WIESBADEN, Germany, August 18, 2014 – The first things you notice when you walk into Sara Clow’s office are the mounted photographs of German scenes on the wall – close-up of a Riesling vine and a scenic overview of Rüdesheim. The scene is characteristic of her philosophy behind the Army Community Services’ Relocation Readiness program, which she manages: Enjoy your host country and enjoy each other, especially as family members.
Clow aims to “breathe some new life” into the program, which includes host nation orientation; sponsorship training; German language classes; English as a second language classes; relocation tours of Wiesbaden, grocery stores, vineyards and more; Spouse Chat and Hearts Apart forums; and a lending closet for items to be borrowed until household goods arrive.
Clow, a social worker by trade, a military spouse and a newcomer to Germany herself, is particularly interested in fostering community through programs like Spouse Chat and combating isolation, which she says is prevalent. She often hears from family members that it’s expensive to have fun in Germany, and that the language barrier deters excursions off-post.
But once they engage in Relocation Readiness programs, they might just meet a friend, she said. Relocation Readiness is about “teaching them to try.”
“I want to get people out of their stairwells, talking to humans instead of just typing to them” in Facebook groups, for example, said Clow. “We’re trying to crack the code to reach spouses. It’s hard to say, ‘Come out, there are going to be other spouses there just like you.'”
The revamped host nation orientation will replace out Culture College, as it is known, in order to standardize the program across European garrisons. The new program started in May and is mandatory for service members, taught every Tuesday.
Sponsorship for service members and spouses is also integral to a smooth start in Germany, said Clow. Criss Davenport, a spouse and information and referral specialist at ACS, knows all too well after a “really bad” experience coming to Germany. Her family’s sponsor never showed up at the airport, leaving her, her husband, child, dog and 12 bags upon their first arrival in Europe.
“I really wanted to make sure another family didn’t have to go through that,” said Davenport, who know volunteers as a spouse sponsor. “But it got better, much better. I didn’t know how in-depth [sponsorship] was until I met Jodi (ACS Relocation Readiness technician). It gave me the warm fuzzies.”
Now Davenport serves as a spouse sponsor since spouses are not required to have one, as service members are. Most concerns center on housing, schools, neighborhoods and the bus system. She refers newcomers to the numerous programs and services offered by ACS so they can “get their sea legs.”
“I think the biggest stumbling block is the unknown,” she continued. “I call them when they’re still stateside just so they can hear a friendly voice. They get spooked thinking they’re going to step off the plane with nobody there for them. But we let them know, ‘We’re here, and we’re going to get you squared away.”
“It’s like having a friend before you get here, having someone show you around,” added Joana Linares, a spouse sponsor volunteer. “That’s a nice feeling.”