by Andrea M. Wynne, M.Ed, Guest Contributor
Most military spouses know a thing or two about moving, as this is one of the many sacrifices that come along with being married to someone in uniform. However, if we really think about it, one of the perks of this nontraditional life is the ability to travel to and live in amazing locales.
Being a Southern girl who did not know much outside of the impoverished and run-down streets of Meridian, Mississippi, I certainly had not expected to see all that I have been able to see in the past 21 years. From the breathtakingly, picturesque mountains of Bavaria to the time-treasured temples of Tokyo, I often cannot get over my own memories.
I mean sure, it ain’t easy being a 6 feet tall, African-American female when I go to these foreign lands, but the funny thing is, traveling around has caused me to embrace many of the things that make me unique.
I have come to realize that I love learning and seeing new things and luckily, my life as a military spouse has contributed to my passions. In these past two decades, I’ve not only found patterns that have helped me to live a healthier and happier life but stark differences that I keep tucked away in my arsenal of ideas that contribute to my continuous journeys through everything from motherhood, to marriage and even money management.
The following are three of those lessons that I am grateful to have gained from being a military spouse and that I hope will help other spouses soak up the experience of being an expat.
So, instead of doing what I did before I realized this (hide with hostility in the safety and security of those beige and brown base houses) try out these ideas.
Make Friends With a Local
One of the most important things that a military spouse can do when we get to a new location, especially overseas, is to make friends with someone who is from that area.
When we moved to Ramstein, Germany, it was my first time being out of the United States and I was beyond terrified. The 12-hour flight alone had me in tears, wondering how the hell I was going to be able to find shoes and clothes in a German store, what a schnitzel is and if I would be accepted when I look so…not German.
The bad news is, it took some time.
I won’t sit here and lie and act like everything was gravy once I met a friendly and accepting local.
However, as I matured and accepted the stares, different language and unique surroundings, I became intrigued enough to go shopping with a German woman who was my boss at the time but became a lifelong friend after it became obvious how much fun we had being around each other. She not only taught me some German but showed me how to make a schnitzel and it was astonishing how much we had in common even though, to a passerby, we couldn’t have been any more different.
What she taught me is that human beings are human beings and if we are open-minded enough to pay attention…we just might learn something.
Even If You Don’t Have Much Money, Go Explore To Learn More
When I put on my “military spouse” hat for the first time, I had also recently joined as an active duty member myself. Slick sleeves and fresh out of basic training, my new husband and I had very little money and very little responsibility, at least for a while.
Our first duty station was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and, it was almost like being in a foreign country when compared to the muddy red roads of rural Mississippi. One of the things that helped us learn to like our new home was simply driving around and exploring. Yeah, it cost us a little bit in gas money but when you grow up not going anywhere but home and school, Native American Pow Wows, Craft Fairs and orange and blue sunsets was worth the 20 bucks!
Over the years, we have started to explore places by running in 5K races, going on trips with the base and also with friends but the main point is that when we look back at regrets we have about our first duty station is that we didn’t go do and see more!
Even on E2 pay, it is possible to get out and see things unseen.
Engage More Of Your Senses…i.e. Don’t Order Lunch From The Golden Arches
Hands down, when I think about the things I’ve enjoyed most about my travels, the food almost always comes to mind.
I’m definitely a foodie but thankfully, the extra walking and bike riding they do in Europe and Asia helped to balance it all out…mostly. While I absolutely LOVED the Louvre in Paris and the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, the decadent chocolate mousse and the fresh, crispy salads were mouthwatering, memorable and exceptional.
Every single major city I have traveled to has had American fast food restaurants that would given me something familiar and comforting to fill my belly but trust me when I tell you that good food makes for great memories. Try at least one new food when you go to a different place, it could be an experience all its own.
The unfamiliar is not always easy to love and sometimes, a new duty location never grows on us. Nevertheless, no matter what we feel about our home away from home, it is important to remember that time keeps ticking.
As we hem and haw about what we hate, we may miss out on the opportunity to create long-lasting and inimitable experiences. Register for that 5K with the local running club, have a date night at a new restaurant and get off that base!
As a person who is rounding out her 21st year in this crazy thing called the life of a military wife, I can say that it has been challenging in both good and bad ways. But whose life isn’t?
Why not choose adventure?
Why not choose happiness?
Why not choose to go beyond the base and find yourself when traveling outside those gates?
Andrea Wynne, M.Ed, has been a military spouse for over 21 years, is an Air Force Veteran and has a passion for helping those in her local community…wherever that may be. She has a background in career development, education and assisting military members in transition from the military way of life. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her active duty spouse and two sons.