By Emily Lefler

Editor’s note: As of December 31, 2018, the USO Kaiserslautern cooking classes have been discontinued. The USO will continue to provide other support and programming for military spouses and families.

When an active duty service member is permanently assigned to a new station, their spouse and family usually goes with them, leaving behind their community, friends and culture.

It is often a daunting experience for these military families to uproot their lives and move to a new place – especially if their new assignment is overseas in a foreign country like Germany. As many families settle into their new home, they face issues such as language barriers, cultural differences, not knowing many people and not having a familiar community to lean on.

But thanks to the generous donations from supporters like you, in Germany at USO Kaiserslautern, the USO offers many opportunities to help military spouses and families adjust to their new environment and build community – one of which is a German cooking class.

Offered twice a month at Kapaun Air Station, these popular German cooking classes are free for active duty service members, military spouses and their families.

During each class, German instructors share recipes and cooking techniques that are prominent in German culture, focusing on using local ingredients and seasonal produce that can be found in the area. The instructors also incorporate dishes from surrounding countries that are considered popular in Germany, such as French and Italian recipes.

Beth Gross, a program coordinator at USO Kaiserslautern, has been working with this program and its instructors for 20 years.

“What better way to get to know a country than through its food, through the natural things that are growing in the area? Most of our recipes focus on seasonal items that can be purchased fresh in the local markets,” Gross said in September 2018.

Attendees are also given tips, information and resources that they can use to adjust to their new home, including a list of affordable grocery stores, markets with the best produce, measurement conversion rates and translations of different food and household items for when they go shopping off-base.

The cooking classes also teach military spouses and families how to use ingredients that aren’t always found in the commissary on base, encouraging them to go off-base and immerse themselves in the local culture while looking for ingredients. This also helps them familiarize themselves with the country’s language.

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Military spouses enjoy food at a cooking demonstration at Kaiserslautern, Germany.

“It’s fun, you get to learn the different styles of cooking,” said Rebekah Bennett, a military spouse stationed in Germany with her husband and three children.

“You grow up learning one specific way to do things, so this is a great way to learn the different culture’s style, the way they cut things, the way they cook them, everything is very different.”

The USO is one of the only organizations in the area that offers these classes for free to our service members. Typically a cooking class costs around $75, a hefty price tag for military families. Bennett, who has been living in Germany for three years, reflected on the convenience of these USO German cooking classes.

“It doesn’t put a financial burden on anybody to say, ‘I really wanna take this class but do I have enough money?’ It’s nice knowing [that] it’s on base, I know how to get there and I won’t have to worry about the cost of it. That’s really nice.”

Military spouses attend the class to learn about cooking local dishes, but they leave with something much more valuable – new connections and plenty of tips to help them adjust to their new home. The class promotes an open dialogue between attendees, where they can ask questions, share advice, form friendships and build connections with each other.

“You also get to meet some really cool people in class,” Bennet said.

“[During] the last class, I met somebody who was brand new here [and] we exchanged numbers after, so it was fun to not only get to learn some cool things about German culture, but to meet other people.”

Establishing a sense of community, especially in a new environment, is incredibly important for military families. It can get lonely for military families stationed far away from everything they’re familiar with. The USO facilitates the important connections that strengthen our service members, military spouses and their children, even when they are halfway across the globe.

Beth Gross has seen firsthand the importance of providing these immersive German cooking classes, describing the class as “an initiation to Germany for newcomers.”

“That is very rewarding for me, not just in the cooking classes but in all of the classes. Even though this is held on base, we’re connecting them to the culture off-base as well,” Gross said.

- Senior Content Marketing Manager Sandi Gohn and former Director of Content Strategy Chad Stewart contributed to this report.