military spouse build community
Deployment, Distance

4 Ways Living In A Foreign Country Will Make You Stronger

Maybe if you’re really lucky, you studied abroad for a couple months in college before getting thrown into this Navy life. Maybe you have family living in a foreign country that you visit annually. More likely, you’ve never lived anywhere but our beautiful USA.

As excited as you are to see other places, you have no idea what you’re doing to do with yourself when you’re completely alone in a country where you don’t know anyone and your spouse is deployed for months on end. If you’re terrified it’s going to be hard and scary and lonely, I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong. I’m here to tell you why that’s going to make you a stronger spouse and a stronger person.

I’m one of the lucky ones with some experience living abroad while going into this Navy life. I moved to Canada straight out of high school and lived there for nearly five years with no permanent ties to the country or any of the cities I lived.

“But Kate, Canada is basically just the US! They even speak English.”

Mhm, tell that to Immigration Canada. Or to Canadians. Most places you travel today, you can find someone who can speak English. That doesn’t mean they will – even in Canada. Be respectful of your host country if they’re not as excited to meet you. They’ve got strange tourists and temporary residents coming and going to this area all the time. The citizens have to live with the consequences of their actions culturally, financially, and environmentally – year after year.


1. You’re going to be a pro at navigating paperwork

The Navy is going to take care of a lot of the paperwork for you, you lucky duck! That doesn’t mean, however, that you’ll have nothing to do. Remember when you thought getting married was as simple as signing a single piece of paper? Hah! Living in a foreign country comes with plenty of paperwork.

Thankfully, you have tons of resources on base to help you out. Use them! If you don’t know where to go, ask your spouse or the Family Readiness office to point you in the right direction. If you fall in love with the host country you’re stationed in, it may not be out of the question to move there post-Navy life or for retirement. Understanding the paperwork process is great practice for down the road if you’re dreaming of a little country villa outside of Marseille ( just me?).

2. You’re going to build a community from scratch

If you’re an introvert, you’d better start looking for community events and groups to get involved in ASAP. I don’t just mean with the other spouses on base, I mean really getting to know the regular ol’ people who’ve lived in the area since birth / college / a new job opportunity.

Are you prone to depression? Nothing is quite as isolating as living somewhere where the first language isn’t your own when your honey is nowhere to be found and you’ve got no friends and fam to fall back on. Make sure you have a game plan and talk to your doctor before you leave if you might need help adjusting.

This social isolation is also going to show you what a damn badass you are. Nothing feels quite as good as the moment it clicks. You have created your own little community, your own little family, no blood or previous ties required. You knew yourself well enough to know when to ask for help, and you knew when to call yourself out on BS and overcome your fears. Now all your favs are hanging out at your place and everything feels right. Hell yes!

3. You’re going to challenge your own preconceptions about your country and your life

When you first arrive, you’re going to notice little things every single day. The way food is packaged, what the food is, where you go to buy it, who it is that does the buying and the cooking. What about the road signs and the cars and the markings on the streets? The way the grass grows, how long the inhabitants or city allows it to get before everyone decides to cut it? There are so many little things you don’t notice about the norms in your hometown until you try living in a foreign country.

The longer you’re living in a foreign country and the more friends you make, you’re going to have more insights into a different thought process and a different way of life even if, at first, it seems like it’s basically just America with some different decorations. How are the politics here different? How do the citizens talk about politics differently? How does the government treat its teachers and what do the citizens here think about that? Do the people here work longer hours or shorter hours? Why? What challenges are the young people rallying about? What do those challenges look like back in the US?

4. You’re going to learn to be resourceful AF

Your sailor is deployed or on a work trip. You finally treat yourself to a night out and have a fantastic time, but when you want to get home, you realize

  • your car isn’t starting, or
  • the last bus of the night never came, or
  • you forgot your credit card, or
  • your phone died, or
  • choose your own adventure

What are you going to do?

I wonder, what would you have done back in your home town? Cried out of frustration as you called seven different friends or family members to come pick you up, and then sit on the curb while someone else solved your problem for you?

Your BFF and your mom can’t save you now. Hell, they’re probably in the middle of their work day back in the US or dead asleep.

No one is going to save you.

You’re going to learn how to save your damn self.

Walk for three hours, stop at a convenient store and borrow their phone to call a pal from the base, panhandle for your Uber or taxi ride home. Does the country you’re living in even have Uber?

It doesn’t matter. You’re going to figure it out.

At the end of the day, you will get home and it will be because of your own determination to do so.

What is one sticky situation you’ve gotten yourself out of before?

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  1. I love every single thing about this post! It’s all so true. I’m a Brazilian living in the U.S., and your third point about seeing your new and your old country in a different light is so real for me. You start to realize all the different assumptions you have internalized about how people are, how they react, and what’s appropriate in different situations—and it’s all fascinating!

    1. Kate Waggle says:

      I’m so glad you can relate! I definitely felt like living abroad for years gave me a new lens to look at my old country and the new one.

  2. I love this post! It’s so empowering and REAL. Feeling isolated sucks! But there are things you can do about if your resourceful!

    1. Kate Waggle says:

      It definitely sucks but it’s also really empowering to discover how strong and resourceful you are! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Awesome post! I can totally relate to relying on yourself to be resourceful. And it really does make you a stronger person. As my grandmother used to say “put on our big girl panties and get it done!”

    1. Kate Waggle says:

      Haha yes! Sometimes you just gotta get it done.

  4. Melissa says:

    I lived in France for awhile and this was SPOT ON!

    1. Kate Waggle says:

      Ooh, so fun! I studied the French language for years so it used to be The Dream to live in France. I think I still need to visit, even if my knowledge of the language has faded.

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