Being a newlywed, I had no idea what to expect when my husband was given orders to Italy. At the time, all I could think about was the enormous amount of pasta I would eat, the places we would travel, and oh, that sweet, delicious Italian wine. For the first three months of being overseas my eyes were the colors of the Italian flag. I loved everything about Italy – the language, the people, the cute way the whole town shut down in the middle of the day to have a three-hour lunch. And then, like many of us who have the opportunity to live abroad, I started to miss America.
Sure, my husband and I had seen more of the world in one year than we had in our entire lives, but darn if we didn’t long for a strong Internet connection and stores that were open 24/7. After our honeymoon phase of Italy ended, we had our Dorothy realization: we aren’t in Kansas anymore… or even the United States for that matter. While my eyes still wave the Italian flag occasionally, my soul is all Stars and Stripes. There are pieces of America that I miss, which I will savor the minute we are back on American soil. For the time being, this simple list has kept me sane:
While you may not be in the U.S. anymore, you are still among family – your military family. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or search for an online group to answer your questions. If there’s not a site for your base, create one! If you have a question there are 10 other spouses that do too, which means there is someone out there who has gone through what you are now – and quite possibly has the answers.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but one would be surprised at how many people do not take advantage of their time overseas. Whether you’re smack dab in the middle of Europe or situated on a 60-mile-wide island, there are always new things to see and do while living abroad. Of course life gets in the way sometimes, but the biggest thing to remember is that your time living overseas is limited – make the best of it!
3. Get involved.
Embrace your new base as if you were a freshman on a college campus. Become a walking resource for your friends and be the base know-it-all for events and programs. Volunteer, find a job, further your education, create play dates on Facebook, host a BBQ – these small gestures will make your time spent living overseas feel more like home almost instantly. Additionally, consider getting to know the locals around you! Learn the language, shop at their stores, invest in their culture. You won’t be sorry.
2. Stay connected.
Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as email and telephone calls, make it easier to keep in touch with loved ones around the world, especially family back home. The more technologically savvy you are – the better. Purchasing a smart phone is an investment in your sanity while you’re abroad (you’d be shocked at how many social apps there are!) and being able to see familiar faces can be an absolute blessing at times. Creating a blog is a great way to document your time while you’re overseas; you’re able to share pictures and tell the small stories that friends and family back home would love to know. In addition, blogging helps you connect with other military spouses around the world!
1. Enjoy it.
Even though there are days where you’ll crave Sonic and forget how a new Target purchase smells, there will come a time in your life when you no longer live in this foreign location – and getting there may cost you a pretty penny. Pack your weekends full of traveling and fun things to do; make memories you can’t make in America.
While these tips may seem simple enough, there are many spouses who move overseas and find that their “extended vacation” is anything but. The biggest tip I’d have for any spouse leaving behind their home in America would be never to underestimate the importance of community. We all know how long it sometimes takes to build a group of friends, but overseas, you’re building a family. These are the people with whom you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving because the foreign country you’re in most certainly will not.
To many, living overseas seems like a dream come true, but those of us who experience it, quickly realize the little things we miss about America. My husband and I have been in Italy for over a year and have just under two years left here. While I truly feel as though my time abroad has been a blessing, I assure you, I will return to America more patriotic and appreciative of our flag than ever before.
Now it’s your turn – Where’s your dream overseas station? Have you lived abroad before? What would you do differently if you could? What is an absolute must repeat? If you’ve never been overseas, what are your concerns? Desires? Questions? If there’s one thing I’ve learned (and not to sound too High School Musical), but it is nice to know we really are all in this together! (Okay, now you’re singing it. Sorry.)
Ciao for now, fellow milspouses!