Photo of Kristi and her children in Japan

OCONUS PCS: Think Outside the Gates

Now that I’ve outgrown the phase, I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt trapped when we first moved to Japan. The pre-household goods delivery time that I usually filled with shopping, exploring my new town or day trips was a true test in patience. Not only did I not have a house or a car, but the thought of my first solo venture off-base stressed me out.

What if I forgot what all the road signs meant?

What if I forgot to drive on the left side of the road?

What if I couldn’t find my way back? (Some people are blessed with an internal compass; I’m not one of them!)

If you have any of these fears about moving overseas or venturing out now that you’ve relocated, know that they are totally justified. I still find myself freezing up and forgetting all ten words of my Japanese vocabulary from time to time — luckily this is a culture where silence and a bow go a long way.

But, as justified as these questions are, they grow into irreversible walls between you and adventure outside the gates of your base. Confined to base, you’re basically living overseas without leaving the USA — and then you’re missing out on the best part of OCONUS orders. True, you can survive on installation events, commissary and exchange shopping and the handful of American fast food available on base, but pushing beyond your comfort zone can make your time OCONUS something you’ll remember fondly, versus a sentence you were forced to serve. Let’s break down those intimidating walls and get you prepped for a foreign adventure!

Start small. We took friends up on a ride to the beach to get us out of the temporary lodging facility. Then, when I first ventured off base by myself, I drove to that beach because I was comfortable navigating there. I was prepared and confident, which made me excited to travel again.

Do your research. Research is not as daunting as people make it out to be. You don’t have to learn it all in one night. Research where you’re going, ask around about it, know expenses and get directions. Set yourself up for success before you leave base, and don’t forget that you have two incredible sources of information at your fingertips: word of mouth from others in the military community and Information, Tickets and Tours (ITT), which can book trips for you and arrange for transportation!

Be their guest. From day one it was drilled into us that we (as in all of us stationed here) are all ambassadors for the United States. Do the U.S. proud by being a gracious guest. Respect the local people, the environment and the customs.

Be safe. Make sure you know what you’re getting into when you venture out; bad neighborhoods and bad weather exist in all parts of the world. Stay informed and aware of your surroundings. Be sure to have your military ID, emergency contacts and enough cash on hand so you’ll always be prepared and able to get back to base.

Don’t wait. Leaving Japan with regrets scares me much more than getting lost or saying konnichi-wa (good afternoon) when I should have said ohayo gozaimasu (good morning). I am making a point to see something new each week (even something as small as trying a new restaurant). This commitment to adventure is serving me well so far. Our first two months have been packed with adventure, and we are just getting started!

Kristi Stolzenberg
Written By Kristi Stolzenberg
Marine Spouse

Kristi started writing for Blog Brigade as a new Milspouse in 2008, and all of a sudden, she’s a seasoned (but not overly salty) Marine spouse.

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