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Have you lived overseas?

  • 1.  Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 02:03 PM
    Edited by Faith Janes 02-02-2024 01:22 PM

    Hello Research and Policy Members!

    Today, the Quality of Life Panel met and one of the areas they discussed was living overseas (OCONUS). Some on our team have lived OCONUS and some haven't.

    With that said, we want to know what your experiences with living OCONUS have been?

     

    As always, we want to hear directly from the families we serve.



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    Kit Higgason
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  • 2.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 02:17 PM
    Edited by Karly Howell 01-31-2024 03:00 PM

    Many people talk about the positives (and negatives) of the Space-A flight system to get back and forth to the mainland and how hard it can be to adjust to a living in a new country, a new language, the loss of a support system, challenges with employment, etc. Then there are others who love every minute of their time and bring back nothing but fond memories and beautiful pictures. As someone who never accompanied my spouse on an overseas assignment (a year unaccompanied on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean - sure he said!πŸ˜‚), I can't speak to personal experience but am excited to hear about those of others - the good and the not so good. 



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    Karly Howell
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  • 3.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 03:28 PM

    I actually have a fairly unique experience with OCONUS. My spouse's very first assignment was Germany - a DREAM. When we got married, we applied for an amendment to their orders but they were denied. Why? Because at the time, the Defense of Marriage Act was still a thing and at the time my spouse was not yet out (nor could he have been due to other regulations) as trans. So, we were denied because we were both seen as cisgender women. The SOFA regulations at the time hadn't been updated. So, I couldn't go. I visited both summers he was there, but it wasn't the same as living there and being stationed there. We were both pretty angry over that situation, but the time I spent there was lifechanging. We would still go back in a heartbeat now that things have changed.

    However - the change in payments from living overseas back to CONUS was a hard hit as a very young married couple where I wasn't working and he was an E4 with just a couple years in. That cost of living adjustment was hard.



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    Kit Higgason
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  • 4.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 05:03 PM

    Given what you know now about the challenges with employment, and other things, what would you want to make sure you understood to the extent possible before taking order overseas now, if the opportunity were to present itself? 



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    Karly Howell
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  • 5.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 07:07 PM

    @Kristen Higgason I used to hear that A LOT as a Key Spouse. That transition from OCONUS to CONUS without the COLA was rough!

    And I'm sorry that the SOFA regulations were not updated for you and your spouse. It seems like regulations take a long time to catch up to modern practices and policies, which tends to hurt people in the process.



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    Rachel Carpenter
    Program Manager, Blue Star Families of Puget Sound
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  • 6.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 03:25 PM

    I lived 2.5 years in Italy, 3 years in Germany, and 4.5 years in Hawaii (technically OCONUS). My husband has also done 3 year long, unaccompanied tours to South Korea.

    We LOVED living overseas but there are challenges. I was told to take the first year as an adjustment. If you had asked me in my first year in Italy if I wanted to stay, I would have said no. I loved the food and traveling, but I missed the conveniences of America. We had a hard first year; my husband was TDY at least a week of every month, then deployed for 6 months, I had 3 girls 6 and under, our cars seemed to always need repairs (Murphy's law of deployment), and my youngest needed occupational and support services for speech delay and hearing loss. I could not find work, and childcare was a challenge. I was homesick. The drivers scared me. I was alone. It was hard.

    But then I leaned on friends who had been there longer and showed me the beauty of living in that country. I tried to remember that we would not be there forever and that this was an experience. I wanted to work, but I also had the time to take my girls on day trips to castles, beaches, museums, historic cities...and it was within a drive or train ride. My husband came home from deployment, the cars were fixed, I learned to speak enough Italian to get by, and I started to appreciate the culture. Byt the time we had to leave, I was sad to go and missed it!

    Much like we talk about at Blue Star Families, I built a community in my little Italian village and military base, and that's what helped me adapt. Community is vital, especially overseas.



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    Rachel Carpenter
    Program Manager, Blue Star Families of Puget Sound
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  • 7.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 03:38 PM

    Thank you for sharing! Did you ever find work and child care or did the ability to experience the local area win out in terms of desire? Having lived in several OCONUS locations, are the challenges the same or do they vary by location? 



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    Karly Howell
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  • 8.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 07:05 PM

    Hey Karly!

    When living in Europe, the challenges seemed worth it. But when we returned stateside, I felt so behind career-wise. I had that gap where I had taken jobs that didn't progress my career or resume or where I had not worked at all, and that was hard. When we lived in Hawaii, I felt like being a military spouse hurt me. Employers were reluctant to hire me since they knew I would move in a few years. 



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    Rachel Carpenter
    Program Manager, Blue Star Families of Puget Sound
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  • 9.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 03:43 PM

    To piggyback off of Karly's comments and questions - what were your experiences with needing specialty care for your youngest overseas? Were the wait times comparable to when you live somewhere not overseas? Do you prefer the healthcare your family received OCNOUS or CONUS?



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    Kit Higgason
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  • 10.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 07:15 PM

    I LOVED our care at Aviano AB in Italy! My daughter was only 2 years old and fell under the EDIS care (Early Development Intervention System), which gave her access to support services at the clinic before needing to get those services from the DoDEA school. They were rigorous with us to ensure she received as much as they could give her, and then they seamlessly transferred her care and paperwork to the school. When we moved to Germany, it was a lot of paperwork and time but it also transferred to the DoDEA school pretty easily (including her IEP). Great care, minimal wait times...amazing. We also had amazing healthcare at German hospitals, and I gave birth to my son at one!

    When we moved to Hawaii after that, it was a different story. IEPs have certain federal protections, but fluctuations between state education systems and funding meant that we had difficulty in making sure her continuity of services and care were met. Uphill challenge, for sure.



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    Rachel Carpenter
    Program Manager, Blue Star Families of Puget Sound
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  • 11.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 03:53 PM
    Edited by Andrea Neighbors 01-31-2024 05:04 PM

    I share this from a Military Kid perspective, my formative years! 

    My family and I lived in Japan for about 5 years, from about 1990-1996. Our first two years were split -- the first few months, we stayed at the Navy Lodge waiting for housing the open up. From what I remember, the waitlist for on-base housing was a two-year wait, I'm not sure if my parents knew this or not before we arrived. I remember while my dad starting work my mom put me on the base's bus system to get to school (school kid starting 3rd grade with enlisted folks was a little intimidating at first) since we didn't have a car, and Yokosuka NB is BIG. We eventually found housing off base in a small fishing village, Nagai. We lived in a former factory that was converted to apartments. I really loved living off base b/c we got to experience the community. It was customary for us to visit all of our neighbors and bring gifts of very "American" things, notably canned peaches (this was a specified item). Once we bought a used car on base, I remember we would get up around 4 or 5am every day to take my dad to his office, drop me off at school, while my mom took my younger brother around to do things like doctors appointments or grocery shopping. Once on-base housing opened up, we lived in a large tower that made things a little easier on my mom. We could walk to school and my dad got to walk to his ship. Living on base felt very different, very "American" even though we didn't really know what that meant since almost everyone living on installation was Asian. There were a few times we were not allowed to leave installation due to protests of Japanese citizens. 

    I LOVED living abroad, it's really the only thing I knew. Before going to Japan we were stationed in San Diego and also Honolulu, but had very faint memories of those experiences. I went to Sullivan ES and Kinnick MS/HS, part of DODEA. School was fun b/c I had my friends there, 90% of the kids were mixed, Filipino, or Japanese, so we had a lot to share and connect on given so many different-yet-similar Asian cultural norms. I have no idea if my grades were good but I recall many frustrated parents who were not too pleased with some teachers who were not...showing up. I have one memory of a younger teacher who was very present in the more social-oriented parts of installation life (clubs and bars, that were also used for school dances....ha!). Yokosuka NB was my home and community for so long. It felt safe, familiar. And having that coveted ID (turning 10 was a milestone), it was easy to see us base kids on and off base all the time. There was a great shopping mall off base that had the best stationary store and arcade so of course, that's where we were. When the ships went out for 6month-1 year deployments, those were very emotional goodbyes and welcome-backs, hard to explain the range of emotions as a kid. If my mom or dad were writing this post, it might be VERY different, but I know they were very interested in having us in Asia as long as possible, and I think we were lucky to do two tours there. It was also important for us to visit South Korea when we could to see part of where we "come from" and meet my mom's family even though we were never stationed there. We did, however, always fly in and out of Osan AB, and then found our ways to other parts of the country on our own.

    When we got orders to come to the Pentagon, a lot of those feelings of belonging and community shifted. It took us much longer to find a place to see ourselves and belong in Northern Virginia. Those were less-happy times, it was hard on all of us. I coudn't find "my people." 



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    Andrea Neighbors
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  • 12.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 01-31-2024 05:01 PM

    I really enjoy hearing about people's perspectives as kid experiencing all of the things that come with military life. It is really easy to forget (perhaps not think about is a better term) that kids are experiencing the same unique aspects associated with military life but it's impacting them differently. I must say that getting on a bus as a 3rd grader by yourself with adults sounds so crazy to even think about having successfully navigated!  It's also a bit disheartening to hear that housing was a challenge 30+ years ago as well. Understanding that housing overseas is a bit of a different animal than housing here stateside, it is such an important factor in being able to settle and become a part of the local community. Thank you for sharing! 



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    Karly Howell
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  • 13.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 02-01-2024 10:39 AM
    Kit, 
    My family positively LOVED living in England. While everyone spoke English, there were still barriers and cultural differences that many did not consider when moving there. I know people who loved living in England and others who hated it because of the cultural differences. Even though English is spoken, it is different. My family, including kids, miss living in England. The earliest memories the kids have are of living in England. 
     
    We lived in England for four years and flew back two times. One flight was expensive, about $3,000, but another was about $1,500 for our family of four! The time of year played a huge part in airline ticket prices; going to visit in February has a different price tag than spring break and summer. My family never traveled using Space A for vacation, mainly because of its uncertainty. 


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    Sally Velez
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  • 14.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 27 days ago

    Our family lived in Anchorage Alaska for four years, and we had an absolutely fantastic community around us.
    We adopted our son while we lived there, and we lived in the city of Anchorage instead of on base. We found a tremendously supportive community in our neighbors, who truly became like family, especially once we had an infant at home. Our neighbors created the kind of community we talk about here at Blue Star Families as being critical to supporting military families. We have traveled back to visit them several times since we moved away because we created lasting bonds with them.
    Not only did we have an amazing group of neighbors, right next-door we also found a great group of young adults through our church. We found this group to be like-minded not only in having a place to safely, discuss current events and things important to us, but also friends who are willing to hike, ski, and travel together.
    I look back so fondly on that experience, and we tried for many years to get back to Alaska during my husband's career. Sadly, the Army never allowed us to go back, which was such a disappointment for all of us. I would give anything to go back to a community that was that supportive, inclusive, welcoming, and active!



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    Meghan Wieten-Scott
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  • 15.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 27 days ago

    Meghan - I have heard such wonderful things about Alaska! My husband also has such fond memories and love for the community he had while living in Germany. I am wondering if your family found that same sense of community and connection at any CONUS bases? I have often heard form friends that there is nothing like the community you build when living OCONUS. Thank you for sharing!



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    Kit Higgason
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  • 16.  RE: Have you lived overseas?

    Posted 27 days ago

    For the most part, no, we have not found a community like we had in Alaska since we left. We are in a unique situation here in Illinois and that we are so fortunate to live next-door to my husband's brother and his family. That has also been a tremendous blessing, but more a fluke than something we planned or sought out!

    Having family next-door for most of the duration of the pandemic, and now, while my husband is serving in Korea has been life-saving! I think I would be lost in any other situation with my husband, gone, working full-time, and having a special-needs child.



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    Meghan Wieten-Scott
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