You would think that as a woman in her 40s, I would have figured all this out by now. And as a woman in her 40s, married to a military man for over 20 years, I should have easily checked the box for “love.” And I truly thought I had done so. I had been happy and prosperous in my life for most of our military career.
Because of this, I would call my life successful. At the 20-year point in our military career, I had been married for just as long, had a great run as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and had given birth to two beautiful children. I was happy. I really was.
When we got an assignment to Europe, I realized that my world wasn’t what I thought it was.
I had dreamed of living overseas for as long as I could remember. Even in high school, I wanted to teach English in South America and then move to Europe or Australia.
When I agreed to marry my Air Force officer, I thought that some of that dream would be fulfilled. After all, he promised me that I would see the world. Unfortunately, that dream would remain as a dream for quite some time.
When it became our reality though, I was ready.
We would be living in Belgium so French would be the primary language for us. Belgium is so central to most of Europe that we decided to divide and conquer the local languages. My youngest daughter had been practicing German for years so we had that country covered. My father was born in Italy so I brushed up on my Italian and my husband’s family is French-Canadian so that was his focus.
We were little worker bees getting all the military paperwork ready as well as culling down our household goods. The car was shipped, the movers came, and we boarded a plane for our new home. I was ready to continue my life.
Little did I know that all that prep work didn’t really prepare me for the transformation that would take place.
Normally we spend our weekends sleeping in and slowly starting our day. Instead, we arrived jet lagged and slowly started our day. But it was actually perfect. European living involves slowing down and enjoying life. As a New England girl, this wasn’t the easiest lesson to learn; I walk fast and talk fast. But we needed lunch so we drove directly to the place (that’s French for town square) and my first lesson in “la dolce vita” started. The wait staff waited for us to call them over to order. They didn’t bother us throughout the meal until we flagged them down to get the check. At first, I was antsy. This is not how we do things in the United States at all! Over time, I realized that there really is something to “stop(ping) and smell(ing) the roses.” I quickly adapted to this lifestyle.
Even now, back in the states, hubby and I get a mid-day coffee just so we can chill out.
Europe has some magical cities: Venice, Paris, Vienna. But for some reason, it wasn’t just those cities that had my heart thumping. I found that I was more in love with my spouse by living my daily life in our city. I wouldn’t call our local town romantic by any means but I found it so. We lived in rural Belgium with cows out our backyard, a goat next door and an orchard at the end of the lane. Many people may call that paradise, but I’m a city girl. Strangely, I fell in love with the ambiance of my new home. That feeling permeated all aspects of my life, including the love I felt for my husband.
Every day felt like we were on vacation and so I was much more relaxed than normal. My overall emotions overshadowed the stressors of a foreign language and strange culture.
That, in turn, had me looking at my husband with fresh eyes. I was happy and we all know that when mom is happy, everyone is happy.
This euphoria has remained today.
I always thought of myself as a strong, independent woman, until I got to another country. Oddly, I had some trepidation when I was supposed to travel from Belgium to the Netherlands. I was driving my kids to meet up with my spouse who was there for a conference. We were going to take a vacation in Den Hague but I was so nervous. Ultimately, I had to remind myself that driving in Europe and driving in the United States were the same thing. The only difference is semantics. In the U.S., we cross state borders, in Europe it is countries. Once I had that in my head, I was good to go.
Turns out, I really am a strong, independent woman. I just found new ways to justify my moniker. Nothing proves this point like traveling in a foreign country with no or limited knowledge of the language. When I returned to the U.S., I took a trip to Germany to meet up with my daughter. Again, I had some apprehension but I remembered what I had accomplished and ventured out. I made it through customs and found the train I needed without worry. As a teacher, I would give myself a solid “A” for my efforts.
We all know that travel changes you, but living in another country takes it a step farther. Venture out and don’t stay on the American compound. The things you learn about yourself may surprise you. And we all have room to grow.