Salute to Spouses Blog

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Where in the World? Five Ways to Learn to Love Your Recent PCS Overseas

The summer PCS season has just ended and there’s a good chance many of you moved overseas, or at least some place “foreign” to you.

A move to another country can be overwhelming. The search for a house (or the long wait for one on base) can be daunting, it can takes months for cars and household goods to arrive and trying to keep in touch with family and friends in different time zones can be frustrating.

Even a simple thing like a trip to the grocery store or the gas station can be overwhelming.

It’s easy to start to feel sorry for yourself. It’s natural that a sense of loneliness and isolation will start to creep in, but don’t let it ruin the unique opportunity you’ve been given to experience another culture.

Here are five tips for adjusting to life overseas:

  • Get rid of pre-conceived notions. We’ve all heard the stereotypes and rumors. Europeans are rude, Asians are ultra-formal, certain places have bad drivers or weird food or an abundance of body odor or … you get the idea. But the reality is that people are people, no matter where you are in the world. Their attitudes, customs and way of life are no better or worse than ours, just different. Believing the negative things you might hear about a place before going there will only serve to make you feel just that – negative.
  • Try to speak the language. You don’t have to be fluent, or anywhere near. But at least make an effort.  Learn key words and phrases that are common courtesy in any language. Learn to ask someone, politely, if they speak English. In Japan and Korea I barely learned to count to 10, but I did know how to say thank you and good morning. In my sixth year of living in Germany, I can sometimes manage to eke out a full sentence or two. But I am always greeted with a smile whenever I try, and, more often than not, a response in perfect English.
  • Get off base. We live on the same base where my husband works and my kids go to school. The commissary, clinic, movie theater, chapel, gym, library and shoppette are all within walking distance. Some people see little reason to leave the gate. And you know what? Those people don’t like it here very much. Yes, it is intimidating. Yes, it can be scary. But what’s the point of living in another country if you don’t experience any of it? Start slowly by taking a walk or a bike ride off post. Check out a local café or restaurant with your family or some other Americans. Go to a special event like a festival or art show. Soon you’ll learn your favorite places to shop and eat, and you’ll be planning a weekend getaway to yet another new country. Step out of your comfort zone. You’ll find a whole other world out there, and you’ll be very proud of yourself for doing so.

- Don’t complain, whine or belittle your “hosts” in front of your children. Yes, it’s always good to be honest with kids and let them know you might share their nervousness at being in a foreign country. But, regardless of their age, kids take their cues from us. If we let our kids think we hate where we live, or even worse its people or their customs, we are tainting their perceptions and cheating them out of what could be one of the best experiences of their young lives. Expose them to that culture and teach them to respect it, enjoy it and embrace it.

  • Find the humor whenever you can. I once ordered what I thought was meatloaf in a German restaurant, only to discover that it was in fact a giant, cold cube of congealed animal parts. When I was about six months pregnant in Korea, I could no longer fit into our jerry-rigged laundry room to wash clothes. My husband and I have both failed the driver license tests in different countries, and more than once been challenged by the many unique types of toilets you find around the world. We’ve misread every manner of signs and maps and instructions and mispronounced words in more languages than we can count. That’s OK. We forgive ourselves. We laugh at ourselves. A lot.
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