A friend and experienced military wife offered a keen insight about life overseas just before our move to Germany.
“You’re going to love it,” she told us. “But for the first three months, you’re going to hate it.”
She was right. It took about that long for life to feel right side up again after we moved. Remembering my friend’s words reassured me that better days lay ahead.
Fellow spouses are often a source of encouragement in overseas life and willingly share the wisdom of their experience.
Starting “from scratch,” is the way Amy Blehm described her first overseas assignment.
“When I got to Germany, it was so overwhelming because I hadn’t really ever had to start from zero,” said Amy, now living in Japan. “No matter how experienced you are at moving, even from one overseas assignment to another … it is still a huge adjustment.”
With her husband busy at work right after their move, Amy said, “I didn’t know anyone, didn’t have a job yet, and was desperate for someone that I could relate to.”
Living overseas is not an extended vacation. Opportunities for travel will come, but adjusting to daily life comes first.
“You will grieve for the loss of your former life,” said Donna Burrill, stationed in Germany. “It’s OK and normal.”
Feeling overwhelmed is also common, said Elisabeth Ridderhoff, who spent five years in Germany.
“It took a while to not be afraid or nervous to talk to the Germans and not be embarrassed when we couldn’t speak the language or when we did something wrong,” said Elisabeth, now living in the U.S.
Sophie Spyrou Schneider agreed it was difficult to leave friends and family for a foreign country: the United States.
A British citizen who recently moved to the U.S with her military husband, Sophie had advice for others in her situation: “Research.”
“For non-American military spouses,” Sophie said, “Find out as much as you can about immigration. If you’re an EU citizen … moving to America, you really need to start early.”
“Although I was prepared for the next leg of the journey, I wish that there had been more advice given at my husband’s last base,” Sophie said.
As well as unfamiliar, settling in a new country can be expensive, even with help from the military.
“I didn’t know what it entailed to find a house on the economy,” said Amy, of moving to Germany. “It was nice that we had saved up money, though I wasn’t aware that I needed to.”
Several spouses indicated the importance of accepting a country’s differences.
“As obvious as it seems,” said Amy. “It is important for people to understand that the whole world is not like the U.S. Japanese houses are small. German houses don’t have built-in kitchens. Things we wouldn’t consider are typical in other countries.”
Even if you live on base, don’t stay there, these women emphasized.
“Explore, explore, explore,” said Tamra Honchul, whose overseas assignments have included Japan and now Germany.
“My family is so much richer because of the experiences we have,” she said.
Elisabeth agreed. “Get a Rick Steves book and a good map and just go,” she said.
“Too many people stay on base for everything and never enjoy being in another country,” said Amy. “[Travel] gave us an appreciation for culture, history and the beauty of God’s creation. We experienced things like Carnivale, saw beautiful places like the fjords of Norway, walked along cliffs in Ireland, relived the Battle of Normandy.
“It was totally worth it.”
For more insights about life overseas, or to add your own, see the Spouse Calls blog post “Over There.”
Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany, her fourth overseas assignment. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see the Spouse Calls blog at http://blogs.stripes.com/blogs/spousecalls.