Military Life in Europe

Life was normal last February. The kids were busy with activities, and our family was looking forward to exploring France during Ski Week. We began our holiday with a family trip to Paris. Paris streets normally pulsating with life were empty.  We heard rumblings in the news about a virus in China that was spreading into Europe and affecting Italy. Hospitalizations and death rate notifications began to light up our phones. This was not a normal virus. A horrific pandemic was quickly spreading across the globe. It was unpredictable and unprecedented. We cut our holiday short and came home.

Back home in Belgium, the following Monday, we sent the kids to school.  As the week progressed, things took a drastic turn.

By the weekend, the country had gone into lockdown. Only grocery stores and pet food stores remained open. A national order had been put in place allowing only one adult to shop for the family. Only essential personnel were authorized to go to work. Restrictions were tight, travel was no longer allowed, playgrounds had been roped off, and exercise was limited to the walking route within 5 KM of our homes.

Police began patrolling the villages and ticketing those who were not following the rules.

With no notice, the DODEA schools across Europe sprang into action and transitioned all curriculum to a virtual platform. The teachers and administrators quickly organized and distributed textbooks and laptops, posted online tutorials for parents and students, launched school websites with schedules and links, and began teaching via Google Classroom with unprecedented speed.

We were so lucky to be a military family.

The kids had already struggled with the move to Belgium from the U.S.  We were a year into living in Belgium and had left behind a neighborhood full of kids, bike rides to school, and English.

We found ourselves now living in the middle of an old European village, with few children and francophones in every direction. We had spent every weekend we could exploring Europe, providing the kids fresh new experiences and an appreciation for their new home.

Initially, when we broke the news to them that they would not be back in the classroom, they were thrilled. The prospect of hanging out at home with us, playing video games, and eating their way through the day was exciting. Disappointment settled in when they were given their daily assignments and remote meeting times.

The entire spring semester was unseasonably sunny, and we could not have been luckier given that a Belgian spring is typically wet and gray.

As a family, we went for long walks and bike rides. We experimented with recipes in the kitchen. We made faux stained-glass creations on the windows. We built puzzles, and we played a lot of board games.

We slowed down.

It was nice to be able to just exist without all the extra noise of work, school, and the million after-school activities that the kids were always involved in.

Around the time school ended, the borders began to open back up. We took full advantage and scheduled big trips for the summer.

We drove to Denmark and explored Copenhagen. We drove to Switzerland and hiked all around Interlaken. Our trips were somewhat normal, except for the masks we wore everywhere we went, and the amount of hand sanitizer we used.

We had one final trip to Italy that we were excited about. A week before we were to leave, we received emails from many of our planned stops informing us that they were closing. We were disappointed and grew concerned about the possibility of another lockdown.

Good news came, and school would be in session again!

The kids were so excited to see their friends. Still, school has been very different.

Social distancing has been at the forefront. The students take “fresh air breaks,” eat lunch in the classroom, and specialists come to them. You would never know it’s any different than they have ever had because all the kids are happy.

I have not heard a single child complain. These military children from all over the world have adapted without blinking, proving that military children are incredibly resilient and special.

As we look toward the remainder of the school year, we know that this period in our lives will remain forever memorable.

We have learned above everything else that the most critical aspects in our lives are not material but rather the interactions we have with one another. DODEA Europe West recognizes that amid the pandemic children are not just learning the curriculum, they are learning to problem solve and adapt at a level far greater than generations before them.

Whether in the classroom or on the playground, these military kids were born to succeed.

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