By Danielle DeSimone
Picture this: it’s your first day of school. The hallways are full of your fellow students, all chatting and laughing and moving through the halls with the confidence of kids who have clearly been here before.
But you’ve never been here. In fact, this is your third new school in 2 years, and you’re completely lost. You don’t know where your classroom is. You don’t know any of the other students, and maybe you’re too shy to ask them for help. You don’t even know which adults to ask for help, or which one might be your teacher. And since it’s the middle of the school year, you’re already nervous about catching up on all the reading and homework.
To make things even worse, you’re still a little bit jet-lagged from the flight here. This morning, you woke up in a room with completely blank walls. All of your things – from the stuffed animals you’ve had since you were two, to the books you love to read every night – still have not arrived in your new home. They won’t arrive for another three months, and until then, you’ll continue to sleep on a bed that’s been loaned out to your family, which squeaks every time you turn in your sleep.
As you stand frozen in that school hallway, you feel your throat tightening as all of it hits you at once: unsure of which hallway to walk down, homesick for the friends you left behind, completely alone, wishing your parent could just pick you up early, too afraid to ask another student for directions, wishing someone – anyone – would show you where you belong.
The bell rings and you jolt forward, scrambling to find your classroom. As a military kid, the only thing you can do is keep moving.
Making Friends 101 as a Military Kid
Victoria Hegedusich sits inside the USO Yokosuka Center in Japan. She’s just nine years-old, but when asked where she’s from, she already has multiple answers. After all, as a military kid, “home” is just your latest duty station.
“I’m from America,” Victoria says, confidently. Specifically, California.
But by age nine, aside from California, Victoria has also lived in Maine and Japan – and she’ll most likely move four or five more times before she graduates high school, as military families, on average, move every 2.5 years.
But today, at least, here in Japan, she’s home.
When Victoria first moved to Yokosuka, Japan, with her family, her school was still teaching classes virtually, and everything was online.
“But then [school] started in real life, so I was kind of nervous,” Victoria said.
Studies have shown that aside from adjusting to the actual layout of their new schools, the top stressor for military children when moving to a new school is learning to navigate already-established social groups, as well as making and maintaining friendships. It’s natural – and extremely common – for military students like Victoria to feel nervous about starting school.
But luckily, Victoria has made several good friends since arriving in Japan – in fact, Victoria explained that making new friends has been one of her favorite things about this duty station. And she has strong opinions on how, exactly, one should go about it:
“Don’t be a bully and don’t be mean.”
The Realities of Military Life
Another stressor for military children can be the ups and downs of their military parent’s job.
Victoria has nothing but glowing things to report on her dad’s role in the U.S. Navy. Victoria explained that her father “fixes ships” in the Navy, and has previously gone out to sea on deployment. She loves that her father’s job and her role as a military child means she gets to travel.
But there are some downsides to that travel as well. Victoria explained that one part about her father’s job that can be difficult is how much their family must move. The constant changes can make life as a military kid challenging.
“I have to leave friends I already made in different places,” she said.
However, like many other military children, Victoria is resilient. When her father is deployed, he has limited ways to stay in touch with his family. And so instead, Victoria focuses on the here and now: specifically, she focuses on spending quality time with her mother and her brothers. Victoria explained that when her father is out to sea, her mom will set aside one-on-one time with her.
“I like to snuggle with her and I like to go on mother-daughter dates with her,” Victoria said.
Even when in a foreign country and juggling the role of solo parent to multiple children while their family member who serves is out to sea, military spouses like Victoria’s mom are still able to make sure their children feel loved and cared for amidst the chaos.
A big part of that can be leaning on the resources available to the people who serve and their military families during challenging times – and that includes the USO.
Victoria and her family are frequent visitors at the USO Yokosuka Center on base. Here, Victoria, her brothers and her mother are greeted by a team of friendly and welcoming USO staff and volunteers. Here, they can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, snacks, books and games that are at every USO Center at our more than 250 locations around the globe. And like many other USO Centers, USO Yokosuka also hosts events and programs geared specifically to military children and families, which provide these military community members with both entertainment and support when they are in a location that is so far from home.
“The USO is really fun,” Victoria said. “I like coming here to do the activities.”
She has especially loved any USO children’s events and programs that involve science.
Moving to a new place and starting in a new school can be overwhelming. For many military children, sometimes the only constant in their life is change, which means that these moves – to a new house, a new school, new friends, even a new country – can be disorienting. If their person who serves in their family is deployed, that can be even more unsettling.
At the USO, we aim to be a constant, unwavering source of support for military kids like Victoria. Here in Japan, she has a community and a place to turn to at the USO that feels like a home away from home. And no matter where her military family’s service may take her next, she’ll know that when she sees that familiar red, white and blue USO sign, she can walk through the doors and find the same exciting activities and chances to make new friends as her last duty station. We’re with Victoria, every step of the way.
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