**Guest Post by Lizann**
Strength is… moving to another country where you don’t even speak the language. It is learning new things every single day. It’s bravely leading your children forward, when you have no idea what you’re doing. For military spouses, moving overseas can be one of the defining moments of their lives. It can also be one of the biggest challenges.
Our overseas move was a time that called on more strength than I knew I had. When my husband first received orders to work in Rota, Spain for three years, we were excited to live in Europe. We were also a little intimidated about what changes it would bring for our family. We had three children under age four and neither one of us knew any Spanish. We spent months trying to prepare ourselves for the move. I learned Spanish from Rosetta Stone. We all filed for passports, (twice). We went through the house deciding what to pack out and what to sell.
Finally, the big day arrived: September 11, 2012. We joked about whether or not is was a good idea to fly on September 11th, but the military didn’t give us a choice. Well, the attack on Benghazi happened while we were in flight. The unit my husband was going to was mobilized, and half of them had already deployed to Libya by the time we landed. This meant that instead of being welcomed to a new unit and having some time to learn the ropes, he was immediately thrown into an emergency scenario at an understaffed office.
Those first few weeks didn’t go at all the way we had imagined. The first day, I had to learn how to drive a stick shift vehicle, because that was the only option from the rental company. My husband wasn’t given any time off to do the “mandatory” class for new arrivals. Instead, he worked long shifts at the office, often sleeping there. I had to complete his check-in sheet for him, driving to various locations on base and waiting in offices where only some people spoke English. I did this in a car I could barely drive, with three children in car seats strapped in directly behind me. His unit was ordered not to leave base, so he wasn’t allowed to explore the local town. I was stuck in an empty temporary house, with three kids too young to be in school, and none of our stuff to entertain them.
It was NOT fun.
Before the move, I had started a blog to show our friends and family all our adventures in Spain. The first two weeks there, I didn’t know what to say. I finally composed a post I was too afraid to publish. It said, “This is so hard! It feels like every single task is tougher than it has to be. Driving the car is hard. Dialing a phone number is complicated. Grocery shopping is confusing. Talking to anyone requires a dictionary. Everything I do is wrong the first time, and I have to go to two or three different places before I get it right. Each day is a struggle, and I don’t know how to do this. I’m so tired and we only just got here! I don’t know how to survive here for three more years.”
I’m glad that I never hit publish, because just a few days later, things began to change. I finally decided to go to the new arrivals class on my own, and I made a new friend there. A neighbor introduced herself and showed me her favorite lunch place in town. Another wife from the unit gave me a tour of the local grocery store (don’t laugh, grocery stores are different overseas). We bought a GPS to avoid getting hopelessly lost all the time. Little by little, I learned how to do things and gained more confidence. Every time I shopped at a local store, navigated the highway, ordered from a Spanish menu, or made a new friend, I felt my strength grow. Each new accomplishment felt like forging a diamond. It was hard work and a lot of pressure, but at the end my experiences strung together like beautiful jewelry.
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I kept that blog post draft in the unpublished box the whole time we lived in Spain. Sometimes I would look back at it to remind myself how far we had come. I eventually overcame all those challenges—driving, using international phone numbers, Spanish stores, and even the language barrier. In fact, I surpassed my original expectations for our time overseas: I ended up writing and publishing the book, ‘Welcome to Rota,’ which is a guidebook about the duty station to help military families get settled, find local food and restaurants, and inform them about the culture of Southern Spain. Moving overseas forced me to be strong. I wrote the book to share my strengths with others and make it a little easier for the families who came after me.
Has military life made you stronger? How do you use those strengths to give back and encourage others?
Lizann Lightfoot is “The Seasoned Spouse,” a military spouse writer, blogger, and mom of four kids. As girlfriend and wife to her Marine for the past 17 years, she has moved across the country and the world. She published the book ‘Welcome to Rota’ in 2014 and is working on another book for military spouses. The Seasoned Spouse blog answers questions and provides resources for military life, because “we are all in this together.”