Living Outside the United States

Six Ways to Maximize Your Experience

Getting orders to relocate to an OCONUS (outside continental United States) permanent duty station will probably be one of the most exciting—and stressful—orders of your life. There’s so much to prepare for, and you’re going to stress quite a bit about this huge change in your life. But, really and truly, overseas orders are a wonderful gift and you should appreciate and be grateful for them. If you’re wondering about how to take advantage of your overseas change of station, here are six...MORE suggestions that will help you make the very best of your outside-the-U.S. living arrangements. 

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    Learn about Your Location before You Get There

    planning travel
    Getty Images/JGI/Jamie Grill

    One of your best resources for information and answers will be the sponsor who’s assigned to help you with your move. He or she will probably arrange to have you picked up from the airport and driven to the base, and will even answer questions over email if you ask them. You can ask your sponsor to tell you about specific items you’ll need in your new location as well as what to pack or what to leave behind. Get your kids excited about the move, too, by showing them photos of the new location...MORE and places that you could travel to or visit. 


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    Make Friends Wherever You Go

    making friends
    Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

    One of the best ways to enjoy your new home is to make new, long-lasting friendships. You can reach out to other families on the installation and join groups to meet new people. Go introduce yourself to your new neighbors. Talk to your kid’s teachers or parents of the other students. Volunteer your time, whether it’s on or off the military post. People are more likely to want to be your friend if you’re friendly and kind, so make sure to smile and act nicely. Making friends is only as hard as...MORE you make it—if you reach out to others, it’ll happen more quickly than you think. 

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    Immerse Yourself in Local Culture

    local culture
    Getty Images/Christopher Corr

    This may seem a little obvious, but many families that PCS abroad actually rarely leave base for the entire duration of the assignment. Their kids go to school there, they shop on post, they get mail on post, and they do socializing on post. If that’s where you’re most comfortable, then by all means, stay on base. But, if you want to truly experience the country you‘re in, you need to get outside and find some locals. Go visit famous landmarks or nearby locations. Try the local food. Take a...MORE language course if the locals don’t speak English as a first language. Walk the streets and look for local shops, and if possible, send your kids to school outside the post. Your entire experience abroad will be impacted and improved if you decide from the beginning to immerse yourself in the culture. The time you have there will pass faster than you think, so take advantage of every day. 

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    Travel Around

    This may sound somewhat similar to the previous tip, but there’s a subtle-but-important difference. It’s possible to immerse yourself in local culture but not to see much of the country you’re in. Making time for travel isn’t easy—it usually takes a lot of planning and preparation. But, it’s well worth all that trouble, especially if you have children. The memories you will make in these foreign locations will last a lifetime and your kids will always remember that great backpacking trip you...MORE took through Europe or your history tour of Japan. Traveling around is a great way to see many of the incredible things your host country has to offer, and you’ll be on to your next duty station in a year or two, so don’t set yourself up for a lifetime of regret.


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    Stay Connected to Your Roots

    Thanks to today’s amazing technology, it’s incredibly easy to stay in touch with friends and family back home. We can video chat on a phone or a computer. We can send and receive emails instantly. We can message, Skype, text, and send photos. It’s important to remember where you came from and to maintain contact with friends and family from back home. And don’t forget about social media. People back home whom you don’t see all that often may barely know you’ve left the country, except when they...MORE see the photos and updates of you and your family enjoying this new spot in the world. 


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    Use the Resources around You

    Finally, if you find yourself struggling in any way, be sure to take advantage of the resources that the military has given to you. There are groups on post whose mission is to help newcomers combat loneliness, anxiety, or fear. If your spouse deploys once you get there or is gone frequently, make sure you find ways to fill his void in your home. Military resources do a great job of helping military families to move forward, even when mom or dad is gone from home. You’ll find that your neighbors...MORE and the people you meet on post are more than willing to help you and guide you if you’re feeling lost or need something. All you have to do is ask. 

Traveling and living abroad as part of the armed forces is an honor and a privilege. It allows you and your family to see a new piece of the world on the military’s dime and gives you opportunities to learn and expand your worldview. Take advantage of these precious moments. When you find yourself feeling frustrated because the culture is different, the food is strange, or the accommodations aren’t as comfortable as you’re used to, use those frustrations as a teaching tool to show your children (and yourself) what they should be most thankful for. Traveling to new places fills our hearts and changes our lives. May your travels be safe and your family happy as you live abroad with our nation’s military.