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Some of you haven’t lived beyond the borders of the United States until recently. You’ve just arrived on an island where the summer heat can be stifling and the language is so foreign that it uses another alphabet.

Your new neighbors seem to be used to the place and don’t think twice about hopping behind a misplaced steering wheel and driving on the "wrong" side of the road.

To make matters worse, you can’t call home and complain because it’s two o’clock in the morning there.

What in the world can you do with yourself?

That was a question facing me 15 years ago when we arrived in Okinawa for a three-year tour. My husband, Ron, was immediately busy with work, but there I was, sitting in temporary housing with plenty of time on my hands and a deep fear of Kadena Circle.

For me, the answer was pretty simple. I was five months pregnant with our first baby when we arrived on the island and spent most of my time preparing for its arrival.

My first solo venture off base was to an ultrasound clinic where I discovered "it" was a boy. I can still remember the thrill of sharing the news with Ron and bragging a little at my ability to locate the clinic, pay the receptionist with yen and come out of there with a picture of our baby’s little private parts.

Curiosity rather than need was the driving factor behind my decision to brave the unknown world on the other side of the base fences.

Necessity then drove me to learn the essential Japanese phrases that would enable me go beyond those fences again without embarrassing myself in public.

We ended up having another son four months before we completed our tour, so the most valuable phrase for me became, "Where is the bathroom?"

I look back on those years overseas as a time when my life was devoted to meeting the demands of new mommyhood. It was fun, unpredictable and scary, all at the same time.

The island we lived on, with its unique culture and quiet, polite people, became a big playground to be explored. For some reason, I was more confident shopping or sightseeing with Jimmy along than I had been before. His presence took away the self-consciousness of being alone. If I did anything goofy, I hid my embarrassment by pretending Jimmy needed my immediate attention.

I also did a lot of bowing. It became an automatic reaction anytime someone was nice to me, if I bumped into a stranger in a crowd or if I couldn’t figure out what else to do in a situation.

Bowing has become so ingrained in my concept of showing courtesy in a foreign land that I found myself doing it years later on a daytrip to Tjuana!

When our tour was over in July 1996, I left the island with warm memories and more friends than in any place we have lived. Some of those friends became like a second family and were there for us when our own families couldn’t be. I miss them so much it still brings tears to my eyes as I write this.

Whether you have just arrived in Okinawa, Germany or another distant place, I can assure you that many adventures and friends are waiting. It’s natural to feel uncomfortable (I’m thinking about that Okinawa heat!) and out of place in your new home.

Just remember, if this former small-town girl made it around Kadena Circle, so can you. And in a few hours, you can call home and tell your amazed mother all about it.

Pam Zich has moved eight times in 17 years of marriage to her Marine Corps husband. E-mail her at homefront@stripes.osd.mil or find the Zichs online atwww.lifeonthehomefront.com.


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