I won’t lie — I miss it incredibly. My military family just said “Auf Wiedersehen” to Germany and “Hello again” to the USA. Germany was my home away from home, and touched me so profoundly that the experience has shaped who I am. Leaving her was not easy.
From the moment my plane touched down in the States, I could feel it instantly. In the airport alone, “Ausgang” signs made way for “Exit” signs, there wasn’t a dog in sight, German bakeries were replaced by fast food restaurants, and the undercurrent of German chatter was replaced by the familiar sounds of English.
I was definitely back in the States, but was seeing home through different eyes.
What I Experienced
If you’ve ever been stationed outside the US, you may share in some of these experiences. It’s a unique opportunity and I was sad to see it draw to a close. Every PCS has its ups and downs, and here is what I encountered as an expat, returning to her home country.
Excitement. Before my husband had to report for duty, we had time to visit my hometown and stay with my parents. I saw family and friends, shopped at Target, dined at Chick-fil-A, and hit the Starbucks drive-thru. Every one of these experiences were highly anticipated and met my expectations. It was glorious.
Jet lag. I was a veritable sleepwalker as I acclimated to my new time zone. I experienced a six-hour difference and was frequently awake in the middle of the night to message my friends in Germany. Thank goodness for naps and coffee.
Reverse culture shock. Home suddenly felt foreign. I noticed wild drivers, less recycling, overwhelming options in stores, a barrage of ads and billboards, hurried restaurant experiences, and over-the-top customer service. I also noted (and appreciated) huge driving lanes, ample parking, pay-at-the-pump gas, stores open on Sundays, and drive-thru services galore. I was far more excited than most Americans about these little conveniences.
Spending money. I’m financially savvy, but this move stretched our bank account! Things like a washer and dryer, furniture, phones, and restocking a kitchen added up quickly. Is it payday yet?
Weight gain. My tour of restaurants that I’d missed and my ability to drive (not walk) everywhere made the scale go up. Oops.
Homesickness. I feel homesick for Germany. I miss the beer, fests, food, shops, nature, architecture, and traditions. Most of all, I miss my friends. Thank goodness for technology and the ability to visit!
Easing the Transition
So what comes next? Once you have adjusted to the time, acclimated to the fast-paced lifestyle, and eaten until your pants are tight, you’ll be ready to move forward. Here is how I am easing the transition to life at a new duty station in a “new” country.
Honor feelings. This move was huge and took a toll. Instead of ignoring how I feel, I am understanding and patient with myself. This helps me recharge and move forward.
Plan downtime. As much as I would love to finalize the house, I won’t kill myself doing it. Playing with my kids, taking a walk, or just watching a movie goes a long way. If I were to put my life on hold, I’d be miserable for months. I choose sanity.
Focus on the positive. When I feel overwhelmed by the transition or my epic to-do list, I focus on my beautiful house, wonderful family, and great new area. Just knowing that I am closer to loved ones and can make important events like weddings and graduations is something I’ve looked forward to.
Stay connected. I regularly communicate with my friends in Europe, and with milspouse friends going through the same move. Additionally, I nurture my Stateside relationships as we transition from long-distance to face-to-face.
Control what I can. I’ve lacked control in most of this move and focus on what I can control. Choosing my outlook for the day, planning what to accomplish each morning, and focusing on health and fitness go a long way. These things are small, but they are all mine.
Explore. I am on a quest for new adventures. I want this duty station to be a place that I will miss when it’s time to leave in a few years.
Finding My Place
This has been a long and arduous process, with both highs and lows. From my first article where I questioned and stressed over the unknown, to getting emotional about saying goodbye to life as I knew it, to then rolling with the punches when the move got tough, I am now here, reflecting on the process.
Although difficult, I am still here, in one piece. We have our home, our belongings, each other. I now have friends all over the world and that isn’t going to change with geography. Making an international move has tested my positivity, patience and fortitude, but I have come out on top. I feel stronger because of this and am grateful that I had the experience.
Am I completely unpacked with artwork on the walls? No. Do I know my way around without a GPS? To a couple stores, yes. Do I have a network of local friends yet? I have a few and am working on more. Long story short, I am still in a transitional phase, but can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Every day, I am closer to putting down roots here. I know that very soon, my new house will feel just like home. Time to start blooming where I am planted.
About Diary of a PCS
This is the fourth and final installment in my series chronicling our first PCS. Thank you for sharing my experiences and be sure to follow my complete journey here.
Special thanks are extended to AFN Wiesbaden’s DJ Paul “The Brit” Hughes, for inspiring this series.
A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.
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Your article sounds really positive and chirpy, and that’s great. But reading between the lines and underneath the surface, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were truly struggling daily with repatriation and even dealing with some depression, all of which is normal. (And if not, great … you are the exception to the rule). It’s tough because those who have never lived overseas just don’t “get it” and honestly don’t really care about all your awesome adventures, stories and amazing photographs. Harsh, but simple reality. Your family is probably happy to listen to the tales of your adventures, but you can only utter the phrase “When we were in Germany …. ” so many times before others tune you out. All of this is completely normal. Living overseas is life changing. It changes your perspective. Your view of the world is forever altered. It changes who you are as a person. I would highly recommend this article: http://naomihattaway.com/2013/09/i-am-a-triangle-and-other-thoughts-on-repatriation/ and joining the Facebook page as well. Good luck. Repatriation can be hard as heck, but oh the adventures and experiences you had … I know they were amazing!
This is great info, we’re about to PCS from the Middle East back to the US. Wish us luck, and thanks for sharing!