Moving overseas can be daunting but a smooth transition during your PCS (Permanent Change of Station) can make all the difference.
Let me start by saying that when I signed that dotted line to become husband and wife, the last thing on my mind was the military. I knew I was marrying a military man, I knew it would come with its challenges, but coming from a very nonmilitary background, I didn’t fully know what I was signing up for. Looking back, I wish I could tell that girl, “Hold onto your hat. This is going to be a wild ride.”
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was sitting at the front desk at my job, and I was being flooded with messages and missed calls from my husband. I finally got on my lunch break and listened to the first message. “Hey Babe, I’ve got some important news, call me back.” We had been waiting to get orders, but I didn’t think we would be getting them this quickly. Without a skip, I called him back to find out the good news (or so I thought). Would we be going to the beautiful streets of Aviano, Italy? Or maybe enjoying Oktoberfest in Germany this year? The anticipation caused my palms to sweat.
“Hey honey! What’s the news?,” I questioned nervously.
“Hey, so are you sitting down?” He asked.
“Yeah, what’s up?” I said.
“We are going to Tokyo!” He exclaimed.
“You’re kidding right?”
No kidding about it, we were headed to Tokyo. The land of electronics, wild and colorful “Harajuku” streets, and more fish than any girl could eat. Tokyo, a place I had never in a million years imagined myself going. Not knowing what I was getting into once again, I quit my job, packed my carry-on bag, and headed to Yokota Air Base in Tokyo, Japan. Which brings me to my first thing you need to know while moving overseas:
1. Bring more than just the essentials in your carry on bag.
Much like your orders overseas, life likes to throw surprises your way, and the last thing you want is to be stuck at some overseas airport with the clothes on your back and just one set of clothes in your bag. Bring a travel kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, extra underwear, really just anything that will make you feel a little fresher after a potentially 13+ hour day of travel.
2. Don’t assume what you’ve read in the travel guides is the full truth.
Hey, maybe Tokyo wasn’t going to be so bad. According to all the things I had read online, it was a place full of healthy people. Being a health freak and a vegan, it seemed like Tokyo might actually be a good fit for my waistline.
Well, it turns out Tokyo is actually the land of fried foods, grilled meats, cheese galore, and mayonnaise. Not the pinnacle of health the travel guides advertised.
The largest difference was the portion sizes. Instead of a large order of french fries, the average Japanese person would satisfy their craving with a small fry eaten delicately with chopsticks in hand. This is something the travel books and blogs never touched on but was extremely prevalent and practically engraved in the Japanese culture.
3. Take advantage of the USO at the local airport.
The USO does a great job making the military member and their families feel a little comfort when it comes to long layovers or super early morning check-ins at the airport. Make sure to look up the location and hours of the USO at the airport you will be checking into (if you are flying out of an airport rather than a base).
The USO at SeaTac Airport in Seattle, WA, offered a sleeping area, free food, a movie room, a gaming room, a bathroom with all the essentials, and even a shower. This can be a vital move when you’re stuck during a layover or with those awful early morning roll call/check-ins for Space A (Space Available flights).
4. Join the Facebook groups and spouse groups for your new base.
This is an important one for making connections before moving overseas. Getting those initial contacts on Facebook may make the transition a little smoother.
When we got to Tokyo, I had already made contact with a new friend on base who ended up being a great resource. It’s also handy to join the base’s Facebook sell and swap pages so that if you need something when you get there, you can find a bargain. For example, Japan has a humid climate in the summertime and then an extremely dry climate in the wintertime. This called for a scroll down the swap page to find humidifiers and dehumidifiers to survive the harsh humidity changes.
5. Get ready to potentially stay in temporary housing for a while.
When we got to Japan, it turned out that we had to stay in temporary housing for much longer than I expected. The housing office had us in the Kanto Lodge Hotel on base for almost 3 months until we finally got into a condo.
Some overseas bases require you to live on base, and it can be a bit of a toss-up if you are going to go straight into a house or if you will be put on a waiting list. Just be prepared not to go straight into your “home sweet home.” Remember that your larger items and even your closet of clothes will not arrive or be available for you to use until you have moved into your new housing. If it’s going to be winter in the next couple of months, you might want to pack a set of warmer clothes to get by.
All things considered, moving overseas is definitely a fun ride. Now looking back on it, I wish I would have given the glamour of Tokyo a better go in that first year. Like a puppy learning how to adapt to a new home, it took me some time to fully embrace our moving overseas adventure. It was a constant learning process, and even when we left, I felt like I still could have had years of adventure abroad. The biggest lessons I learned overseas are being flexible and not being scared of the unknown, but instead embracing it.