Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, or Ph.D. can be challenging for any student. However, any parent who has pursued a higher education degree will tell you that it is even more difficult with children. Now, consider the challenges that accompany an active duty military member or spouse while furthering their education, parenting, and making frequent PCS moves. While it is obviously demanding, the Smileys prove that it is definitely possible. When Carlos Smiley decided to enlist in the Navy instead of continuing his teaching career, the Smiley family adapted and overcame every obstacle that blocked their way to higher education degrees — all while raising two kids.
Carlos’ career change
Carlos has a B.S. in interrelated special education, and until he enlisted, his wife, Yuki, explains, “he worked with exceptional children [at the] elementary school level, teaching students with learning disabilities”.
Soon after their daughter, Emerson, was born 10 years ago, Carlos decided to change careers. Yuki wasn’t working at the time and Carlos was having trouble finding a good teaching job.
Yuki explains that one day, her husband came home and said, “I think I’m going to join the military.” Now, the Smileys are stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Carlos is a Navy Corpsman. This year, depending on whether they have a PCS move, Carlos intends to get his Master’s in Healthcare Administration. Military life has proved to be great for the Smiley family, and it has really taught them to adapt and overcome challenges.
Pursuing higher education as a military spouse
Although Yuki says her first job is supporting Carlos’ career, she is also dedicated to her own career as well. She decided to get her M. Ed. degree in reading at Jacksonville University in Florida. She started out taking classes in person, however, once the Smileys had their first PCS move, Yuki had to finish her master’s online. Yuki explains that continuing her degree online was the most flexible option, but it also had its own challenges she hadn’t realized before.
Yuki recalls the challenges of time management while taking online classes. She says that setting her schedule was the most difficult thing for her. She explains that she had so many responsibilities as a wife and mother, that sometimes she wouldn’t even start her school work until everyone else was in bed sleeping. Another one of the challenges was the challenge of trying to maintain a healthy household balance.
“Some assignments require more energy and time,” she says. “I can remember crying some nights because my husband had duty, one of the kids was sick — if not both of them — and I still had assignments to submit.” Yuki taught English as a second language at Coastal Carolina Community College. In the future, she’d like to teach at public schools, so she is currently working towards her M. Ed in TESOL, which she will complete this summer.
Yuki’s teaching career
“The first ESL group that I worked with at Coastal Carolina Community College captivated my heart,” Yuki explains. “I had students from West Africa, China, Japan, Columbia, Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Yemen, Puerto Rico, Kyrgyzstan, and many more. Watching their excitement about learning my native language excited me. Even though there were so many cultural differences in the classroom, there was a commonality through the English language.”
“Then, I gained the opportunity of a lifetime when I was hired by Duplin County Schools to teach middle school ESL,” she says.”I watch daily as some of our ESL students struggle to assimilate and others master the language within months. In furthering my education with the M.ed and hopefully one day a Ph.D. [in Urban Education] — I will have more research and knowledge and I will be better able to support our students academically.”
The importance of education in the Smiley family
Because education is so important to Carlos and Yuki, they stress the importance to their daughter, Emerson, 10, and their son, Xyler, 5. Emerson is an honors student at her school, and although Xyler is young and doesn’t get “real” grades yet, he still loves school. “We talk to them about the importance of education,” says Yuki, “and they both have done research on future careers. They love learning and reading. They, too, have learned how to adapt and be flexible during our constant moves.”
“The Worst Best Move Ever”
The Smiley family’s love for reading and writing lead them to write a children’s book as a family in 2016. The book The Worst Best Move Ever was inspired by their own PCS moves. The book is about a girl in a military family who has to adjust to move after move. Yuki explains that it is about their own family and offers advice for other military kids as they go through PCS transitions.
“Be Quiet Out Loud”
In addition to this children’s book, Yuki also wrote the book Be Quiet Out Loud in 2012. Yuki says that she wrote this book to help other kids and parents see the signs of sexual abuse. Additionally, Yuki explains that military families especially need to be aware of the signs. She says that frequent moves often mean they need to place their trust in other people quickly. As parents, Yuki says, “we need to have a keen eye” for the signs of abuse. “Those signs are always there,” she states.
While obtaining a degree in the midst of frequent PCS moves and raising small children is definitely a challenge, but Yuki and Carlos beat the odds. Their passion for learning allows them to accomplish all their goals as well as spread their love of knowledge down to their kids.
Yuki’s Tips for Military Spouses Continuing Their Education
- Look into flexible programs, whether it be a combination of online and classroom or just strictly online classes.
- Set a schedule.
- Set realistic and obtainable daily and weekly goals.
- Take time to take care of yourself.