We have been back from Germany a little over six years now. It was quite the change to go from a small village in Germany to Clarksville, Tennessee and the USA. I was so ready to be back in the states after four years. I think I kissed the ground when I got off the plane. I was home.
Being stationed overseas is a dream for a lot of people. A chance to see another part of the world, to explore and to open up to other ways of living. The military can send a family that has never been out of the midwest and allow them the chance of a lifetime. But hardly anyone can stay overseas forever. I have some friends that have been able to stay for five-ten years but most people do come back to the states and have to figure out American life again.
That first week back was like living in a dream. Nothing seemed real. Nothing was familiar. Everything was confusing and it took some time to get used to living back in the United States. I think it took about two years before I stopped asking if a certain place accepted a credit card. “Yes Julie, most places do.”
This can be a challenging time. Some people are able to bounce back rather quickly and others have difficulty doing so. If you are getting ready for a move back home from an overseas location, this is what you might experience:
When you live overseas you learn to live in another culture. Even if you live on post and don’t explore as much as you should. It is still all around you. You get used to the slower pace, the way the people are, the things they value. You become a part of it as well. Then you move back and you realize how different it can really be. There is a thing called “reverse culture shock.” This is when you come back from another culture and have trouble getting used to the culture you were raised in. You can also struggle with missing certain things so much that you think they are better than they really are. Once you get home and have them again, there is a bit of a let down because you were expecting something a lot better.
The Military Community
The military community overseas is very different from the military community stateside. Overseas is more tight-knit. It has to be. People are not going home on the weekends. It is hard to have a life outside of the military. You have to depend on the military for a lot of things like your mail, American food and even education for your children. If you live off-post in the states you don’t have to depend on the military for as much. If there is a deployment, the community really bands together to get through it. It is different in the states. When you move back you will feel that loss and it can be a hard one. You no longer have your community. The one that helped get you through your struggles, the one you had fun with and explored another country with, the one who understood what it was like to be so far from home. That is hard to get over and hard to get back into military life without as tight of a community.
In most places overseas you don’t have as many choices. When I visited California in 2009, I stopped at a grocery store on the way home from the airport. I needed to buy some diapers. I stood in that aisle for about 20 minutes because I had the hardest time with all the choices. Back in Germany, there were only a couple choices for diapers. In the grocery store I was in, there were, at least, ten, maybe more. I couldn’t even wrap my mind around what I was looking at. In the states, you have a lot more choices from where to shop to where to eat. It can feel so overwhelming and it is easy to overspend. You also lose your COLA which is your cost of living allowance that you get while stationed overseas. This can be hard for some families. They say not to depend on that money when you are getting it but most people do anyway.
Feeling too Busy
A lot of overseas living is much slower paced than in the states. Where we were in Bavaria most places were closed on Sundays and they had a lot of holidays. You were not even allowed to wash your car on Sundays. When we moved back to the states life felt so busy. There was always so much more going on. Some of that I think was because my son didn’t start Kindergarten until after we moved back but I think the other part was just how much more relaxed things can be in other places. This can take some time to get used to as well because it is just a different way to live your life. In Germany, if go out to eat you have to hunt down your server when you are ready to pay. In the states, most places want to rush you out as soon as they can. It is all very different.
Coming back to the states from an overseas tour is going to be complicated. Give yourself some time to adjust. Try to remember that you will find your place even if it takes a while. We have been back for six years and although I miss parts of my time in Germany, I feel used to the US now. It took a while but we got to that point. I am used to living here again. And you will get there too.