Nothing compares to the mixed feelings of seeing your bedroom collapse down to a few cardboard boxes every few years. It marks the close of another chapter in your life but turns the page to a new one. I have seen those boxes and turned that page myself, eight times in eighteen years. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to moving to a new place. Everyone has a unique journey. Much of the advice that is presented to you is not tailored to your individual success and is downright damaging. This is because very few people can relate to the lifestyle that you live and do not realize that cliche advice is less applicable. Luckily, I am here to assess the value of common advice granted to military kids throughout the moving process.
“Move on and never look back”
The application of this overused phrase, in relation to moving, can severely limit your social outlets and comfort level in a new place. The disorienting nature of moving somewhere new requires you to look to your past for stability. Especially in a foreign country, you will be slapped in the face by one thing after another. Storefronts in a foreign language, SLAP. No friends, SLAP. Lost moving boxes, SLAP. The next time one of these SLAPS hit you, before pushing forward, take a second to “look back.” Take a second to look for the things you know. The things that are already in your corner. The constants. For most military brats, this can be a sibling, a pet, or even a close friend who is always down to FaceTime. Your constants should not hold you back, but rather be your springboards who want to see you flourish in a new place. And in this new, spinning place that you are entering, finding an old rock or two to keep your grounding is as important as finding new ones. These people are your security blanket – your insurance policy. Does that mean to drive recklessly? Of course not. But determining these constants will give you the confidence boost needed to attack your new situation.
Once you find your constants, you will realize how outrageous the commonly preached mantra of “move on and never look back” is. Many of the people you endear and trust the most can become thousands of miles away. If you have friends from your past that will stick by your side, do not let them go. These people can be your saving grace in another new place that you call home. Move on? Of course. But please, take a second to look back.
“Just get into a new routine”
Another common piece of advice granted to military children, spewed by everyone from counselors to grandmas, is to get into a new routine. While this may seem logical, to set yourself up with a sense of normalcy from day to day, it has one obvious pitfall. How the hell are you supposed to create a routine when you know nothing about a place, have no friends, and are struggling to find the smallest of successes? Creating a routine cannot be willy nilly and spontaneous. It needs to be carefully crafted to promote your personal growth. I can arrive in a new town and tell myself that my new routine will involve waking up at 6am, going to a coffee shop down the street, reviewing some notes, and then driving to school. That sounds productive, but what if that coffee shop is the worst coffee shop east of the Mississippi? What if the traffic en route to school is awful during that time? There needs to be a phase of exploration in a new place. You cannot be trying to cram everything you are introduced to into a concrete pattern that you are formulating. You need to gather your building blocks first, not constantly build with every block you find, until you realize you have subpar blocks. Stop thinking about routines and start thinking about expanding your arsenal.
“Don’t draw attention to yourself”
You should not be afraid of attention. A crucial part of adapting to a new place is trying new things and exploring. Go to the student council club meeting, then the chess club meeting. Hang out with the football kids, then the tennis kids. Try this restaurant, then that ice cream parlor. Casting a larger net will increase your odds of finding a real, quality student organization, friend group, or food spot that is best for you and your interests. Eyes will be on you because you are “new,” but this attention should not deter you from gaining familiarity with your new surroundings. Doing so will allow you to accumulate options that will be beneficial in ultimately deciding where to invest your time. You are not drawing attention for the attention, but rather as a byproduct of you expanding the cap of your social potential.
“You only get one chance at a first impression”
This one is true, plain and simple. However, not all first impressions are made equal. Meeting Byron in Spanish class is not the same as meeting your parent’s commanding officer. Despite this, we are often only equipped with ancient techniques that do not apply to the modern school setting. When introducing yourself to Byron, you can skip the firm handshake and small talk about the weather. The utmost formality that many military kids are taught prepares you for the utmost formal situations. But everyday life is a few notches below that. Instead, consider spending that one-shot first impression in a more relaxed manner. You should try your best to radiate a sense of calmness, but sincerity when introducing yourself to a new person. When they speak, be an attentive listener. Details about themselves should not be going through one ear and out the other. Yes, you are trying to accumulate building blocks for yourself, but these are real people, with real lives, and real ambitions.
A key strategy is to aim your conversation towards activities or groups that person is involved in, to try and find common interests. If one is found, then feel free to share some of your experiences. If your conversation carries on easily, consider asking for their Snapchat or Instagram to help you “network” in this new social environment. Remember that you and Byron do not have to become best friends. This conversation may be lackluster and go absolutely nowhere. Heck, you may never speak to one another again. However, simply “knowing a guy” and knowing what they are involved in, will help ignite your conversations with other people you meet and give you branches into new friend groups. Be cool, spread out, and always end with “it was nice meeting you.”
“Put others first”
After your first few weeks, it can be easy to feel indebted to those who have taken you under their wing. However, your priorities still need to come first. Determine which activities, groups, and people are most beneficial for you. When choosing where to invest your time, consider which you have the most passion for. Consider which investments will promote successful habits and your own happiness. This may sound selfish or inconsiderate to place your priorities clearly over anyone else’s. You should remember that your investments do not have to be entirely selfish in themselves. Volunteer work, for example, is charitable and fosters personal character growth simultaneously. You have done the hard work of determining the very few constants in your ever-changing life and developing the best ways to adapt to a new place. You deserve to make this decision for yourself. As of now, you do not owe anyone anything. It is similar to the airline demonstrations that say, “Put on your oxygen mask first, then help others.” Remember that at this point you are far more vulnerable than others and you need to cement your footing in a new lifestyle.
As Aerosmith once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Eh – that’s probably too old. As Miley once said, “Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s on the other side, it’s the climb.” As a military kid, you cannot look too far down the road, because that road is uncertain. That is simply a part of the journey that you are going on. Embrace your time in a new place. It is still your childhood and you only have it once. You are tackling problems that many people do not face until they begin college or their careers. That does not make it easier, but it should be a reminder that you are building yourself a better future by gaining these valuable life lessons, even if they are a SLAP to the face.
For those of us who lived in the duplexes of the RGH housing area in Seoul Korea, there was a thriving nighttime community of kids who roamed the streets after curfew, but for me, having a yard that was immaculately kept by the gardener was a struggle most people will never know!
Our gardener Mr. Lee kept our yard so immaculate that the one time I managed to sneak out the window to roam around with everybody, I couldn’t help but leave footprints in the flower bed below my window. Jumping out was easy, getting back in was the problem. I had to step in the flower bed in order to lift myself back up into the window. I was certain I had gotten away with it and was looking forward to doing it again as I slipped under the covers and went to sleep.
The next morning, Mr. Lee had a conversation with my father before he left for work and explained that he had found size 11 sneaker prints in HIS flower bed, which indicated that I had surreptitiously left the house in the night through the window!
Needless to say, when my father got home from work that evening I had to deal with him. He made it clear under no circumstances was I going to be climbing out of HIS window in the middle of the night, and if you remember my father, you know that was not an idle threat.
So for the rest of my time in Korea, I was unable to participate in the after-hours RGH nightlife. While I resented Mr Lee telling my father what I was up to at the time, in retrospect he probably helped keep me out of trouble, although that one night that I did get out was glorious!
What was hilarious that night was that our group passed several other groups of kids who were also roaming around too!
Years later I found out from my younger sister Rhonda that she routinely slipped out of the house and roamed around with her friends at night. If I remember correctly, she didn’t have a flower bed under one of her windows since she lived on the corner of the house.
At one point, my father was offered quarters on the main post at Yongson and asked if we wanted to move, but I was adamant about staying in RGH. Even though we were removed from all of the conveniences and facilities on Yongson, RGH allowed kids to do things that you could never get away with on main post because we didn’t have MPs and there was very little traffic other than our fathers coming and going to work. I’m so glad I got to experience Korea living on RGH.
Please check our Facebook for the latest hours and updates. We are in our Winter Hours--The museum will be open by appointment (weather permitting. Please call (505) 400-3849 24 hours in advance to schedule a visit. We have a suggested donation of $3.00 per person admission. We appreciate your understanding and look forward to your visit. If you prefer to visit us “virtually” please check out our stories and video podcasts at