If you’re the adventurous type, PCS orders to an overseas country might seem like a dream come true. However, it’s also natural to feel overwhelmed with how to plan for something so new in a place with a completely different culture. And then, there are the kids. While you sort through your own feelings, your children will likely be paying attention to your reaction to everything. So how do you get started on a positive note? The internet helps.
Our Navy family relocated to Okinawa, Japan, almost four years ago. I had four school-aged kids in tow and knew my husband would be frequently deploying from the Pacific island. Once those orders were cut, I did what most modern-day military spouses do: research, research, and more research. I googled Japan and created a Pinterest board of things to add to our bucket list. Next, I found Facebook groups in the area (There’s usually several attached to every duty station). During my research, I learned things about Okinawa that helped me get the kids excited about going overseas. The obvious was, this would be a great lesson in geography for our family because we would get to be in a part of the world that most Americans only read about in a textbook.
Beauty in culture
Okinawa is home to 29,000 American service members, military families and civilian personnel with the military operating 32 bases there. Its culture has influences of China, Southeast Asia, Japan, and the US, although it continues to change it does maintain tradition. I was chatting with some fellow military spouses the other night — most of us have been on the island for years. I asked what was one of their favorite things about living here and they all responded with “mindfulness”. Mindfulness, an element of Buddhism, a process of bringing one’s attention to experience in the moment. Okinawans live in the moment. They take the time to notice the beauty in their surrounding and take other people’s existence into account. Courtesy first.
The unique landscape limits public transportation to buses and a small monorail system in the island’s capital, Naha. There is a shuttle system called the Green Line that operates from among the Marine bases. If you get stationed here, you will need to have a car.
Traffic is also a given in Okinawa, one day a route may take you five minutes and the next it may take you 55 minutes. If there is construction — which there always is — there will be kind workers to direct you and cute construction zone signs. Yes, a cute construction sign, some believe the cute signs have a calming effect and can reduce road rage.
The bucket list. You have to make one. Reality is everyone has limited time on this gem of an island and you will want to see everything! Whether you are up for an off-island adventure or want to stay close to home, Okinawa has exploring opportunities that can keep you busy for years. If you’re looking for a pre-planned tour, most bases have travel agencies that can help. For the ‘do your own thing’ kind-of-person, you’re not alone and thankfully, apps like: Google Maps, Imaps and Trip Advisor all work in Japan. If you are searching for a particular site and don’t know the name or up for a new adventure many of the Facebook groups have files with adventures and must-see list. You will master the art of ‘dropping a pin’ in your time on island.
Off-island trips are limitless: you can travel by plane or ferry. If you are traveling by plane, there is one airport on Okinawa. There are direct flights to many places and others are routed via Tokyo.
Excited yet? Getting stationed overseas is one of the greatest benefits to a military family because you get to see the world in a way that most civilians in the U.S. do not. Whether it’s Okinawa with the Navy, Germany with the Army, or a host of other destinations, it will be what you make of it. Those three-year tours go quickly, so devise your plan early and let the whole family weigh in. It’s an unforgettable adventure.Read comments