The inside scoop on PCSing to the United Kingdom

by Emily Alvarenga
Stripes Europe

You’ve been praying to the PSC gods for an overseas assignment and they’ve finally answered! You’ve gotten orders to the United Kingdom, one of the military’s coveted overseas assignments, and you’re beyond excited to start your new adventure. After the news has settled, you start to panic. Any PCS can be a lot to handle and moving overseas can be a very stressful time for military families. Take a deep breath, you’ve got this!

Before you leave

Be sure to attend all of the briefings and read all the informational packets, they can be really helpful. Be sure to get an official U.S. passport, not only a required passport. If you plan on traveling outside of the UK, you’re going to need it. Also, be sure to ditch your 110-volt electronics, unless you’re planning on living on base. However, before you assume everything is 110V, check the power cord to see if they’re dual voltage, meaning they’ll work in the UK with a simple adapter. Common devices such as iPhone chargers, laptops or video game consoles will work with an adapter. Expensive items such as TVs or washing machines can be plugged into a transformer if they aren’t dual voltage. Transformers can be borrowed for free from the Furnishings Management Office (FMO) and you can find many adapters on base.

Relax and enjoy the ride

Once the planning is done and you’re on your way, remind yourself of the amazing opportunity you’ve been given. There will be more challenges ahead, but the chance to live in or even just visit the UK is something most people only dream about!

Culture shock is real

They speak English too, so it shouldn’t be that big of a change right? Well, it is a different culture and things are, well, different. The accents can actually be hard to get used to at first and everything is new territory. You may not realize it, but your brain is running on overdrive while trying to process it all. You’re going to need some time to adjust, so make sure to set some time aside to get acclimated. Be prepared for it to take a while before things to start to feel “normal” again.

It’s okay to feel sad

You’re living the dream, so why aren’t you happy about it? Why aren’t you grateful for this opportunity? We all go through it, but no one seems to talk about it. There is no shame in feeling guilty for wanting to go home. It’s okay to want things to go back to normal. There will be good days and bad days, but over time, it’ll get easier. You’ll adjust and soon, you’ll find there will be more good days than bad. 

Adjusting to the differences

Now that you’re getting settled, you’ve probably noticed that living in the UK isn’t quite as similar to life in America as you’d expect. For starters, you’re probably wondering why everything is so tiny. The cars, the towns, the shops and especially the houses are all much smaller than what we’re used to. When looking for a house, you’ll find yourself wondering where you’re going to put everything. There’s typically no laundry room because the combo washer/dryer is in the kitchen, and your refrigerator reminds you of that mini fridge you used to have in college. Don’t worry, FMO’s got you covered on most of your housing needs. They’ll provide you with an extra fridge or a washer and dryer if your home doesn’t come with one. The oddities don’t stop there. You’ll quickly realize that most of the English shops and restaurants aren’t open at all hours like we’re used to and everything is really quiet at night. In reality, it’s like this in a lot of European countries. In England, quiet hours are from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. That covers anything from loud music to dogs barking and even car alarms. You’ll even find that most events, whether it’s a carnival or a concert, will have a curfew so surrounding neighborhoods aren’t disturbed. Learning to adjust to these differences and many more will help you feel easily more at home.

Don’t dwell on what’s missing

Most importantly, don’t get caught up in trying to recreate America. Some of the most miserable people are the ones who spend all their time complaining about how they miss Target or Trader Joe’s, instead of getting out and embracing the local culture. Make the most of your time in the UK, and before you know it, you’ll be back in the states missing Marmite and Cadbury’s chocolate. If not, you can certainly guarantee that your time in the UK will give you a better appreciation of home. 

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