by Janet Farley
You and your family are PCSing overseas and you just can’t wait. It’s understandable. There are sure to be exciting and interesting times ahead.
That initial euphoria you’re experiencing, however, will eventually subside only to be replaced by the stressful reality of all the things you have to do before you fly and then by the challenges of adapting to a new culture.
It pays to be prepared. The following tips may help you to cope with all of the above.
Before you Fly:
Be a joiner. Go to any command-sponsored briefings offered on this side of the pond and learn about important issues affecting your move such as overseas screening requirements for family members, transportation processes and country specific intel. Listen and learn. Figure out what you have to do before you leave and learn what your first steps in the new world should be.
Save money. If you don’t already have a healthy stash of cash to offset out of pocket PCS expenses, start aggressively saving now. You will most likely need it especially if you are planning to fly the family pet over with you. Don’t forget that you are leaving the land of the U.S. dollar behind (sans on-installation) and conversion rates will apply and fluctuate.
Downsize. Don’t take everything with you unless you want to risk paying extra OCONUS shipping fees and wind up not having the room for them in base or post housing or in a host nation rental. Instead, store items (especially 110v appliances) or add to your savings by selling them off before you go.
Get online. Do your homework and learn all you can about the place you’re headed. A good place to start is with DoD Military Installations, at www. militaryinstallations.dod.mil where you can look up the official details of your new duty station.
Don’t stop there, though. Start also virtually connecting with others on social media sites (e.g. Facebook groups) who are also stationed wherever it is you’re going. Ignore the inevitable drama you’ll see on them but meticulously ongoing discussions for invaluable local insider information and of course, ask questions. Don’t be surprised if your re-directed into a newbies group that offers all the answers you seek.
Get your papers in order. If you don’t already have a passport, get one. If you have one, check the expiration date. If you plan to travel to other countries from your new duty station, check out the entry requirements for that country before you go at the State Department’s website, U.S. Passports and International Travel.
Having an unexpired passport may not be enough to visit a different foreign country. You may have to have a passport that is good for several months beyond the end of your scheduled visit.
Also, check the expiration date on your driver’s license and renew it before you go if necessary. At the very least, find out if and how you can renew from afar before you need to. abroad, depending on your state.
If you have a teenager in the house old enough for a learner’s permit or driver’s license, consider going through that process stateside before you PCS. It’s often difficult (if possible at all) and sometimes expensive for teens to get a driver’s license while they are living overseas.
Plan ahead for temporary lodging and transportation. If you’ve moving during peak PCS times, you may not score a room at billeting, assuming that option exists to begin with, so expand your temp lodging search parameters to nearby hotels. Lock in a car rental while you’re at it. If your family pet is with you, you may have to make boarding arrangements as well.
Once You’ve Arrived On the Other Side
Manage your cultural expectations. Wherever you’re headed, it’s not going to be anything like the place you’re leaving. It’s OCONUS. Your home away from home will be a country that may have different norms, beliefs and food.
Avoid being judgmental about things you may not understand or things you may not embrace yourself on a personal level. Instead, be open and respectful to all that is new. You’re the foreigner now, after all.
Understand that even though you may be covered under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), you are still subject to the laws of the country you are stationed in.
Maintain situational awareness. You know the deal. Nothing now is as it was before but you don’t want to let the terrorists win, either. Be smart and keep your wits about you. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself. Learn the host nation equivalent number to 911 and teach it to your children.
Expect to be a little homesick. Even if you are excited about this new experience, you may feel out of place and a long way from all that is familiar. That is normal. It takes time to adjust to a new duty station and particularly one that may be different from any you experienced before. If your homesickness morphs into a prolonged sadness, however, talk to a counselor about it. You can usually find one through the installation’s family center.
Make an effort to fit in. Learning even a few basic phrases will help. It will make you feel more connected to the new world you find yourself in and it will show others that you are making an effort. Don’t underestimate the power of making an effort.
Use your installation resources. What is available to you will vary depending on where you stationed but get a good understanding of those at your disposal and use them.
For example, before you sign a rental agreement or cell phone contract written in a foreign language, get someone from the housing office or legal services to read it over first. You wouldn’t blindly sign those forms in the states. Definitely don’t sign them blindly overseas.
If where you’re headed has an installation family service center, visit it within the first few days of your arrival to get the lay of the land, both on and off the base/post. Many centers also offer newcomer orientations that teach you the basics you need to know.