BY: BRUNELLA COSTAGLIOLA
Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers - The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus
So, you married into the American military, huh? Yep, so did I. Only it took me some time to figure out what that actually meant. You see, I met my husband 11 years ago in Naples, Italy. At the time, I had no idea what starting a relationship with an American service member meant or entailed.
After all, I was only 22 years old, about to graduate with my Bachelor's degree, and applying for a Master's degree at Leiden University, in the Netherlands. I remember telling my mother, after only one week of dating my airman, that I was going to marry that man. My mother was happy and believed in us as a couple. However, she, too, had no idea what my words meant back then.
We got engaged after a year of dating and, even though I said yes to his proposal, I told him he had to wait for me to finish school before walking down the aisle.
He agreed and tried his best to stay in Europe to be close to me while I earned not one, but two Master's degrees (Hello, my name is Brunella and I am an overachiever). When his time in Naples was coming to an end, he applied for a special duty assignment that would take him to England and, when the news arrived that he had been accepted for it, we were over the moon. After graduating, I moved in with him and, while planning our wedding, I gained a certificate to teach English as a second language from Cambridge University.
In April 2011, I officially became a military spouse. That same month, I also became a foreign military spouse. Let's pause here, shall we?!
The moment I married the man I loved was the moment I finally understood what it meant "marrying into the American military". Our wedding day was the beginning of many changes in my life, and what caught me off guard the most was coming to the realization that I had no control over basically any of them.
For starters, I was bombarded with acronyms, military lingo, and American expressions they certainly didn't teach you in school! Whenever I tried to mingle at squadron events, the first question I was usually asked was, "Wow, you have an accent. Where are you from?" To be honest with you, I had no idea I even had an accent.
As I was walking this unfamiliar ground, I tried to vent with my family and friends back at home, only to come to the realization that they couldn't possibly understand—let alone relate to—what I was going through and feeling.
"My husband is deploying to the Middle East for six months and I am going to be all alone in the States for the first time…"
"Oh well the word in Italian for it would be… ehm… do we have a word in Italian to describe that?!"
Our conversations got lost in translation. Eventually, our conversations regarding the military and my husband's job just stopped. Fast-forward a few years and you find me sitting in my living room feeling like I was no longer part of my community back home because I was facing events they just couldn't comprehend, nor did I fully belong to the military crowd because I wasn't American. The proverbial fish out water.
Was I destined to always feel like an outsider, even when I went back home? I had almost resigned to the thought. In the military community I was known as "The Italian Wife," and back in Italy my family called me "The American". See what I mean?
Then, one day, as I surfed the web aimlessly trying to find a way to get my real and authentic Italian food delivered to my frozen door in the middle of a North Dakota winter, I came across the Foreign Military Spouse Association website and the wonderful woman that is Juliette, the founder. I swear at that moment I heard angels sing. I couldn't believe it: I had found my tribe!
If you are reading this blog post on the Foreign Military Spouse Association website, chances are you can relate to this feeling. Probably you are not even from Italy, or Europe. But that doesn't matter. Because you know what it means to have a foreign land become your native country and the country of your birth a land of strangers. Yet, you adjust. You sacrifice. You learn. You carry within you your cultural pride and heritage that make you so unique. You thrive. So to you, fellow foreign spouse, I tell you with great joy:
Welcome to the Tribe!