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Monday, November 3, 2014

Imagine Living Overseas without Skype | Military Spouse Interview

photo credit: Robert Riley Skidmore

Living far away from extended family is very very hard. 

Sometimes when I'm feeling homesick, it hurts even more because the time difference means I can't even call my Mom until the afternoon! Or my girls want to Skype with family, but it's so hard to find a time that works for everyone. I hate that we haven't met our youngest nephew, yet. And after losing Lilo, I am painfully aware of the distance we are from our aging loved ones.

So yes, living OCONUS is hard.

But it could be worse. And that brings us to today's guest on the blog.

I met Jack and Mildred at Grace Studio's 4th Anniversary Party this summer and I was fascinated by their story. It got me to thinking about what it was like for them to raise their sons primarily in Germany.

I asked Mildred if I could interview her for the blog because she lived OCONUS before the days of Skype, FaceTime, and affordable international calling. 

[civilian reminder: OCONUS stands for Outside {the} Contiguous United States. Including Alaska, Hawaii, and all other countries.]

My hope is that Mildred's seasoned milspouse perspective will remind us to be grateful for the affordable technology that allows us to let our kids Skype with their grandparents on their birthdays.

Military spouses didn't always have that option! It really reminds me to count my blessings.

Here's what Mildred's experience was... 

How long was your husband in the military? 
My husband was in the Army for 29 years and 10 months.

How long were you stationed OCONUS during his career? 
Jack was OCONUS for 14 years - 1 year in Vietnam, 13 years in Germany. I was OCONUS 12 years.

How often were you able to visit your family in the States?
The first tour of 2 years was Jack’s first tour and we were too poor to go back to the states. On return tours we would try for every couple years. When ours two sons were in college we would go back every year for Parents’ Weekend.

How did you usually communicate with your family back in the States?
By mail—the telephone was incredibly expensive. There were no special telephone plans back then like now. For example, when I volunteered at Army Community Service, we had many clients who came to Financial Counseling because of exorbitant telephone bills.

What was the hardest part of living overseas?
The hardest part of living overseas was that my children did not know the value of extended family. They never really knew their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They lived in communities that had very few older citizens and did not know the value of grandparents’ (or other older people’s) wisdom. This could be the case of most military families, stateside or overseas, but being overseas magnified the problem.  

What is your favorite family memory of living OCONUS?
Both of our children being able to graduate from the same high school-Frankfurt American High School. This is probably more a statement of the military in general, but still incredibly significant that we were in the same place that long and that outrchildren received an excellent education from DODEA. Second favorite memory is our first Christmas together in Wuerzburg, Germany. We made almost all our own Christmas decorations and had real candles on the tree.  The holidays in Germany are such magical times - Christmas markets, gluwein, new and interesting traditions, and cities that turn into fairy wonderlands are just a few examples.

If you could give one piece of advice to military spouses heading OCONUS for the first time, what would it be?
Use the incredible technology now available and research all the marvelous resources within the military community. And don't forget the resources “outside the gate”.  Include your children in this process. Then, when you set “foot on the ground”, use those resources with an open mind. Learn the language and make yourself use it on a daily basis.

Did you learn to speak the host nation's language?
I took two years of German in college, two or three German conversation courses, and completed the complete Rosetta Stone German course two times. But no, I do not speak enough German. I think the reason I do not speak German is that one must speak German every day and probably learn it from someone who speaks German every day. In addition, that person/teacher must be willing to correct you when you make mistakes and you must be willing to accept those corrections without taking it personally.

Where do you live now? What do you do?
We live in Garmisch-Parenkirchen, Germany. I am a retired civil servant-a Social Worker. I love the community where we live and am partaking in many of the things I did not have a chance to explore when I worked as a full time volunteer and later as a civil servant: healthy cooking, reading, and learning something new every day. I am also “Nana” to an almost 13 year old Newfoundland.  His care is currently at the top of my “to do” list. He is such a joy and teaching me much needed patience every day.

Mildred, thank you so much for taking the time to give us younger military spouses some great advice and a taste of what it was like for you over here. 

I know that I am encouraged to be more thankful for the technology available to me today. My hat goes off to the many years you had to spend so far from family with just the postal service to communicate. You are a hero in my book! 

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