Whether you are in the military, work for a government agency or the DoD, or are a Contractor, you may at some point have an opportunity to take an overseas assignment. Here are some reasons why this may be a great idea. If you are in the military, you may not have a choice, but a lot of this will still apply, so you may want to keep reading. I am an advocate for overseas/OCONUS PCS opportunities, and I will provide some personal examples that demonstrate why you should seriously consider an OCONUS assignment.
Reason #1 to work overseas: build exceptional relationships
When you work OCONUS, you almost always have no family nearby. This could be a problem, but no, your co-workers become your family. Think about it: everyone is in the exact same situation as you are. What does everyone do for holiday get-togethers, barbeques, or celebrations? You get together with your new family – the people you work with. I recall one Thanksgiving in England when we had a large gathering at my house. The food we had varied from traditional to BBQ provided by a brother from Georgia, and even Thai food from a guy who was dating a local girl who worked at the Thai restaurant! Your co-workers become family to you and your family. You really get to know these people through work and after-hours social activities, and you know them well. Bonds are established so tight that 20, 30, or even 40 years later, they are considered close friends. You simply do not build relationships like that while working within the U.S., or, if you do, it is very rare. Next month I have a reunion to go to where those of us who worked and lived at a base in Europe years ago are getting together to catch up and see one another. In attendance will be one of our base commanders who told me, “We loved our time over there, and it was the people who made it so special.” Here is the thing about close friends: even if you do not see each other for 10 years, when you do see them, you take up right where you left off. These are the types of friends that you develop by taking an OCONUS assignment, and your life is richer for it.
It is not just the people you work with that you come to know and value. Living in a foreign community means that you will meet and get to know people from the local area, whether neighbors, people from church or other community activities, other parents from school, that sort of thing. My sons each had separate trips to Europe in the last few years and they were able to meet up with and hang out with friends they met while going to school in Europe. When you visit a foreign country for a week or two, you get a glimpse of what life there might be like. However, if you live there and become part of that community, you really find out what it is like and get to experience an entirely new culture and way of life.
Reason #2 to work overseas: Professional Opportunity
By working overseas, I was able to grow professionally more than at any other time in my career. Maybe it was because there were fewer people and we had to figure things out for ourselves. If you saw a problem, you could often come up with a solution on your own, present it, gain buy-in, and institute it. When you have a group of diverse people all focused on the same mission, a lot can be accomplished, and it is absolutely a lot of fun.
I also had the opportunity to play sports at a higher level than can easily be obtained state-side. In my late 20’s and 30’s, I played baseball for the base team, themselves a dominant member of the British Baseball Federation (BBF). Being one of the better teams, we were asked to play against the British Olympic Team (who crushed us, by the way). I also played on the base basketball team and we played other bases, towns, and university teams. Then, as can be had in a vibrant community, we had football, softball, and basketball intramural seasons and teams with names like “Die Hard,” “Runway,” and “Old School” where more fun was had, beverages were consumed, and lasting memories were made. We also had a base band where I played keyboards, drums, and guitar for base gatherings. All of this opportunity to do more and enjoy life.
Reason #3 to work overseas: A memorable experience for your Family
My kids basically grew up in Europe, with short stints back in the U.S. for visits of 2 or 3 weeks for vacation or 8-12 months between assignments (as happened twice). This is not an ordinary upbringing. However, both are now well-adjusted adults with a perspective on the world that is certainly not typical for the average American. Both are married, and one has provided me with a couple of wonderful grandchildren. They are now fearless travelers. The boys told me that they loved how they grew up and would not have changed a thing about it. My wife was able to obtain a clearance and join me at work on base. Our whole family now has friends in Europe. Because of social media, I have been able to watch the kids that my kids grew up with, went to school with, and the children to whom I taught Sunday School, grow up, marry, and have their own children, all from over 3,000 miles away.
Reason #4 to work overseas: A New Perspective
By taking an OCONUS assignment, you really gain a new perspective on the world. You find that different cultures and experiences reinforce what you come to know, that we are all part of humanity with hopes and dreams and fears, no matter what country we are from. You learn to celebrate the differences, the things that make us all unique as individuals and as cultures. An opportunity like this makes a lifetime of enjoyable memories.