“Give it Six Months”: Settling In
“Locating Satellites” –Bridgette the GPS (yes, I named her)
“Gee, thanks for NOT helping, Bridgette. Take your time, I don’t mind waiting and looking silly in front of my new neighbors at the end of our driveway looking lost…or like a creeper.”- Me sitting in my car a few duty stations ago while having NO idea which way to turn out of my own driveway to get to town.
This was an actual conversation I had with my GPS unit (don’t judge, I am sure you talk to your GPS, too). We had just moved in that day and needed to head to the store to do our much needed “move-in” grocery shopping trip, and I had absolutely NO idea how to get to the nearest grocery store! To be honest, I had no idea how to get ANYWHERE! I knew we were near “stuff,” but I didn’t have a clue on how to get to any of it. We hadn’t made any friends yet, I didn’t know all the insider tips, and I was just plain LOST. It was a feeling that I did not enjoy.
Recently, we moved to Okinawa, Japan and I discovered a whole new definition of LOST! Not only did I not know where anything was, I didn’t have a GPS that worked, and all the signs were in a different language. Oh yeah, and our household goods hadn’t arrived and we felt like we were perpetually living in “temporary mode.” We hadn’t made any friends, I didn’t know the first thing about where to go off the installation, and I was just plain LOST!
Every time we move I feel lost, unsettled, out of sorts, whatever you care to call it. I have to remind myself that being lost is part of the “fun” of moving to a new area.
“Give it six months.” That is my moving mantra. I have discovered that this is my magic number. This is how long it takes to make our house feel like a home. Six months will give me a chance to figure out where most things are. Six months is long enough to start developing friendships. Of course I don’t hibernate in our house and wake up six months later completely settled in. There is some work that needs to be put in behind the scenes.
While we normally get all of our boxes unpacked within the first couple of days I notice that it takes about six months to really feel like home. Hanging pictures in just the right spot and organizing everything to be functional really does take time. When we moved overseas it took a little more time because we had to wait a few extra months to get our household goods. I remember feeling especially restless when we moved to Okinawa because six months was rapidly approaching and I still felt like our house was not ours. Things started to fall into place and now it feels like home when we walk in the door.
At every duty station I have a habit of driving around without a plan, and I encourage you to do the same. I like to drive around looking for landmarks, noticing stores, trying to remember road names, and just getting a general feel for the area. This way when someone is giving me directions and they mention a landmark I can honestly say “Oh yes! I know where that is.” After a few months, or sometimes longer, I love having that “light bulb” moment when I suddenly realize that I can navigate the back roads without getting lost, or read a story in the local newspaper and know EXACTLY where they are talking about. This is how I know that I can drop the “new to area” after my name.
I also remind myself that making friends takes time. Since we do not have children yet, I feel that it takes a bit of extra time since I can’t meet other moms at play groups and school outings. So I make an extra effort to get involved in our new military community, as well as the surrounding community, in search of friends.
Taking a spouse orientation class is a shortcut to that “settled in” feeling. The Army has the Family Readiness Program, The Marine Corps has L.I.N.K.S., the Navy has Compass, and the Air Force has Heart Link. Most include basic military information as well as installation specific details. So it doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned spouse or just starting out, you are sure to learn something you didn’t know before. Even if you just learn the location of the thrift store or a fun tidbit about your new installation. I have met some of my best friends at the spouse orientation classes at different installations along our military journey.
Sure when you first move it can feel overwhelming, but remember that “this too shall pass.” I promise that I have yet to be at a duty station where we didn’t get settled in. Even being in Okinawa less than a year now, I feel right settled in. Prime example: now when I drive down the streets I am no longer gawking out my car window absorbing my new surroundings. This duty station feels like home, even if I still can’t read the signs.