Guys! Fellow travel lover and military spouse Ariel with My Life In Verbs is our guest contributor today! I’m so excited to share her Dos and Don’ts of Living Overseas because I myself am about to leave for Germany!
Living Overseas: The Dos and The Don’ts
Surprise! You’ve just gotten word from your active duty spouse that you all are moving to a foreign country. All of a sudden you are overwhelmed with excitement, anxiety and an intense urge to run to the grocery store and buy a pint of “enteryourfavoriticecreamflavorhere.” Well, go eat that ice cream and pull up a chair, because I’m here to help prepare you for an experience that – if you let it – will change your life forever.
My husband and I have had the incredible opportunity of living in two completely different foreign countries over the span of 17 years in the military. Both ultimately shifted my worldview and perspective on just about everything. And I’ve learned that, just like anywhere the military sends you, it is what you make of it. Here is a list of dos and don’ts of living overseas that can hopefully help prepare you for this new adventure!
DO Put Yourself Out There While Living Overseas
I’m an ambivert: AKA, an extroverted introvert. In other words, I enjoy being with people I love, but I’d rather eat dog food than make the first move in a group of strangers. But you know what? I need friends in my life, y’all. I just do. Mama is happier when she finds a tribe to lean on and laugh with. And if I need to step way out of my comfort zone to find them, I’ll do it. After a few months of living in Okinawa, a random girl messaged some spouses who had just arrived on the island and asked if we all wanted to go to dinner. We started going to a new restaurant every other week and that’s how I found my tribe. When we got to Germany I decided to continue the tradition, and that is how I found my next tribe. Was it kind of awkward at first? You betcha. But I met some of my best friends that way and would do it again in a heartbeat. While living overseas your tribe becomes your family. You spend holidays together, take trips together, and just all around support one another through the ups and downs of being a military spouse in a foreign place.
DO Take Advantage of Your Location
In Germany, we traveled as much as we possibly could. (You can find many of our travel stories HERE.) And that is with a toddler who was keen on screaming his head right off in public places.
In Germany, we got a Prius to save on gas and drove everywhere. We stayed in AirBNBs when traveling in Europe to save money. We cooked dinner in our rentals instead of going out to restaurants. In Okinawa, it is quite expensive to fly off-island, so we tried to take advantage of more local, cultural opportunities such as festivals. With the right planning, you can make any situation work. I mean, when will you have this opportunity again???
DO Leap Out of Your Comfort Zone
I mentioned this earlier regarding making friends, but it’s worth saying again because planting yourself down in an unknown land is already forcing you out of your comfort zone. What I’m encouraging you to do is embrace it 80% of the time. Yes, you will bang your head against the wall more times than you can count. Being in an opposite time zone from family sucks. Having no A/C when it’s hot sucks. Missing holidays and birthdays sucks. (Want more examples? Click HERE.) There are plenty of complaints to go around, I assure you. But don’t let that keep you from learning and doing. EMBRACE THE DISCOMFORT because that feeling means you are being stretched and challenged and pulled in new, wonderful directions. Grow, learn, change, repeat.
DO Eat All the Foods
This deserves its own heading! I knew someone who refused to try any Japanese food while we were living there. My mind could not compute this! All the amazing food he was missing out on was just tragic! I will admit, I was not the most open person to new foods when we first moved to Okinawa. I figured curry was gross because of how it looked (I know, I know). Three years later we were eating it once a week! Eat the schnitzel, the spatzl, all the Onigiri, Swiss rosti, drink the boba tea, the Riesling, and, for the love of all that is holy, the Belgian beer.
DON’T Be a Hermit!
Take advantage of what is available to you. Go to the spouse social. Volunteer for the event. Take the tour. Visit the landmark. Just…get…out. More often than not, the people that hated living overseas didn’t leave their house much. I have anxiety, so I get the hesitance. But I know I am better when I have friends and am busy. It does get lonely sometimes, but having friends helps so much.
DON’T Be That Person
You know who I’m talking about. The annoying, loud American in a foreign country who has little respect for cultural norms. We are guests in these countries, so making an effort to learn about their culture goes a long way. I hate to put on my elementary teacher hat here, but just treat others how you would want to be treated. Be respectful. Be aware of your surroundings, FOR THE LOVE. Don’t embarrass yourself (or your country).
DON’T Forget Your Loved Ones!
This goes for both you and your loved ones, but communication definitely changes when you live overseas. Because of time differences, more than likely you will not be talking to your friends and family back home as much as you may have prior to moving. When I lived overseas I was working full time, and the best time to call family fell during the time I was working. So carving out time on the weekends to talk to them was intentional and scheduled out. It was usually me doing the scheduling, but we made it work. Thankfully, Skype and social media make communicating so much better than it used to be, but there are still challenges.
DON’T Give Up on Your Dreams and Aspirations
A challenge for spouses moving overseas is the lack of job opportunities available. If you have a degree and an established career already, moving overseas may not be the most exciting news for you at first. Giving up your career for a bit is most certainly daunting, but it doesn’t have to be the end of it. Use this time as an opportunity to explore other avenues, gain more certifications, or work on furthering your own education. Depending on where you get stationed, there may be educational opportunities and/or civilian positions available for you to apply for. If not, consider taking this time to develop other talents or interest you may have. Many bases have theater groups, language classes, and even art and photography classes. Go in with an open heart and mind and see all that your new post has to offer you!
And finally… While Living Overseas DON’T Pass Up the Opportunity
Living overseas is a once (maybe twice!) in a lifetime opportunity! The things you will learn about the world, other cultures and yourself are invaluable. If you let it, this experience will change your life forever. It will be hard, there will most definitely be challenges and learning curves, but when all’s said and done, you will not regret it.
Need more information about your OCONUS PCS? Check out these other posts or grab your copy of this fantastic ebook! For real….it is great!