No matter how long you have been in, the military lifestyle can be fun, exciting and adventurous, as well as difficult, challenging and even scary at times. Some things get easier over time and some things are always tough; deployments are never on the top of anyone’s “must experience” list.

Stars and Stripes reached out to military spouses to get their thoughts about various topics impacting military life. We received 100 responses from spouses from six military branches, active duty and reserve, who have been spouses from just a few months to more than 20 years.

These spouses are currently stationed at locations all over the world, with 40 percent being OCONUS (outside the continental U.S.). Over the next eight months, we will share with you the results of this survey, focusing on topics about kids, pets, volunteering, going to school, spouse employment, perks and joys of military life, fear and issues of military life and life outside of the military.

This month, we are talking all about Europe. Whether you imagine yourself shopping on the Champs Elysée, exploring a medieval castle or just staying as far away from Europe as possible, everyone has an opinion on being stationed in Europe.

Initial reactions about moving to Europe for those who have been, or are currently, stationed in Europe varied from “Terrified at first,” by Army spouse Savannah C. to “very excited,” by Army spouse Sara P. and “excited but also nervous and intimidated,” by Marine spouse Lizann L.

Moving to Europe comes with a lot of unknowns that even the most seasoned moving military family can find challenging. Thankfully, units do tend to assign a sponsor for incoming families to help ease that process. My spouse’s sponsor picked us up from the airport and gave us great tips for renting cars and houses as well as some great eateries. However, not all sponsor programs are equal. Air Force spouse Amanda B. exclaimed that they had “amazing sponsors,” while Air Force spouse John H. felt left out of the sponsor program pointing out that “it was mainly focused on the military member and the ones that were spouse-focused were affected by [the] ability to obtain child care.” Army spouse Sara G. replied, “I don’t know what this is.”

Of the spouses surveyed, 53 percent have been stationed in Europe. Most people were excited about the idea of traveling all over Europe, exposing their kids to new cultures and living abroad. Army Spouse Allison F. loves the ease of travel while living in Germany. Since moving here, she has visited 14 countries in the past year. I also love the travel opportunities. Some have growing collections of trinkets like magnets, shot glasses or mugs to note where they’ve been, but for me it’s the ability to claim I have eaten chicken McNuggets in seven countries: U.S., France, the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and, most recently, the Netherlands. Air Force spouse Laura E. appreciates how “The European culture is much different than American culture, and it is exciting to experience those differences firsthand.”

While most people think that Europe is a dream duty station, it is far from perfect. It can be hard and almost impossible in some places, for spouses to find work. It can be difficult to get your pets here and you will most likely be the farthest you’ve ever been from friends and family. I have lived less than six hours from friends and family, and now it’s a flight across the world. Navy spouse, E.H. does not want to get stationed over here because it would not be easy to bring their dogs, while Air Force spouse Kamalani J. simply would “rather not be overseas.” Even Army spouse Bethany S., who enjoys living in Europe, noted how they cannot find work due to childcare issues. Army spouse Kristine O. expanded more on this when she stated,

“Moving to Europe has impacted my career and finances. I worked in the GS system in the U.S. and the same in Germany but the pay for the same position was considerably low. Childcare is much harder in Germany but easier in Belgium due to free kindergarten from 2.5 years old without a waitlist.”

There are pros and cons to living in Europe and while I think it’s something everyone should try, I also understand that European living isn’t for everyone. I love the travel opportunities and being surrounded by so much history. However, there is a lot to be said about the lack of work opportunities for spouses and the unique cultural adjustments as well. Join us next month as we look at survey opinions on the different perks and issues of military life all over the world.

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