What’s next? Adjusting to your new place after a PCS

August 12, 2019

By: Sarah Steward, MS*

A permanent change of station (PCS) can be one of the toughest—and exciting—transitions for military families. Though you might focus a lot on the actual move and how to make sure it runs smoothly, remember there will still be some work after you arrive to make your new location feel like home. I talked with Tammy, an Army spouse, about what it’s like to adjust after a PCS. Tammy and her family (including 1 kiddo, 2 cats, and a dog) recently made a big move across the country, and they have some experience and tips to share for other military families trying to get settled in a new spot.

Sarah: Tell me about your recent PCS.
Tammy: We moved from Bethesda, MD to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. It was a big change since we moved from a base without on-base housing to living on base. We’ve been here a month now.

Sarah: What’s been your favorite part about moving to a new location?
Tammy: Taking a vacation along the way. We had a long move, so instead of pushing all the way there as quickly as possible, we alternated a day or two of driving and then a couple of days somewhere fun—either visiting friends or sightseeing. We planned fun stops along the way so our kiddo got out of the car. We set up our dog at some doggie daycares (recommended by friends) along the route, so he could get some energy out too.
We also really enjoy our new neighborhood. We got lucky, and our new housing has a park right in our backyard and a ton of families with kids of similar ages to our own. Since we’re on base, everyone is military and understands about the challenges of settling into a new place and having a crazy military schedule.

Sarah: What’s been the toughest part of adjusting to a new place?
Tammy: Having no schedule and all our stuff packed for so long made things difficult for our daughter. We had to live in an empty house for a week before we moved, then spent 10 days driving and staying in hotels, and then spent another 3 weeks in a hotel while we waited for our housing. 

Dealing with all of that and the schedule disruptions made her pretty cranky, and that made us cranky as well. We did our best to get back to our normal routine as quickly as possible once we got here.
It’s been pretty difficult to find all the basics (favorite grocery store, new daycare, doctor, hair salon, etc.) again too. I end up putting off doing things because I’m tired of not knowing where to go without asking around or looking up new places.

Sarah: What strategies have you (or your family members) used to help feel at home in a new city?
Tammy: Go explore. We went on a few hikes. We also hit up the zoo, a few museums, and a splashpad in the first few weeks. My husband’s schedule wasn’t as busy, so we explored as much as possible. That way, when we have a spontaneous day off later, we already have some favorite places to visit.
Also, we go really hard unpacking the first 2 days after our household goods (HHG) arrive. It’s enough time for us to have most of our house set up right away. That way, we can feel more at home as soon as possible, and we use whatever extra time we have—before work and school schedules get crazy—to go do fun things.

Sarah: What advice or tips can you share with other military families to help make things smoother and easier?
Tammy: I like to find Facebook groups for the new base and/or new neighborhood. I spend some time going back through old posts to get a feel for who lives in the neighborhood, where people like to go for different services (hair salon, kids’ extracurriculars, etc.), and what events are happening. And if I still have specific questions, I reach out and ask what people recommend.
Also, if you had a routine before your move, try to get into your new routine as quickly as possible after the move. It’s sometimes hard to get out of “vacation mode” or “move mode,” but having that routine helps me feel settled.

And, again—go explore! Meet your neighbors. Find restaurants you love, a church (if that’s your thing), a new yoga studio, or a favorite walking path—whatever. The sooner you get out, start meeting people, and seeing things, the faster you’ll feel connected to your new community.

My last suggestion is to make a bucket list for your new duty station, especially if you know you’ll only be there for a certain amount of time. Do some reading or talk with people to find out what great things are near your new duty station or what events will be taking place. The MWR office is also a terrific resource for ideas and sometimes even discounted tickets. 

Even if it’s a bit outside of your comfort zone, you might find a new thing you love. If you’re used to the big city and love museums, but all you can find are some small-town festivals and an apple orchard, go anyway. You might find something you never knew you loved, meet your new BFF, or create a new tradition for your family.

----- About Author -----
Sarah Steward, of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, is an Education Specialist for the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences or the United States Department of Defense.

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