Back before Nic graduated from tech school in Maryland, when we were still starry-eyed newlyweds, we found out the first station we’d be going to was Langley AFB, Virginia. Now don’t get me wrong, as far as stateside bases go, Langley is really not bad. But I stupidly had it in my head that we’d somehow get stationed overseas for our first base so I took it kind of hard. Do you ever have broken expectations you didn’t know you had? I really wanted to live overseas, preferably Germany, and didn’t even realize I’d gotten my hopes up until they felt dashed before me. (Yes, I know… Dramatic.)
In hindsight, Virginia was the perfect starting point for us. It was our first base and we got to familiarize ourselves with how the Air Force works. At the beginning, everything is so new and unfamiliar. We got to establish ourselves as a couple and family without the added difficulty of living in another country, meeting so many great people and lifelong friends along the way. Our boy, Thom, was born there and we didn’t have to struggle as first-time parents in a foreign country.
I wasn’t too crazy about Virginia as a place to live, but knew deep down it wasn’t forever. Looking back, I was a lot more negative than I should’ve been. Being a travel blog that’s supposed to focus on finding adventure wherever you are, I didn’t do a very good job of seeing the positive at the time. Now I truly believe we were there for a reason, if only as a stepping stone into the future.
Fast forward two and a half years – my dream came true and Nic got orders to PCS to Germany. (Permanent Change of Station (PCS) is a military term that means you get to change bases. Hooray!)
I couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden the wait was worth it and we could start day dreaming about European adventures and all that was to come.
It can be difficult settling into a new home and country, but I’ve found it’s so much different than settling into a stateside base. All that long-winded rant to say: I wanted to share some of the tips I’ve learned and am still figuring out.
We basically ended up turning into homebodies in Virginia, mostly because it was too much trouble for us to go out with a newborn and not many places to go that were new. In Germany (or any other country, I presume) there are too many places to see nearby; the “problem” is deciding where to go next. I encourage all that are stationed overseas to get out and explore as soon as possible. It helped us become acclimated quickly because we got to witness and observe the culture right away. No matter where you are stationed, I guarantee there are new places close-by just begging to be explored. One thing that can help is getting to know your neighbors and locals. They know the area better than anyone you’ll meet on base and can tell you about places you may have never heard of otherwise. Otherwise it could be as simple as picking a location on a map, googling it, and driving there.
I can’t express enough how important it is to shop off-base at the local grocery stores. One random example: at the commissary they get their eggs from Denmark or something? At any German grocery store, you know how fresh and local the eggs are by the residue and feathers that occasionally adorn them. Most of the produce, dairy, and meat is from Germany and you know it’s fresh. The quality is so much better than the commissary so you’re really doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try it out! They don’t have Walmart or Costco but they have equivalents that are even better. I’m finding that not all the stores are the same but I have go-to’s for a few different things. If you’re in Germany, I mostly shop at Aldi or Netto to save money, and almost everything else I need can be found at Rewe or Edeka. Shopping off-base can be intimidating with the language barrier at first, but really, how much do you talk at a grocery store? Keep Google Translate on your phone if you quickly need to know what something means and you’re good to go.
Learn The Language
That leads me to my third piece of advice: try to learn the language! At least a little, even a few words is better than nothing. We’re not in the States; to really experience another culture, you need to get out of your comfort zone and not expect the local people to come to you speaking perfect English. There are a ton of German people that want to practice their English, but I think it goes a long way when you at least try to get by with a few words or phrases in the local language.
I have a couple years of German language classes as a starting point but Nic’s been using an app he got on base called Mango, and all you need is a library card to get free access. There are resources on overseas bases to take classes if you don’t want to learn on your own, or you can learn from German friends. Trust me, they’re happy to help.
On that note, be open and try to make friends! The Germans we’ve met have been nothing but welcoming and friendly, willing to go the extra mile to make sure you are taken care of and comfortable. It took us about 8 months in Virginia to start making a good friend group but here we’re trying to put ourselves out there a lot quicker. Since it’s not our first base, I think we’re a lot more comfortable to go out and meet people than in Virginia when we were still trying to figure out life in the military. People are constantly leaving and arriving to the base, so I think in the near future we’ll start making friends from there too. I can’t give advice on how to make friends (haha) other than just being open and friendly toward others.
It took me just until a few weeks ago to get my international license and start driving, so I feel a lot better and more independent! There are so many opportunities to volunteer on base, as well as jobs you can pursue. I’ve gotten involved in the gym and might start coaching in the near future. Nic and I are hoping to get involved in the church we recently joined. Outside of the base, see if there’s anything going on in your village or town. There are always festivals and events happening nearby and it’s not hard to stay busy! They recently had an “Explore the Eifel” event on base telling all about upcoming excursions in the area; it’s starting to bustle with activity.
I know not everyone that’s here in Germany wanted to be here. I can’t fathom it, but I know it happens. You’re far away from your friends and family and everything is a little (or a lot) foreign. To those people, I would say what I wish I’d said to myself in Virginia: Try and make the most of it, even if it’s not what you pictured. When you’re open to it, you’ll find you make roots you’re not aware of. And when you leave, you don’t want to wish you’d done more with the time you had. Technology has made it so easy to keep in touch with loved ones from afar (though I’m horrible at it!). Plus, it gives the perfect excuse for them to visit. 😉
How many people get the opportunity to live IN and experience a culture like this? Be hungry for what’s out of your comfort zone. Don’t let fear hold you back from fully embracing an adventure wherever you find yourself.
What are your tips for settling into a new country, or even a stateside base? What do you wish you’d done differently? What do you struggle with most when trying to settle in?
Bis zum nächste Mal, Freunde,