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Tips for a MilSpouse living overseas

Living overseas as a military spouse isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding. I am guessing you are probably a Milspouse if you’re reading...

Yokota Air Base’s Tanabata Dancers pose for a group photo after the Fussa Sakura Festival in Fussa City, Japan, April 6, 2014. In Japan, communities celebrate the arrival of the spring with festivals featuring the nation’s signature cherry blossoms. Around Yokota, Airmen and their families regularly take part in such traditional spring-time celebrations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)

Living overseas as a military spouse isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding.

I am guessing you are probably a Milspouse if you’re reading this. Well, unlike the military member you married, this article comes with a warning label: Be aware that moving overseas may cause confusion and may not end up being the amazing adventure you dreamed up in your head.

Granted, there will be moments when you feel like you’re exploring the wild and could be straight out of an “Indiana Jones” movie, but for the majority of the time, you’re going to find yourself cooped up in a base house far from home and missing Target. Yep, I said it, those Starbucks/Target runs will be dancing in your dreams because the closest thing you get to American shopping will probably be found at the good ol’ base exchange and commissary. Each experience is different, so even though I spent four years abroad, take my advice with a grain of salt (whatever that means). 

Expect the unexpected

(U.S. Army photo)

I think the worst thing I did for myself before moving overseas was over-research. I had all the best food locations near base already mapped out, I had figured out exactly where people said not to go, and I thought I knew everything. Guess what?! The guide books aren’t always right and sometimes they are just plain wrong.

Before heading to Japan, all my research said Japan was a very health-conscious country and I would be able to find many vegan and plant-based options (I was vegan at the time). When we arrived in Tokyo, I discovered very quickly that Japanese people love their meat and cheese and didn’t do substitutions. It was pretty difficult for me to find vegan options and I ended up having to change my diet to fit in with the culture, and so that I wasn’t only eating rice and seaweed salad when we would go out. 

Related: 5 Things you need to know about moving overseas for a PCS

Same planet, worlds away

living overseas
Antavis Geoffroy, a Yokota Air Base spouse performs a Tanabata dance in a traditional Japanese Yukata outfit during the Fussa Sakura Festival in Fussa City, Japan. Yokota’s Tanabata Dancers perform traditional Japanese dances during festivals in the local community throughout the year. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)

You will find family thinking you are stationed on another planet. I had family sending me “People” magazines because they thought I was so out of touch since I lived all the way in Japan. Little did they know, the Commissary sells plenty of American magazines so I had no problem staying up to date on celebrity gossip. What I really wished they could have sent somehow was pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks and Chick-Fil-A sauce… 

Speaking of Chick-Fil-A sauce, you will find yourself craving the weirdest things that you never thought you would have missed. When I came home to visit, I cried walking into a Trader Joe’s. That may sound absurd and bizarre but when you’ve been away from normal comforts for 4+ years, seeing a whole aisle full of fresh watermelons (something that would cost you $40 or more during the off-season in Japan) makes you feel a tad bit emotional. Don’t get hard on yourself if you find you break down over small conveniences that you once took for granted. 

Comfort may not be easy to find in your overseas housing. Living on base in Japan meant downsizing significantly for us. Not only did we move into a smaller house but with military housing comes drab colors and large industry doors and fixtures. I think it took me about two months to come up with a style and layout that worked and then another couple of years of rearranging and redecorating our furniture. My poor husband would come home to a different living room layout after almost every TDY.  When we finally PCS’d, I had just figured the space out and it was already on to the next one! Doesn’t that just describe the Milspouse lifestyle? 

Related: 9 best military bases in the U.S. based on lifestyle

Tech can ease the language barrier… but doesn’t remove it

living overseas
(DoD image)

Simple tasks may become large endeavors when living overseas. Something as simple as getting your haircut may turn into a week’s worth of research and trying to communicate through a translator app. I have friends stationed in Germany that said it took months to get the internet at their house because they just don’t do the process as quickly as we do stateside. Just be prepared to spend extra time on tedious tasks that require more than the average daily level of communication. It’s not always easy to get your point across when Google translator isn’t quite catching the gist of the situation. 

Also, this should go without saying, but don’t blindly listen to your translator app. No matter what app you use, there are bound to be errors. I remember Google translate being notorious for coming up with ridiculous phrases when presented with Japanese characters it couldn’t quite understand. Just be cautious and maybe even make friends with a local before trying out a new phrase to make sure you don’t look like a typical foreigner. 

You’ll miss it when it’s over

living overseas
(DoD image)

When we finally got back to the U.S. I found myself missing the convenience of the Japanese vending machines and the amazing rotating sushi bars with endless, delicious, one-dollar sushi. My mouth is watering as I write just thinking about it. I guess it’s possible to find comfort in even the furthest-flung duty stations.

As I said, this is just my personal experience, but every move and location has its quirks. Living overseas definitely comes with a whole set of things to adapt to. Hopefully, this gave you a glimpse into the challenges and adventures living overseas can bring. 

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This article was originally published 3/15/2021

Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy

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