If you’re wondering why your Exchange is fresh-out of binders and sheet protectors, you don’t need to look any further than the homes of every PCSing family.
Milspouses everywhere are busy creating massive PCS binders with detailed checklists. These binders hold the master plan of the next few months, and the checklists organize the days and weeks.
Maybe you are one of these milspouses, and perhaps your binder is devoted to an overseas PCS. If so, it’s a whole lot fatter, with information for official passports and USAREUR drivers’ licenses.
But there are some things that you can’t file in your overseas PCS binder, such as your nerves and worries.
However, it is possible to ease some of those worries by making some key connections ahead of time. Try one or all of these five strategies, which will help make your transition overseas a little smoother.
1. Get A Spouse Sponsor
Sponsors for service members can make the PCS experience smooth for the whole family but it’s not always a match made in heaven. Be proactive and get yourself your own spouse sponsor to improve your experience transitioning.
Some overseas units might have a formal spouse sponsorship program already established. If not, request to connect with a spouse and ask that person if she or he would mind being your sponsor.
Spouse sponsors can be your go-to person to ask questions and provide support. They can give you insight that official checklists can’t, and they can be a great source of enthusiasm during a very stressful process!
2. Join Overseas Groups Before You PCS
Don’t wait until after your boots are on the ground to find organized groups to join; you’ll only get weighed down by fatigue and shyness.
Before you PCS, research groups related to your personal or professional interests. Include your unit’s spouses’ group or FRG, as well as the installation’s Spouses’ Group, which has special-interest sub-clubs and opportunities for leadership. Your installation probably has professional-networking organizations, too. And, don’t forget to do a general search for Facebook groups that connect people who enjoy particular activities, like hiking, reading or gathering for play-dates.
Connecting with these groups will help you feel like you’ve started to form friendships and build a community. Having appointments on your calendar after your arrival will help you feel busy, engaged and happy, which will improve your transition experience.
3. Tap into Your Network
On the subject of building community – don’t forget that you already have a wide community, which can help connect you to people at your overseas installation.
So, go fishing: harness the power of Facebook, or send out some direct emails. Ask your current milspouse network who has friends already stationed at your gaining assignment. Given how small our milspouse community is, you’re bound to get dozens of bites. When you get connected with a friend of a friend, strike up some friendly conversations over email, Messenger or video call.
This strategy is known for helping friendships blossom quickly, and it’s great for gleaning insider’s tips on the assignment. The best part? You won’t show up feeling alone; you’ll have a friend to meet for coffee when you arrive.
4. Live Like a Local… Before You Get There
It’s easy to feel excited about the idea of moving overseas – the culture, the travel, the food! But you might find yourself singing a different tune when you actually set foot on foreign soil. You don’t know your way around, you don’t speak the language (in many cases) and you don’t understand strange customs and courtesies.
Help yourself relax by doing some research before you PCS:
1. 5 Best Day Trips Near Your Installation:
Make a list, and examine the map. This will come in handy when you feel like, “We’re here – now what?”
2. Common Words and Phrases in [insert foreign language]
If you can’t take a foreign language course, practice some key words or phrases so you can engage local residents politely and avoid staring at people blankly.
3. Local Customs in [insert installation or town]
Learn unusual customs particular to that area. Do you have to wear a plastic glove to shop in local markets? Should you have reusable shopping bags at any store? Knowing this ahead of time will help you avoid mistakes that could tarnish your initial experience.
4. Plug Your Kids into their Own Networks
Got kids? You know that you’re going to be living in close quarters with them during your first several days, weeks or months of your overseas assignment. So, just as you do some advanced networking for yourself, help your kids do the same.
Before you PCS, make a list of the base library’s story times, summer camps, sports activities, SKIES activities, youth center activities or trips, and Vacation Bible Schools (age- and season-appropriate). Find out where the installation’s fitness centers are and if they provide childcare.
Then, determine what paperwork needs to be completed in order to sign up. Do you need to register your kids with your installation’s central children’s services organization and get them a physical? If so, contact the organization to get the paperwork, so you can complete it in advance of your arrival and confirm any other need-to-know details.
You’ve Got This!
If milspouses earned medals like their service members, “Overseas PCS” would be a medal to wear with a lot of pride. Making it through these transitions takes a lot of preparation, patience and stamina.
Chances are, you’ll want to “ring the bell” a few times along the way, but you’ll keep going – you know how to find answers, pool your resources and get things done.
You’re a milspouse – you’ve got this!