Being a military spouse is not easy. I think we can all agree with that. Regardless of branch, rank, and duty station, marrying into the military brings a whole lot of challenges we cannot be ready for when saying “I do.” Think about it. We have to say goodbye to our friends and family because we have to move thousands of miles away from them. We have to hurry up and wait and, while waiting, get acquainted with acronyms like MWR, PCS, TDY, and AIT. We must reinvent our lives every three years on average. We have to call home a place we never even remotely thought was going to end up being “home”—North Dakota, anyone?!
Yet, we do. And while unpacking, removing PCS labels from everywhere—and I mean, everywhere—and getting over the new-spouse-on-the-base stage for the millionth time within five years, we also manage to put a bright smile on our face, raise children on our own, support our troops, volunteer, hold down the fort while our spouse is deployed, and carry out full-time jobs that, most of time, we invented ourselves. Phew, that’s a lot! However, there is a smaller group of us who, aside from facing the common and day-to-day challenges American-born military spouses have to deal with. We have to put up with a whole other set of challenges, which can be rather daunting.
Foreign Military Spouse Stereotypes
As a foreign military spouse, I have been living, eating, and breathing this life for the past decade and have discovered that there are certain stereotypes typically associated with being a foreigner. Here are the top three stereotypes we foreign military spouses face:
Green Card Seekers. On top of the terribly common name-calling done by ignorant people when referring to military spouses—you’ve heard of “dependa”, haven’t you?—people simply assume we married an American military member to get a green card (as if we couldn’t have done it on our own, had we really wanted to).
Language Barrier Losers. While of course English is, in most cases, not our first language, we learn the language and quickly, too. For example, not only am I a Certified English Teacher from Cambridge University, UK, but I also speak four languages. And like me, many other foreign MilSO's do too. Learning new languages just seems to be what we do.
Moochers. Given that we often cannot get a job right away when coming to the US, due to bureaucracy taking its sweet time, we have to forego working, waiting and hoping for the American Government to grant us permission to become a valued member of society. Hence the stereotype that we foreigners married into the military to have a “lifetime free pass” to mooch off American taxpayers. Well, don’t you think we’d rather make our own living than having to depend on somebody else?
Foreign Military Spouse Challenges
Here are the top three challenges I believe we face:
Cultural Shock. By definition, the foreign military spouse is a non-US citizen. As such, we are not born nor raised in the United States of America. Therefore, before we can begin to understand and appreciate the military, we must get acquainted with the American culture, which can be very different from our own.
Military Life. Adjusting to military life and everything it entails is hard even for the most seasoned and experienced military spouse. Imagine how it is for us foreigners! From the toughest acronym to just the way the military is viewed in the US of A can be incredibly different from what we are used to.
Distance and Letting Go. Obviously, the vast majority of military spouses are taken thousands of miles away from their own families while following their military members. However, as foreigners, we leave not only our home town. We leave our country, our nation, our continent (!) to join our military member. While it is true this can also happen to American military spouses when they move to, say, Japan or England, I think it is that much more challenging for us foreigners because we often leave our culture, our language, our history behind. And we do not find it on the military base that welcomes us.
The Foreign Military Spouse and Resiliency
But—told ya there was always a but!—no matter how far away we are from our families, our culture, our history, our world, foreign military spouses—just like all military spouses—are resilient. We invent our own jobs. We create careers from home. We contribute. We support. We care. We volunteer. We raise children on our own. We move. We hold down the fort. We learn new languages. We learn the military lingo. We memorize acronyms. We adapt. We thrive. Foreign military spouses: we take on challenges and we prove stereotypes wrong, while having a smile on our faces and holding our military member’s hand.
Brunella Costagliola is a proud Air Force wife, mother of two adorably high-spirited children, and author of My Dad Got Hurt. What Can I Do? a juvenile fiction book that aims at helping military children learn how to cope with a brain-injured parent. She is a bestselling editor and writer, working at Kevin Anderson and Associates. When she is not trying to save the world with a perfectly polished manuscript, you can find her cooking traditional Italian meals for her family, taking photos of her children, or travelling the world.