By Ms. Jessica Marie Ryan (IMCOM Europe)August 11, 2017
CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- Moving to a new country can be daunting. Understanding a new language, shopping at a local grocery store and ordering a meal at a restaurant are just some of the processes newcomers must learn quickly.
To bridge those knowledge gaps, Army Community Service's Relocation Readiness program supports newcomers to the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux communities. As newcomers entered the ACS centers during in-processing, they are informed about programs and classes which can help them transition to their new duty station.
One particular class, the Host Nation Orientation, is a "crash course" on community resources, Belgian culture and communication. At a garrison with geographically-dispersed communities, the orientation is tailored for the local area.
In the SHAPE and Chièvres communities, the orientation is a two-day course held at the ACS building on SHAPE. Lindita Celaj, the ACS relocation readiness manager, instructs the course. On its first day, newcomers are briefed about different agencies and programs in the two areas. In the afternoon, Celaj gets in front of the classroom to discuss hot topics that were on everyone's minds: Belgian culture, customs and the French language.
"We have a cultural adaption class which helps integrate the newcomers to the language and the culture of this country," said Celaj.
"I'm helping them with the culture shock, especially for those coming for the first time overseas."
During a session on August 7, class attendees, including active-duty service members, family members and Department of Defense civilians, asked questions ranging from how to use the European train system to how to pronounce certain words in French. As the first day finished, Celaj informed students on the orientation's second-day trip to Mons, the neighboring city.
THE CITY EXCURSION
Gray clouds filled the morning sky as the newcomers put on their rain gear and grabbed their umbrellas and euros for the excursion in Mons. Meeting again at SHAPE, Celaj and her volunteers led the group to the nearby bus stop and boarded a bus headed toward the downtown area.
The tour's first stop is in Delhaize, a grocery store. Celaj and the group walked through the aisles to view local products. Afterwards, they walked to the CHU Ambroise Paré, the city hospital. The group toured the facility to learn how to check into the hospital, especially if they needed to use emergency room services in the future.
The tour continued as Celaj and her volunteers pointed out city landmarks, restaurants and shops. Newcomers also visited the famous sites, including the Belfry and Collégiale Sainte-Waudru, and had lunch at a restaurant in Grand Place.
Army Lt. Col Amy Jackson, deputy commander for administration for the SHAPE Army Health Clinic, and her daughter Kaitlyn were among the attendees. After arriving from San Antonio, Texas, two weeks ago, the pair was still adjusting to their first overseas move. They found the course was helpful in understanding the community.
"The [Mons] trip was really beneficial, because it gave us the opportunity to exercise the information that we were accumulating throughout Host Nation Orientation," said Amy. "Doing this orientation early on gets you started in the right direction."
Amy believed that moving to Belgium will be a culturally-enriching experience, especially for her daughter.
"It's remarkable that she [my daughter] is nine years old, and she's getting this experience," she said. "I think this will be something she will never forget."
During the trip, Kaitlyn rubbed the famous monkey statue in Mons and ate an authentic Belgian waffle. To her, living in a new country means having more stories to tell people, and as a result, a more interesting life.
"I'm glad that I got this opportunity to go and see so much that other kids whose parents are not in the military or their parents aren't civilian employees in the military don't see," said Kaitlyn. "I really like it here, and I think that this will be a cool adventure."
Amy already noticed the support is getting from the local community.
"Being in the OCONUS environment feels more family oriented," she said. "People are willing to share their experiences and to help others. It was really refreshing to see so many people are interested in helping each other."
As the excursion ended in the afternoon, Celaj reminded the newcomers that ACS is always there to help them.
For her, it was rewarding to meet the newcomers and answer their questions.
"It is a pleasure to meet all the newcomers and to help and support them," she said. "We will always be available to help and support our newcomers."
To learn more about USAG Benelux Army Community Service programs and to register for an upcoming Host Nation Orientation, visit https://benelux.armymwr.com.