By Emily Lefler
Located in Vicenza, Italy, the Caserma Ederle military base is home to more than 8,000 military personnel and their families, many of whom are living overseas for the first time in their lives.
Cristina Pease, a military spouse and the center operations specialist at USO Vicenza, is one of these “overseas first-timers” and admits that adjusting to a new normal in Italy was especially difficult for her, despite coming from a big military family.
“Moving away from your family is very traumatizing, especially if you’ve been with them your whole life. So, coming here and being new is completely terrifying,” said Pease, who has been living in Italy for over a year.
“You’re in a place, a new world, and you have no idea what you’re going to face.”
Thankfully, in these moments of transition, USO Vicenza can provide a familiar place for these military families and spouses to gather, relax and socialize with each other – all because of the generous supporters like you.
Finding a Sense of Community at USO Vicenza Spouse Socials
Growing up as a military brat at Fort Campbell, Pease experienced base life first-hand and knows that many people consider the USO and the community surrounding the center to be like a second family.
“They do everything my family has brought me up to stand for, for being there, for providing people with a family when they don’t have a direct family,” Pease said in October 2018.
“Here at USO Vicenza, we’re trying to create that family for everyone. It’s a place that you can come and relax, it’s a place that you can de-stress.”
Building a community in foreign places like Vicenza, Italy, is a pillar of the USO’s mission. It is incredibly important for our military families to experience a sense of connection, especially when they are away from everything they consider familiar to them. That’s why, in addition to providing classic center services, USO Vicenza hosts special events tailored to spouses – called Spouse Socials – that connect military spouses while they’re stationed away from home.
Spouse Socials are designed to get spouses out of the house and so they can communicate with each other, build friendships and build a family-like environment in their new duty station. At the beginning of these events, spouses often arrive a little scared and nervous but often end up leaving the USO with handful of new friends and connections.
“We want to be that foundation, to set up a good time while you’re here, especially if your spouse is leaving [on a deployment or field rotation],” Pease said.
Although the format and focus of Spouse Socials changes event-to-event, the USO staff tries to include Italian cultural activities to gently introduce spouses to their host country’s culture. For example, during the October 2018 Spouse Social event, attendees enjoyed an olive oil tasting led by a local Italian family-owned olive oil company. Participants learned about the different types of olive oil and even got to sample a variety olive oil flavors, in addition to making new friends.
“The Spouse Socials are literally what helped me find friends,” Pease said.
“The Spouse Socials are an amazing way to meet people and get to know people. I think a lot of women really depend on them. These social activities that the USO puts on, it makes us feel welcome.”
Meeting the Need for Spouse Programming Overseas
The importance of building a strong sense of community among spouses in foreign duty stations cannot be understated.
“You have to come together. If you don’t come together [to build your community], you will suffer,” Pease said.
Spouses are not allowed to work overseas, which can be especially challenging for those accustomed to a busy career and unfamiliar with life as a stay-at-home-parent. USO Spouse Socials, like the olive oil tasting, provide spouses with an opportunity to get out of the house, lifting their spirits and helping them feel connected to their community.
“Happy wife, happy life,” said Pamela Zaehler, a USO volunteer. “If the [active duty] person that is out all day comes home and is tired, and [you as the] spouse have been in the house with children, no adult conversation, no intellectual stimulation, it can be rough.”
Zaehler, who was a military spouse for 25 years before her husband retired in 2008, advises spouses to look for organizations like the USO and evenings like Spouse Socials provide them with creative ways to connect and learn about their new home.
“I feel like events like this really help the community, especially where the USO is concerned, because the volunteers at the USO are sort of like an extension of family members,” Zaehler said.
“It’s just that when they see you begin to come in, time after time, they greet you with a smile and ask you personal questions. It’s like have a friend or an uncle or aunt that you can come to and see.”
- Senior Content Marketing Manager Sandi Gohn and former Director of Content Strategy Chad Stewart contributed to this report.
More from the USO
Aug 12, 2019
Two Game-Changing Military Spouse Benefits: USO Coffee Connections and Military Spouse Networking Events
They don't wear camouflage or drive humvees, but military spouses serve in their own way. To help military spouses connect with each other and their community, the USO created Military Spouse Networking Events and Military Coffee Connections.