Finding out you have orders to PCS overseas can be both very exciting and very daunting. Today we highlight a conversation with military spouse, Courtney. Her family is currently living in Germany and she has taken to blogging to share her journey to connect with other military spouses.
Join me in getting to know Courtney, from the popular blog Courtney at Home.
Wendy: Tell us about your military connection.
Courtney: Before I met my husband, what little I knew about the military came from the pages of books like “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “A Farewell to Arms.” When plans changed and he ended up pledging his oath to our country 18 months after we got married, it was a shock to my system to say the least. Nearly six years, four duty stations, two baby boys, a year-long deployment and an overseas move later … you could say I’ve gotten my feet wet, but I still have a lot of learning to do before you could call me a “seasoned military spouse.” I look up to the wise, experienced military families who have made it their mission to support those following in their footsteps. Whether or not my husband chooses to retire from active duty some day, we hope to continue serving the military community together in one way or another through the years. In May, I received a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling with a focus on Military Resilience - a baby step towards fulfilling this goal.
Wendy: How long have you been living overseas and what has that experience been like for you and your family?
Courtney: We’ve been in Germany for about a year and a half, now. Living overseas has truly been an eye-opening, life-changing experience for us. Honestly, the first six months were a tough period of adjustment for our family. Along with the typical aches and pains of transition that accompany a PCS, there was a little bit of culture shock and a whole lot of fear and apprehension. Once we got settled into our house, gathered up the courage to explore our surroundings a little at a time, and allowed ourselves to start getting involved in the community, things got easier day by day. In such a short period of time, we’ve met so many wonderful people, traveled with our boys to six countries (not including Germany) and learned more about the world (and even our own country) by looking at it from a new and different perspective. We have eighteen months left, and I’m already bracing myself for the goodbyes.
Wendy: How did you come up with the idea for Courtney at Home?
Courtney: Truth be told, there are days when I physically ache for bricks and walls to call our own, but over the years and many moves we’ve made together, my husband and I have come to realize a home is not made up of these things. As cliché as it may be, we are at home wherever we’re together. This truth is something we hope to pass on to our boys, carry with us wherever the military sends us, and share with the people we meet along the way. The title and tagline of my blog, “Courtney at Home … wherever we’re together,” is based on this foundational part of our family culture.
Wendy: How long have you been blogging, how did you start and what are your favorite topics to write about?
Courtney: I’ve been blogging off and on for about 10 years. What started as an online scrapbook (hello, LiveJournal!) eventually evolved into an art and creative learning website for parents and children, which I started when my husband was deployed. Now, I still enjoy writing about creativity and everyday life - including our travels throughout Europe - but I’ve honed in on my passion for sharing stories of encouragement for military families and moms.
Wendy: Living overseas offers a great opportunity to explore your new country. Can you share about your first and/or travel destination?
Courtney: Our first adventure away from the bubble of our local military community was a trip to the Black Forest. We needed a peaceful, family-friendly get-away to escape the stress of PCSing, and it ended up being the perfect place for that. We stayed in a beautiful Bavarian-style hotel off the beaten path. It had a traditional hipped roof and window boxes overflowing with geraniums … swoon! From there, we made a day trip to Triberg to hike the trails for views of Germany’s highest waterfalls and window shop for handmade cuckoo clocks. Looking back, it is still one of my favorite trips we’ve taken.
Wendy: How are you integrating into your new community?
Courtney: Even before we moved to Germany, we knew we wanted to live off base so we could immerse ourselves in European culture. I never thought I would get the chance to live in a foreign country, and I want to make the most of the opportunity while we have it. I took four semesters of German language classes in college, but listening to the radio, reading the newspapers and doing our best to speak with the locals when we go out and about has helped our entire family when it comes to learning Deutsch. Although many European people speak English fluently, I have noticed the effort to learn other languages is very much appreciated. We also enjoy shopping on the local economy and attending the smaller, more traditional fests in nearby villages.
Wendy: What is your number one piece of advice to prepare for an overseas move?
Courtney: To sum it up in a single word - community. Yes, living overseas is an amazing experience, but it can also be isolating and scary at times. My best piece of advice to those who are preparing for an overseas move is to focus on building a strong community of support for your family. Connect with people who’ve made the transition before you, reach out to organizations and resources on base, join groups that cater to your specific interests and look for places where like-minded people come together on a regular basis (spouse groups, churches, PWOC, MOPS, youth sports activities, etc.). These individuals will become your family overseas, and you will carry one another through the many ups and downs of military life.
Wendy: You recently wrote for Military One Click about the Ramstein military community support of the families that had to evacuate Turkey on short notice. Tell us more about that and the reaction you received from the blog post.
Courtney: It was humbling to witness the Kaiserslautern Military Community come together literally over night to help the families displaced in the emergency evacuation from Turkey. Local schools, hotels, restaurants, organizations and volunteers pooled their resources in a matter of hours to offer these spouses, children and pets a warm welcome and comfortable accommodations in the midst of all the chaos. I wrote this article to illustrate the reality of the military lifestyle. Service members are called to be ready and resilient, but family members must be prepared to stand up – and even go – when it is necessary, as well. It takes all of us – service members, spouses, children and the supportive hands of our communities - working together to serve our country. I got a few warm comments from solidarity sisters in response to the blog post, but I think it had more to do with the acts of kindness that took place in the KMC than the few words I’d written about them.
Are you living in Germany? What do you love about your international location? Share your insights in the comments below.
Courtney Woodruff is a military spouse, mom, writer, editor and web content manager currently living in Germany. She has a heart for our troops and their families and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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