(photo: Mrs. Manal Abdel Aziz (right) and Mrs. Malack, spouses of the Egyptian Defense Attaches)
You've probably done it – watched your precious belongings get packed up in crates for a trip across an ocean; worried where you would live, where your children would go to school, how you would navigate your new surroundings when you didn't know the language, how you’d learn how to drive on unfamiliar roads or even a new side of the road.
Thousands of fellow American military spouses tackle those challenges every year as they face OCONUS moves. But I learned yesterday that we’re not alone – spouses and families from countries around the globe move here each year with their military service member and share the same concerns and sacrifice.
The AOWCGWA’s International Showcase is an opportunity for the spouses of international military members to introduce their American counterparts to life in their countries. This year’s event, held Feb. 21, highlighted important celebrations in each country. But it was also a celebration of how similar our experiences are, despite different languages, uniforms or cultures. When it comes to military spouses, ‘borders’ are easily crossed to forge understanding and friendships. (photo: the ladies from the United Kingdom shared the Queen's Jubilee celebration)
I learned that no matter the country, we all take treasured items from home with us, wherever duty takes us. We enjoy the celebrations and traditions we grew up with wherever we are. And we love sharing our culture with new friends (some of my family’s best Thanksgiving memories are from the holidays shared with German friends while stationed there).
Moving is never easy and I can only imagine how difficult it might be for foreign military spouses coming to this area (I've already shared my driving experiences as a new resident: http://www.dcmilitaryfamlife.com/profiles/blogs/grit-and-bear-it). For many, it can be a difficult transition. Lamia Lammari of Algeria told me she had to give up a successful career when her husband was assigned to Washington DC a little over two years ago. All military spouses can relate to that sacrifice. The Lammari's had to find the right school for their high school aged sons, a concern many of us have lived through. But now, Lamia says living here has been a great experience. “And I looked for groups to join, ways to volunteer, and I made friends.” Sounds so familiar, doesn't it? (photo: Lamia (right) and friend in the traditional dresses that would be worn at Algerian wedding celebrations)
Even when language isn't an issue, moving can be difficult, as Emma Gillard and Nicola Roy of New Zealand shared. Emma and her family have been here for four years, as her husband did duty as an attaché and is now attending the National Defense University’s Eisenhower School. They were happy to stay so their son could graduate from his high school here, a situation many US military families try to arrange. She told me that even though they watched lots of American television in New Zealand it was still a bit of a culture shock coming here and Nicola laughed that people often don’t understand their accent. “But it has been a great experience,” said Emma, “meeting all these people, the warm welcome we received from the American military community here, and the opportunity to travel has been wonderful for the family.” (photo: Emma Gillard and information on New Zealand's Waitangi Day celebration - a treaty signing between Maori chiefs and the British Crown in 1840)
The ladies of Serbia (left), Ecuador (center) and Canada proudly share traditional foods, dress and information from their countries.
No matter the country, no matter the service branch, we ‘sisters in service,’ share an unbreakable bond. Very few can really appreciate the sacrifices, worries and exciting opportunities shared through our military connections. Thanks AOWCGWA for offering a day to celebrate how much we all have in common.