“Everything is weird” was my initial gut reaction after moving home to the United States not quite two months ago. I am sure it was also my reaction three plus years ago when first arriving on Okinawa—the little subtropical island which is home to 13 U.S. military bases.
I essentially have no regrets about my time as an honorary island girl, but if I ever got the chance to PCS back to Okinawa again, there are few things I would do differently, or at least do more of.
When your time on Okinawa or in Japan wraps up, there are sure to be bucket list items you didn’t get to. For example, my husband and I always said we wanted to tour the Naval Underground area from WWII, and, well…nope, we never did do that. But that’s not the kind of “do more” that I mean.
Absolutely make your list of things you want to see and do and try to check them off, but when I say “do more,” I mean knock out the big stuff. If it’s your first time on the island, here are my take-aways as someone who has “been there, done that.”
Before moving to Okinawa, I was sure a car would not be necessary. I had traveled to Tokyo and figured it would be very similar. And, of course, I was wrong! There are public buses on Okinawa, plenty of taxis, and a monorail in the Naha area, but the majority of folks find a car the easiest way to get around.
So, buy an island car and don’t be afraid to drive it. Yes, the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car. Yes, you’ll hit the windshield wipers when you meant to use your turn signal (also known as “the Okinawa wave”), and yes, you’ll probably drive down the wrong side of the road at least once, but let’s hope not more than twice! Remember, you’ll also be giving yourself the opportunity to get out of the house more and have a lot of adventures.
Learn Japanese. You’ll pick up the very basics even without trying very hard, but three years is a relatively short time to learn a new language. I’m almost embarrassed by how little I learned. Give it some effort and see how far your learning can take you. Knowing just a little extra vocabulary and a few common phrases will enrich your experiences when you are out and about.
Meet more people. Isn’t this great advice no matter where your duty station is located? However, when you are living overseas, it is really important to avoid isolating yourself. It will be harder to get home to see family and friends, and it might even be difficult to communicate with them while living in a different time zone. Surround yourself with people who can keep your island days nice and bright, just as they should be.
And lastly, worry less. An OCONUS PCS is a huge deal, often more difficult than other PCS moves you may have been through. Do whatever you need to do in order to worry less about what’s going to happen and what it’s going to be like on Okinawa, or in Japan (or wherever else your service member’s career may take you). It’s not worth it to be concerned about all the “What if?” scenarios. You’ll wind up missing out on all the, “Wow, isn’t that amazing!” moments.
Soldier’s Wife, Crazy Life Guest Post by Angie Andrews