether you just received OCONUS orders or you’ve already gotten settled at your overseas duty station, don’t be scared.
Being overseas can be very nerve-wracking. It’s far away, and unfamiliar territory. Perhaps they drive on the opposite side of the road, maybe they speak a different language. But I want to encourage you, don’t spend too much time focusing on the scary side. Find opportunities to get excited about, focus on the fun!
It’s also important to not dwell on what you feel you left behind. Having the right mindset can make a huge impact on your overseas tour. You’ll find that the more often you allow your mind to go back to “home,” the harder it will be to find happiness and joy and adapt to where you are NOW. Have the right frame of mind and set yourself up for a positive experience.
2. Do have appropriate expectations.
Things are different overseas. The culture, food, shopping, housing, sometimes the language! Embrace the customs of your host country. Learn their ways and open yourself up to what this opportunity can teach you. There is always something to learn. Whether it is cutlery, phrases, or etiquette, you’ll later find at least one thing will stay with you and your family for many years to come.
3. Do educate yourself and know what resources are available to you and your family.
When living overseas, you will find additional resources are a priority to most installations you’re attached to. These are here to help ease the gap between life in the states and in your host country. Whether it is additional childcare resources, Key Spouse programs, transitional courses/workshops, family fun passes to base facilities, or “out in town” festivities, be sure to take some time and familiarize yourself with what is available to you. We’ve experienced multiple big named concerts, local tours, language classes, job fairs, new parent support organizations, key spouse programs, and much more in our years overseas. Don’t miss out!
4. Don’t isolate yourself.
Take the initiative and get involved in what’s happening around you. Maybe it is spouse groups, hobby clubs, fitness groups, or private orgs. Just be sure to DO SOMETHING and leave the base often. Even if you are naturally an introvert homebody, it is important and healthy to get out and socialize. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had bad experience with groups before, realize that this is a new location, a new country, and new faces with new personalities.
When you’re overseas, you may find you have more things in common with those around you than you realize. And you never know when you, or perhaps somebody else, will need a friend or a hand. Overseas military life is definitely different than stateside. And suddenly your best friend, your mom, your old neighbor, is a 14 hour flight away. So do yourself, your family, and your marriage a favor, and get involved with those around you. You will learn, grow, and experience more, leaving that home with more memories than you can imagine if you simply open yourself up to possibility.
At the end of the day, we hold the key to our own happiness. You may not be able to control much in this military life, but we always positively control much within. Go with an open mind, and bloom where you’re planted.