Back in 2015 I created one of my first posts on this blog about the things friends from home would say/ask me while living in Europe and it caught some attention. Mostly good attention, but there was some negative feedback from people calling me selfish and ungrateful. This post could very well do the same but I'm not the kind of person to lie about what's going on in my life.
I decided to write this post because I know so many people who can relate but also in hopes that for us folks stationed overseas, we could have our friends and family back home understand how they can be supportive towards us (if they want to).
No, this is not a subliminal post to anyone as I have directly talked to friends and family members about my concerns in the past about support.
Maybe you are the friend who is super supportive and we all thank you so much! We don't want to feel as though we are more valuable than you on the other side (seriously, you could be on the other side of the world), but I hope this can get the message out to those who want to support us more!
1. Time Zone Awareness
First and foremost, and I know a lot of you all are going to forget this but depending on where someone is stationed at, there could be a 6 hour time difference or even a 12 hour time difference.
Since I am in Germany and most of my friends and family are on the East coast of the US, the time difference is 6 hours. My friends on the West coast are 9 hours behind me and friends in Hawaii are 11 hour behind me. My husband's brother is stationed in Japan and is 8 hours ahead of us.
There's a lot going on keeping up with everyone's schedule but I try to be considerate of when someone is awake or when they are sleeping, working, or just busy throughout their day.
There have been many times where someone will call or message me during the middle of their day which could be right after I fall asleep and I won't get the message until I wake up and then would have to wait to reply to them when they're awake. It gets messy sometimes because then I will forget to actually send the message when they are awake!
There have been plenty of lost messages and missed calls due to the time zones. Sometimes it's hard to catch up as the days roll by.
2. Understand That we are Adjusting
I've mentioned the time zone issue but here's another issue that you might be unaware of: we are still adjusting.
And of course, your problems should not be minimized because we are adjusting to a huge life change and most likely cultural shock, but this is the time where we also need the most support.
There may be things you can't understand about living overseas and at times could be too difficult for us to explain so we just don't bother saying it at all. It's not that we don't want you to understand but sometimes there's too much effort to explain and we don't want to come off ungrateful.
3. Not Getting Anyone's Hopes up
Even before I moved overseas, so many people had said they would come visit me when I moved to Texas. I wasn't used to so many people saying "can't wait to visit you in Texas" because, wow, I'm that special that you'd come visit me all the way in Texas (from Florida)?
A lot of that didn't happen which was a bummer because that was my biggest life adjustment and I wish those people who said they'd come actually did.
Now, of course, living overseas is a different ballgame. There's lots of planning and money needed to make these types of visits actually happen so I'm not excepting (although I would prefer) anyone to make this kind of trip.
But after countless people saying over and over again that they'd visit really started to wear on me and eventually I gave up.
And that's no one's fault, I can completely understand that no one is required to visit me to maintain any relationship. Life happens and plans get interrupted. I get it and am not bitter from it [anymore].
But what I do now is take every promise or tentative plan with a grain of salt. I also try not to make promises to my friends and family back home so that I don't get their hopes up if I can't visit.
4. Appreciate the Distance
You've heard "Absence makes the heart grow fonder", yeah?
This really is the case here. You really start to appreciate the little moments you do spend with your friends or family when you're apart. So although we can't physically be together in the States, or anywhere in the world, we could just appreciate the time we do get when we see each other.
5. Check up From Time to Time
"Check up on your friends living overseas! Nothing's wrong with them, they're just missing home!"
As I mentioned, whatever country your friend is stationed at, they are going through a huge life adjustment. For some people, adjustment can happen quickly while some folks don't entirely adjust until after they'd already moved back to the US.
Of course, those on the other side of the coin see it as we "live in paradise" and are "always vacationing" which, to an extent is true, but that doesn't mean we are living life perfectly.
Although I don't have children, I see a large amount of friends who have children overseas for the first time and don't have much of a support system. That must be a rough phase to get through without much of your close friends or family to be there for so please check up on us folks stationed overseas. Most of the time, we feel bad for complaining.
6. FaceTime/Skype Calls
Seeing my friend's and family's life over Facebook is neat, it seems that we could always be "connected" at any time of the day. I love seeing photos and videos of my family and friends living their best lives!
But having that FaceTime or Skype call is the next best thing after actually being physically together.
Yes, it's hard to schedule those Skype/FaceTime dates especially with work, school, activities and of course, the time difference, but they are so meaningful and important.
7. Don't Take Offense to Certain Things
When I first moved to Germany, I immediately started traveling. I booked any trip I could afford and I loved it!
It started to get awkward when I just hopped over to another country almost every weekend and wanted to catch up with my friends back home via text or FaceTime calls. Especially my best friend who I talked to (and still talk to) on almost a daily basis.
When talking about how our weekend went, it was always awkward for me to say "I was in France eating macarons" or "Yeah, so I just went to Venice for the weekend with some girlfriends and drank wine, ate gelato, loads of pizza and pasta".
It always felt as if I were being arrogant or superior but it was the truth and I didn't want to lie and say I did nothing at home.
There was a point where I stopped engaging so much because I didn't want the conversation to start with me asking how someone's weekend was and they said it was "ok" and then when it was time for my response, I would nonchalantly describe my weekend European adventures.
I'm not sure if anyone took offense to that, I sure hope not, but I truly didn't know what else to talk about when asked how my weekend went. Anyone have advice on this?
8. Please Don't Make us Feel Guilty
This one is where it can hurt sometimes and that's the guilt trip of not coming home for the holidays or for special/important occasions. There is some guilt (ok, a lot more than I want to admit) about not going home at everyone's request. It's hard for everyone back home to see that because they only see the positive parts of my life overseas and how "great" everything must be that if I don't come home, it seems as though I don't care.
Well, that's far from the truth and I know many people stationed overseas can agree.
Recently, I saw U.S Army W.T.F! moments on Facebook post a screenshot of the following text:
"Trust me on this...going home for leave is extremely stressful for military personnel. Even though we have driven thousands of miles or have flown thousands of more miles or have gone through several time zones just to be back home for short periods of time frame ...everyone thinks and wants you to come see them and will always judge you for not coming to see them, but won't make an ounce of effort to see you. It really is a slap in the face. That's the truth behind the actual military life that civilians will never understand."
Now, I do have friends and family who have made the effort so I can't say this applies to everyone's situation. There are people who made more of an effort than I have, that's for sure!
But I want to say half of my timeline on Facebook was filled with this post as many people who are either in the Military or are married to someone who is in the Military have felt this way before.
This can apply to those who are stationed in the States but this also occurs for Military personnel and family members who are stationed overseas.
In no way is this in effort to make anyone else feel guilty for not visiting but at the end of the day, there is some truth to this and it can be hurtful. The best thing to do is to maintain open communication about visitation so there are no expectations.