Tag Archives: OCONUS

Christmas in Senegal: Paper Trees and Mandarin Oranges

As a young child celebrating Christmas, I associated the holidays with cold weather and the hope for snow. We would be among the first to buy our freshly cut Christmas tree and decorate it with lights and ornaments. My mom made fancy Christmas dresses for our special candlelight Christmas Eve service. Christmas Day, we would bundle up and trek over to my grandparents for food and presents. For years, these memories were as familiar and comfortable as my favorite winter coat.

When I turned 13, my holiday experience changed in a big way. My parents and I moved to West Africa to do mission work. Little was familiar and I would soon be learning to appreciate holiday memories in a new way.

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I remember our first holiday season in Africa, like it was yesterday. It was a balmy 104 degrees, and instead of a Christmas tree, we had a paper tree plastered on the wall. In place of a fancy dress, I wore shorts and a tank top.  It was Christmas-time, but everything in me resisted the change.

I cried a lot that first Christmas. Maybe it was the sad paper tree, or maybe it was because I wasn’t around my siblings, grandparents, and extended family. Maybe it was because I just wanted peanut M&Ms that didn’t arrive half-eaten by rats. I simply missed the comforts of home.

But even though it didn’t feel like what I thought the holidays should feel like, I came to embrace my new “holiday” normal. With my brother, sister, and our entire extended family on the other side of the world, my parents and I created new and different holiday traditions. Families that didn’t fly state-side for the holidays, came together and merged into one, big “family” unit comprised of friends and stragglers. We didn’t have snow, but we had the beach. And I was actually starting to enjoy this!

My favorite past-time during the holidays became sunbathing on our empty school campus in Dakar, Senegal, while reading through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and eating mandarin oranges by the dozens. To this day, mandarin oranges are the #1 thing I think of during Christmas-time.

Military families often have to adjust their holiday traditions because of PCS moves or deployments, and I know it can be hard. Even though the latter part of my childhood was spent overseas away from family, I am so grateful for the experience and hope to give my own children the same opportunity. Who knew paper trees and mandarin oranges could create such a special holiday memory?

What’s your favorite holiday memory? Have you had to adjust any traditions because of a military move?

hannahPosted by Hannah Pike, Communications Deputy Director

No Hum-Bugs Allowed! Everything You Need to Know About European Christmas Markets!

We live in a highly politically correct society. Growing up, Christmas parties were the norm in grade school. Today, you can barely get away with having a “Holiday Party” or a “Winter Social.”  On the other hand, most of America is upset about a red cup at Starbucks.

To be completely honest, I don’t get too bent up about what words to use (despite being a writer!), and I’m adult enough to respect other people’s ways of life.

However, since moving to Germany, Christmas has taken on a whole new life of it’s own for me!

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Christmas Markets
If you are currently stationed in Europe, you’ve probably started hearing the buzz of the famous Christmas Markets…and for good reason!

Despite not even needing to be Christian to absolutely love and enjoy these delightful markets, the name still remains the same as it has for hundreds of years. Depending on where you are, it may vary, but it all means the same, “Christmas Markets.”

Here in Germany, locals, service members, and tourists, alike, all go nuts for the annual Weinacht or KristKindles Markt. You could be a direct descendant of Scrooge himself, yet somehow, attending any market will surely put you in a jolly mood!

Have you ever walked into a room and just felt an electricity in the air? This is what Christmas Markets are like! The smell of pine in the air, the most beautifully handcrafted items, food so delicious and, of course, Glühwein, the seasonal mulled wine, all create this magical feeling. It’s as if there is a “No Hum-Bugs Allowed” rule in the market vicinity!

Whether you are stationed in Germany, Italy, England, or elsewhere in Europe, your country is sure to have their own versions of Christmas Markets, with the same, general theme of putting anyone in a good mood and serving up delicious food and drinks–all with an enchanting Christmas theme.

Shopping
Do you dread Christmas shopping? While many markets may have similar items, each market often has some unique and amazing items for sale. This makes holiday shopping a blast! Plus, who doesn’t love drinking warm wine while window shopping and looking at beautifully crafted items!? Your friends and family back home will love receiving thoughtful gifts from the foreign country you are living in, instead of the typical gifts we often receive that don’t have a unique touch.

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Culture
The Christmas markets are also perfect opportunities to learn more about your local culture as well. Each country has their own versions of Santa, and the kids are sure to have a great time seeing the beautiful costumes and learning about the legends and traditions.

So, whether this is your first year stationed in Europe, or your fifth, like us, you’ll never get tired and bored of these magical markets. Go find a local one, or even make a trip of it and explore some of the world’s largest and oldest (Dresden, Nurnberg, Strasbourg) and most enchanting Christmas markets this year.

Some popular markets to attend are:
Germany: Dresden, Nurnberg and Koln
France: Strasbourg, Colmar and Lille
Italy: Verona, Balzano and Trento
UK: Winchester Cathedral, Caerphilly and Liverpool

Planning on going to a Market in Germany?  See what other tips and places the EconomicalExcursionists suggest while in Deutschaland!

Have you ever been to a Christmas Market in Europe? Which was your favorite?

LeAnna Brown currently doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, so to delay major life decisions, her and her husband, Andy, have decided to move to Europe and travel the world via Travel Hacking. After almost 40 countries down in four years and only a few thousand dollars spent a year on travel, they have learned to penny-pinch their way to a bare minimalist lifestyle to help them see and appreciate the world. Read more about their close-to-free travel adventures at EconomicalExcursionists.com, or join in with the EE community on the Facebook page.

Remember Me, Your Civilian Friend.

What is life in the military like? Well, I don’t know. I’m not in the military and neither is my husband. In fact, we are contractors, so when we have to work overseas, we are basically stuck in limbo somewhere between military and civilian lives.

Currently, we are living at, and are stationed in, beautiful Bavaria, Germany as contractors who support the mission and efforts of the U.S Army. We both work all day on the Army post and we work with Americans; specifically, military members and their spouses. Working overseas as a contractor, we are much more involved in military lives than even contractors in the states. We have most of the same access to amenities on post since we are overseas, so I can enjoy American delicacies like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and Reese Peanut Butter Cups, despite living abroad.

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What this boils down to is our whole support system comes solely from the military community.

But being contractors, this also means we stay put, as opposed to the typical military PCS schedule. My sister is an Army spouse, and every time she had to PCS, my heart went out to her. How could she stay so strong every 3-4 years, pack up her home, leave a job behind, and move to a strange, new place only to know that in a matter of years, she would have to uproot herself and family, yet again? She struggled to find jobs because many employers only want applicants who will stay around. She struggled with having to open boxes of broken and damaged goods from incompetent movers. And while I know it is never easy to have to make new friends in new places, she always seemed to fair well for herself.

One thing I have learned about the military community is that you can make some fiercely loyal friends. Living overseas, we needed a support system, a “Germany family,” if you will. We needed people we could spend holidays with when we couldn’t afford or make the trip back to the states. We needed people that could understand the nuances of living OCONUS. We needed people to just be there for us when we needed someone to talk to.

And we found it.

We found it in countless military families and friends, but specifically in a small group of couples who became that family; we traveled together, had game nights together, were there for births of babies, and more. They were our Germany family.

Rewind four years ago, when we moved to Germany and started living the quasi- military life. I was secretively grateful I didn’t have to go through PCS season…that is, until three years later when I did.

Except it I wasn’t moving anywhere. It was time for my friends to find their new home, and PCS out of Germany. The first round of friends received their orders and were packing up. Tears were shed and a final goodbye dinner was held. For the following months, there was a gap in our group, yet we still held our monthly game nights, and those of us left still traveled and explored Germany and Europe, and continued to be each other’s support system.

Then the next ones started purging their home in preparation for their upcoming orders. And just as the first family left, we reminisced on the memories, hugged, and eventually said our goodbyes. No matter how many this-isn’t-a-goodbye kind of speeches there were. I knew in my heart, most of them really were, and yet, they never got easier.

Before long, it was just me, my husband, and our final ‘family members.’ We knew what was around the corner. As my best friend started looking online for a home to rent at their next duty station, or would mention something about where they were going, I would go into denial mode. Surely if I just didn’t recognize or believe they were leaving, they wouldn’t, right? Maybe, if we just wouldn’t talk about it, they could just stay here with us! We could continue to go through life together, embracing each new stage with the love and support that you can only get from such close friends or family.

But that’s not the way the military life works, is it?

Sure enough, we had to go through the same heart-wrenching, tear-jerking dinner that included all the same conversations:
“We will always stay friends!”
“Thank you all for all the memories, we will never forget them!”
“The Army is a small place; we’ll see you in the future!”

But as the moment set in and they took off for their new home, I knew the reality of the situation: I could still see what they were up to on Facebook, but our communication over time would slowly start to fade. I knew they would readjust to their new homes because that is what military members do. They are resilient and become conditioned for frequent up-rooting. While I know it is never easy for them and their families, I’m convinced they have some magic power.

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I secretly think military members know some secret on how to move frequently and yet still establish new ‘families,’ homes, and routines wherever they go with relative ease (mostly because I know they HAVE to). I know they will all find new friends, who they would have game nights and dinners with. They would establish new bonds and start their next phase of life.

All while I would be left behind.

While they would be off at spouses clubs meeting other new members in their community, I would be left going to groups, where I suddenly knew nobody. While they are off exploring their new town, I would be left walking the same streets by myself that we once jogged together. Basically, it felt like some horrible relationship breakup where my significant other decided it was time to move on, leaving me with only material token reminders, empty inside jokes that I couldn’t share anymore, and memories of four years that helped to shape who I am today. I was left to cope with an empty heart and home.

At this point, you may be thinking, “So why don’t YOU go out and find new friends!? Stop wallowing in your own sadness and do the same as they did!” And believe me, I do. I try to find new people I can connect with, and that we can rely on. But now, every time I meet someone new, one of my first questions is, “And how much longer do you have here?” The fear of becoming close to yet another person who will move away in a few months sets in.

So, as you prepare for your next PCS move, and the worry and anxiety fills your mind about moving to your new home, remember you are a special breed of resilient, strong people. You have developed coping mechanisms that many of us, average civilians, haven’t quite adapted yet.

I know your move is not easy on you and your family, but don’t forget about your civilian friends. After you have moved on and are posting new BFF selfies, clearly settled into a new life, send your old BFF a quick note to remind them that they are still special to you, and were not just a passing phase in life. Because to us, you’re some of the best people we’ve ever met.

Have you left behind close civilian friends after a PCS? How do you keep in touch?

Posted by LeAnna Brown, an Elementary Certified teacher with a certification in Montessori Ages 6-12, with a background in Special Education. Now living in Germany, she helps military members learn how they can see the world and bring real-life education through travel to their families through her website, Economical Excursionists.

Our International School Experience: “Mom, Can I Visit My Friends in Norway?”

When most people think of a child’s first day of school, they think of a huge school, a yellow school bus, and most people speaking the same language. But this wasn’t the experience my family had when my oldest son, Justus, went off for his first day of school.

Like most military families, we’ve traveled and moved A LOT! In the 8 years of my son’s life, he’s lived in four different places; one of those places is a small town called Pápa, Hungary.

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After years of military service, my husband decided to take the knowledge he got during his service, and become a military contractor with the Boeing Company. In 2011, he took a job that moved us to Pápa Air Base in the small country of Hungary. There, my husband helped maintain the C-17 Globemasters for the Strategic Air Command, which consists of our Air Force, and also countries such as Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria.

Justus was five when we moved to Hungary, and adjusted better than I did. At first, I decided homeschooling was the best option for us. But I quickly learned Justus was much too energetic for my homebody ways. So, for his first grade year, I enrolled him at a school called Quality Schools International (QSI) Pápa, a small, private school made up of only the children of Boeing and the Strategic Air Commands.

On his first day of school, he came home and told me about all the kids he was going to school with, a total of seven nations in one class of children! Can you imagine? My son learned to love, not only the English language, but the German one, as well. The school didn’t offer Spanish, like here in the US, instead, they offer one hour of German every day. His love for reading and writing began to come through, and his love for diverse culture had him soaring.

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The school put on many events where each nation could show case their traditions; I can still remember him coming home talking about wooden shoe races, and the beauty of the Dutch tulips in spring time. The school made sure to incorporate a little bit of ‘home’ into each class. These teachers, from all over the world, made a lasting impression on my child–something I know will last through his time and memories.

If I can leave you with any advice about a child going to school overseas, it’s to embrace the culture and get your hands dirty. Go out and visit the local shops, try to learn the language, try the food, and travel. Our three years in Hungary were brief, but in those years, we made lasting memories. We also made lasting friendships that will go with us through all our years.

Justus is already asking to go to Norway & Bulgaria to visit some of his friends–how many children can ask that? In some ways, being a military child puts a huge burden on our children, but in other ways, it opens up their lives to opportunities only most people could dream of.

So, if your next assignment happens to be Japan, Germany, or somewhere else outside of the United States, don’t dread it… embrace it. Your memories are awaiting you!

krystal-adamsPosted by Krystal Adams, veteran military spouse and mother

A World Away: Applying to Stateside College While Living OCONUS

Senior year of high school is all about beginnings and endings. It’s the beginning of a new chapter, filled with things like transcripts, SAT scores, college applications, and financial aid. It’s an ending of 12 years of schooling, and all the highlights, bumps, and bruises endured along the way. It’s a realization that our firstborn, Rachel, is one step closer to being a full-fledged adult–living her own life, making her own decisions, becoming her own person.

Sniff, sniff…where are my tissues?

But this process is a bit tricky for us. Because we’re currently stationed in Italy.

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How do you establish residency when you are outside of the continental United States (OCONUS)?
Our state of residency is South Carolina; we own a house there, we pay South Carolina taxes, are registered to vote there, and have South Carolina drivers licenses. So establishing residency is not an issue at the South Carolina colleges Rachel is applying to. But she is also applying to colleges in Virginia, a state in which we cannot claim residency. And unfortunately, there are no residency waivers or exceptions for military dependents who graduate from an overseas high school. One college waived her application fee, but she is still considered an out-of-state applicant. With the number of military dependents graduating high school from overseas each year, you would think there was a special circumstance waiver for them. That is not the case, at least, not that I have found.

Was it difficult to schedule college tours while OCONUS?
Living in Italy, you would expect us to spend our summers traveling throughout Europe. It didn’t work out quite that way for us. Instead, Rachel, her younger sister, and I spent the summer in the U.S. visiting family and friends, and visiting colleges. Scheduling college tours was very easy, since it was all done online. A few families stationed with us in Italy made trips back to the U.S. this past summer, too, for the sole purpose of visiting colleges. Some families are traveling back over the winter break for tours while others, like Rachel’s best friend, are not visiting colleges at all, and are relying on the information found on the internet to make their decision.

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Is your daughter nervous about moving to another continent by herself?
Our daughters attended an international school prior to our posting in Italy–they currently attend a Department of Defense Dependents School (DoDDS). Being in an international school afforded them opportunities to travel to several countries for school related programs. We have also traveled quite a bit during our time OCONUS. My kids feel very comfortable traveling. In fact, Rachel originally wanted to go to University in London. Could she handle being a continent away from us? Absolutely!

Are there any military kid preferences on college applications?
Good question. If you find any, let me know. We have no knowledge of military kid preference. Each application has a section regarding the applicant’s affiliation with the military, but there is no indication suggesting preference for military dependents.

Rachel has 10 moves, 12 schools, and 3 OCONUS moves under her belt. She has also visited 11 countries. The experiences and opportunities she has been given through our military journey have contributed to the person she is today: a confident young woman who can adapt to any situation. She will be just fine at college.

Me, on the other, well…that’s another story.

Have you lived OCONUS with a high school student applying for college? How did things work out?

anna-nPosted by Anna Nemeth, Marine Corps Spouse and National Military Family Association Volunteer

Think Outside the Box: Exploring Overseas Educational Opportunities for Military Kids

As a military family, we move frequently. While most families move within the United States, we have lived in six different countries in the past ten years, and we have two school-aged children who are a part of our adventures. In the last three years, they have attended three different schools. Maneuvering through schools, educational systems, and cultures can be overwhelming and rewarding.

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In northern Italy, our kids were able to attend a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) school where they were surrounded by Americans. There were lots of resources, extracurricular activities, and support services. However, interactions with local Italians were limited to hours outside of the classroom, which minimized the possibility of immersion within the host country. In order to provide more cultural opportunities, we found local Italian soccer clubs for one of daughters. Consequently, both her soccer skills and her Italian improved. After some time in northern Italy, we moved south to the capital city, Rome.

In Rome, there is no DoDEA school. We needed to find a schooling option in the city of Rome with English as the instructional language, and one that had tuition within the allowance DoDEA provides. We also needed to apply through the Non-DoD School Program (NDSP) to have payments made to the school. NDSP is a DoDEA program that provides funding and support to dependents of military members and Department of Defense civilian employees who are in locations where there is no DoDEA school available.

The school in Rome was different than the one they attended in the north Italy because, in Rome, they attended school with mostly Italians and several international students. The school had fewer resources, but the staff was willing to think outside the box. For example, our daughter needed to take geometry, but it was not a class offered at the school. We started looking into the possibility of DoDEA virtual high school–an option available to eligible DoDEA students. In the end, a teacher was willing to teach geometry, one on one, to our daughter. Amazing! The small community feel of international schools is hard to beat.

We now find ourselves in another international school setting. This one, however, is quite different than Rome. We are in Africa. Our children are attending school with local children, whose parents can afford the tuition, and other international students. To be fully American is the novelty, not the norm. Here, the challenge for us is that the school offers integrated math as part of the International Baccalaureate® (IB) program. While that is great for students who will be here long term, or for those are working at grade level ( 9th and 10th grade) while they are here, it does not work for those who don’t fit into those two categories. But it doesn’t work for us. If our children do the suggested math for their grade level, it will not prepare them for the math classes they will take at our next duty station.

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To complicate matters more, both of our children have been in gifted programs and need math placement in classes that are a higher level than the norm for a given grade level. One child has been placed in a math class that is not part of the integrated math program which will prepare her for the correct level of math (for her) at the high school at our next assignment. Our other daughter will take a class here at the school this year but most likely will need to use an on-line option next year in order to be prepared for the next level of math once we move. While this school does their best to meet the needs of our children, the reality is that we, as parents, have the responsibility to be advocates for our daughters.

Military life is challenging for all of us, whether you are in the US, or if you’re like us, and you move all over the world. We don’t always understand the language or the culture, but that is also part of what makes this adventure so great. Our children are well-rounded, flexible, open-minded students, and more importantly, the same can be said for who they are as people. Maneuvering through schools, educational systems, and cultures can be a full-time job, but the opportunities given to my kids from living in different places and attending different types of schools have helped to create who they are, and who they are yet to become. That makes it worth it.

Have you lived overseas with school-aged kids? What obstacles did you overcome? Join us for a Facebook party to talk about it!

Blog Teaser Graphic back to school nmfa

You’re invited! Join us for another fast-paced evening of conversation and fun. We want to talk to you about your child’s education, and support you in helping make this the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER for your military child. Join us, and our panel of experts on October 15th, from 9-10 PM EST on Facebook. We’ll be ready to answer question on everything from supporting your child through transitions, getting your child’s school the funding it deserves, communicating with teachers, and even educating your child at home if you are considering homeschooling. Join us for a fast-paced hour of fun, support, and of course, PRIZES!

Posted by Guest Author, Army spouse and mother of two

Military Kid Athlete, College, and Living OCONUS: A Come-From-Behind Victory

soccer-milkid-oconusIf applying for college isn’t stressful enough, try doing it from Italy! And trying to have your soccer-playing military kid seen and recruited while living on a different continent is like having a second job!

Our daughter wanted to play soccer in college, so we focused on the recruiting process and trying to find the right academic and athletic program for her. We always thought coaches were not allowed to talk the prospective collegiate athlete until the end of their junior year of high school. So, we thought we had plenty of time to plan. Because of that, we didn’t take her to college ID soccer camps until the summer prior to her senior year. We were so misinformed. Our daughter’s excitement quickly turned to panic when she realized many of her camp roommates were already verbally committed to colleges. Many had been committed since their sophomore year.

Living overseas made it harder for her to be seen by college coaches; she was unable to attend showcase tournaments, weekend ID camps, or play with prestigious US teams back in the states. Fortunately, my husband took hours of video footage of her playing soccer, and we had taken advantage of every local soccer opportunity that was available in Italy. Little did we know, the footage from Italian and high school games might be the determining factor to gain acceptance into a college soccer program.

One of the best decisions we made was to make a trip back to the US, so our daughter could participate in some college tours before her senior year of high school. We took her to see schools ranging from small to very large, in three different states. It was a great experience for our family, but is was also overwhelming.

To say we were behind the curve in the whole process, puts it mildly. I’m kind of embarrassed to say we had no clue what we were getting into, and we learned so much as we went through the process.

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If you are stationed overseas and your athlete wants to play sports in college: do your homework. Make sure you have an NCAA number–coaches will want that. Plan accordingly to allow your athlete time stateside to attend college ID camps, trainings, and showcases. The college application process can be very challenging; schools adhere to strict deadlines and the postal process from a base in Italy to a campus in the US is not very fast. Be prepared, have all of your documents and transcripts ready to go, and mail in the packets early!

Today, my girl is playing college soccer at Virginia Military Institute. She was the first athlete from Vicenza High School to sign with a Division 1 school. Our family considers this a come-from-behind victory, and we know our daughter found the right school for her. Your athlete can do the same!

Living overseas makes it harder, but we’re a military family; we welcome the challenge!

Have you ever gone through the college application process with your military child from overseas? Join us for a Facebook Party!

Blog Teaser Graphic back to school nmfa

You’re invited! Join us for another fast-paced evening of conversation and fun. We want to talk to you about your child’s education, and support you in helping make this the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER for your military child. Join us, and our panel of experts on October 15th, from 9-10 PM EST on Facebook. We’ll be ready to answer question on everything from supporting your child through transitions, getting your child’s school the funding it deserves, communicating with teachers, and even educating your child at home if you are considering homeschooling. Join us for a fast-paced hour of fun, support, and of course, PRIZES!

Posted by Carmen Frank, military spouse