Tag Archives: OCONUS

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Moved Back to the States

My family lived in Wiesbaden, Germany for three years. The day my husband came home with orders overseas, I jumped up and down in excitement. The day he told us we had to go back to the States, I sat down and cried.

If you’ve been able to live in Europe, this post probably won’t surprise you. There is something about living there that changes you. As much as I love our home here in the States, a piece of me will always be yearning for Germany. If you are still lucky enough to be living overseas, here are some things about coming home that may surprise you:

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Reverse culture shock is real. 

This one is difficult to explain. Feeling out of place in your own home is a thing. It took time for the kids and I to adjust to saying “thank you” instead of “danke.” They hardly remembered living in the States, and they were confused by everything from the way American toilets flush, to the types of door handles we used. The first night we were back, we stopped at a restaurant, and my poor son stood in the bathroom crying because he couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet and he was too embarrassed to walk away without finishing the job. We had to send someone in to “rescue” him!

Everything is LOUD.

When we were overseas, I couldn’t understand the language being spoken around me. When you don’t understand the language, it’s really easy for the sounds of people talking to just become background noise–you tune it out. When we got home, it felt like I had some sort of superhuman ability to hear everything. All of a sudden, I could understand all the noise around me again, and it took some time for me to be able to block out that noise. It was overwhelming for the first couple weeks!

You’ll be homesick…for a country that isn’t home.

We’ve been back two years now, and I still ache for Germany. It hits me at the most unexpected times. Around Easter, I want to go back for Spargle season. In the summer, I can’t stop thinking about all the festivals. At Christmastime, I’d sell my soul for a Christmas market. I can’t stop thinking about it!

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Things go back to the way they were.

While living in Germany, I was determined to make sure we could travel (a lot!) and not rack up a huge amount of debt. In order to balance the budget, we didn’t have television service, or smart phones. The TV was almost never on, and I learned to function with an small, emergency-only cell phone. No one could reach me, and I was never distracted from the moment. It was magical. We also shopped at farmers markets instead of the grocery store, and almost never ate out.

When we came home, I was determined to stay unplugged, and stay healthy. Lets just say the iPhone and Panda Express won in the end. I’m still a little disappointed in myself.

Everything changes.

I struggled a bit with how much everything changed at home. We have a large family, and I wasn’t able to afford a trip back to my hometown for all of us, so after four years, I finally flew to San Diego to see my family. When I arrived, my favorite ice cream shop from my childhood was closed. The house was older. The people were older. I was different, too. Things didn’t fit together the way they once did. I no longer felt like I belonged there, and I didn’t belong in Germany. Everything was different.

Living overseas is magical and exhilarating, filled with places to explore, and memories to make. Coming back home is a little different, as you can see.

Have you ever had a hard time adjusting back to living in the United States after OCONUS orders?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media Manager

Moving OCONUS with Pets: How Hard Could it Be?

“It’s cheaper to ship our car than it is to ship our dogs,” I relayed to my husband as we finalized preparations for our move overseas. New kennels and veterinary visits for mandatory health certificates, along with their airfare added up to just over $3,000. Our car could have made the trip for about $1,200.

Not all military families will face a bill quite so steep. Our move was stressful enough for me, between inaccurate information from the transportation office, booked flights on carriers that never accept pets as luggage, and driving our dogs to an airport with an airline that would get them overseas, then trying to connect my family back to our original government purchased airfare, it’s safe to say, we’d been through the ringer.

We have two dogs, both too big to transport in either the cabin, or as luggage on US flagged carriers. This meant they’d have to fly as cargo. The contracted airline for our move overseas never transports pets, so the dogs couldn’t travel on the same aircraft as us (typically a less expensive option). Further complicating the process is the fact that fewer US flagged carriers will even accept pets on board these days.

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Options are even more limited in the summer months (peak PCS season). Generally speaking, if temperatures exceed 80 degrees, pets can’t fly. What’s a military family to do? Our pets are a valued part of our family—they’ve helped my children deal with the stress of moving, among other things. And handing them off to someone else because we can’t afford their airfare would be heartbreaking. So, we chose to pay the fees and bring our dogs along on our overseas adventure. However, not all families can do the same and are left to find a new home for their pets.

Moving back to the US, we face a similar challenge. There’s not much information for pet owners. We haven’t been able to figure out if pets can fly unaccompanied as long as they’re met by someone in the destination city. I’ve been trying to connect with Ramstein AFB, but they keep referring me to their online brochure, which doesn’t give us any answers. Most families are getting their information from local Facebook groups. The question of flying pets unaccompanied is one that comes up over and over for military families, and for our family, has truly been one of the most stressful aspects of moving overseas.

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So, we’ve decided to get our dogs back to the States ahead of our move (thanks Mom and Dad!), but now must decide how we go about making it happen.

We have the option of using a professional pet shipper, who will collect our dogs and get them loaded as cargo on a flight out of Brussels. We could play “Space-A roulette” out of Ramstein when it’s time for our entire family to fly back to the states, or one of us can make the drive to Amsterdam to fly KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, with the dogs traveling as luggage (KLM has a higher weight limit than any US flagged carrier).

I’m not sure which option we’ll select, but the kennels have been hauled out of storage and the dogs know something is up. Our dogs are members of the family, and leaving them behind is not an option. And, these days, affordable transportation doesn’t seem to be an option, either.

Have you moved overseas with a pet? What tips could you share?

Posted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer

Survive and Thrive: Belgium!

“It sure is going to be hot this week,” I remarked to my children as I looked at the 10 day forecast.

“It’s going to be in the 70’s all week long.”

Mind you, it was July. That’s when it hit me: I had fully acclimated to life in Belgium. What did it take to get me there? Lots of patience and a willingness to explore.

3-3 Belgium Graphic

An assignment to Belgium is not like most other OCONUS tours. My spouse is assigned to the NATO base here, and while there is an American flag proudly waving near the front gate, it is part of a semi-circle of NATO flags – it doesn’t stand alone. We use Euros, rather than dollars, on the installation. Our children attend the Department of Defense Dependents School (DoDDS) alongside children from all over NATO. Our coffee shop is full of folks chattering away in many languages (although, it now proudly serves Starbucks coffee!). There is no mistaking that you are living outside of the US.

So what can make the transition to Belgium easier? Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Bring an umbrella and some good rain gear. It rains nearly every other day here so I keep an umbrella in my purse, in my car, and one at home by the front door.
  2. Prepare to enjoy some amazing food. Our first stop with visitors from home is nearly always lunch at a cafe along the Brussels Grand Place followed by a stroll to check out the Mannequin Pis while enjoying a warm Belgian waffle loaded with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Delicious.
  3. Learn some French. While there are three official languages in Belgium, the NATO base is in the French speaking part of the country. English is not as widely spoken here as it is near other overseas US bases. And your hopeful, “Parlez-vous anglais?” may be met with a very firm, “Non!”
  4. Bring your spirit of adventure. Not only have we been able to explore many wonderful sites in Belgium, we have also been able to travel to France, the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Sweden. Belgium is a great jumping off point for travel anywhere in Europe.
  5. Bring your patience. Most stores are closed on Sundays (some on Mondays, too). Restaurant meals are leisurely affairs; your waiter is not going to be working hard to turn the table, but you may be working hard to get the bill so you can leave after two or three hours. Travel along country roads requires a much more sedated speed than zipping along an American highway. You don’t want to speed over cobblestones!

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Our tour in Belgium is rapidly coming to a close, and while we are eager to return to the US where we can be near family and friends, we will miss living in Europe. Our college student is already planning a semester abroad and exploring career options that will allow her to live overseas. If that comes to pass, she can be sure that we will be visiting – often!

Have you ever been stationed in Belgium? What are your tips?

kelly-hPosted by Kelly Henry, National Military Family Association Volunteer

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