The Working Military Spouse

CONTRIBUTED BY SIBO LUNGU

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Put on your big girl panties.” When I became a military spouse, I scoured the internet for information about what it’s like, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I saw that phrase of advice quite a bit. I never quite understood it until my first challenge came along. Without argument, deployments are very difficult, but second to that, for me, was my career.

I met my spouse post-undergrad, mid-masters degree, and several years into my career. I loved my IT job and even if I knew we would be moving eventually and was happy about the adventures we would be having, I hoped I would always be able to work in my field and continue to attain my professional goals. Just like he would continue to work in his area, we hoped I would be able to continue to work in mine.

Then my husband’s orders to Korea arrived. And now, three months later, I find myself working in a completely unrelated field to my profession.

I am very grateful that I was able to find a job in Korea and I enjoy it so much now but I have to be honest, there were moments I moaned and groaned and sighed and sulked at the thought of quitting my job. The move was an exciting thought, but what about my job?! I do have hobbies, but we have no kids and no pets and unfortunately I am no domestic goddess. Coincidentally, my husband is (a domestic god, not goddess that is!), so I am without doubt the wrong half of this partnership to be left at home all day long! In the end it came down to very simple logic. Jobs come and go, but our time together is priceless. So I quit my job.

My frustration was realistic because between the visa situation, the language barrier, and the short year–long tour in Korea, there was very little chance that I would get a job in my field. Many military spouses, even in the US, face job challenges so coming to a foreign country makes it even more so.

I have met several wives and read some articles by military spouses in the same boat so I thought I would share some of the options I found when deciding how I would spend my year in Korea.

Off Base Work

Once his orders to Korea came, I knew I was going to work. I didn’t know how, but I was determined. I had put on my “big girl panties” without even knowing it! I did try to network on LinkedIn, and I put out my resume on job sites for virtual work from the US, and I also looked for work with Korean companies. Unfortunately, nothing worked out.

So I settled on plan B. Teaching English as a second language (ESL). I am sure many have read about this option as it is very common for foreigners to come to Korea to teach English to Koreans. I researched the option and quickly learned that I qualified for the positions.

The requirements are simple: You must be a citizen of 1 of the 5 defined “native English-speaking” countries (USA, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and UK). You must have an undergraduate degree in any field (public schools require it to be a teaching or English degree and sometimes an ESL teaching certification is required). Notarized transcripts and certificates are required. And lastly, you must have all the Korean visa procurement documents: a valid passport and a notarized FBI background check. It sounded simple enough to me so I began to gather my documents before we left for Korea.

The process was not complicated at all. Dare I say it was actually pretty easy. I applied for a job I found online and they called me the same day to schedule an interview the next day. By the third day, I was offered the job. The longest part of the process was the FBI check I had incorrectly predicted would take a month, but took two months. However, once I had that in hand, the Korean immigration gave me my work permit and I was working within a week.

Some sites to look for jobs are: Dave’s ESL Café www.eslcafe.com, www.craigslist.org, and doing a Google search for ESL recruiting companies in Korea. There are more jobs in Seoul, but some are available the in Pyeongtaek area.

On-base work

Dealing with foreign immigration officers and working off-base in a foreign land is not everyone’s cup of tea so thankfully there are resources available on-base to help with the on-base job search. I used www.USAJobs.com which has listings of federal jobs available in the US and on many military installations. It may just be me, but I found that the open-apply periods vary, and it takes a while to receive a response. I have already applied for the job at my husband’s follow-on just in case.

There is also, www.nafjobs.org which is also a federal job search site that lists jobs available on many air force installations. The website also includes part-time job options like those at the commissary, bowling alley, and other centers on base that need civilian staff. It is worth checking both federal job websites to see what’s available.

Lastly, Blue Star families http://www.bluestartfam.org has partnered with Odesk (an online job matching company) which has employers posting various virtual short or long term work. It is contract work. Wages are negotiable with the employer based on level of effort for the task/project and your expertise. Most of the jobs are for administrative support, information technology, graphics design, and editing: Basically work that can be done remotely.

I came from the private sector and read that the federal resume is a bit different. Luckily, the Airmen and Family Readiness Center (AFRC) hosts workshops that can help one to create a resume and go about looking for a federal job.

Home based business

Some of the spouses on base have home-based businesses such as Avon, Pampered Chef or Scentsy. There are rules and procedures about how to get started since the business will be conducted on the installation. There is a Facebook home based business page called Osan AB Spouses Home Businesses. It looks like a fun way to make some money, meet people, and still have a flexible schedule. The downside of me working now is that I no longer have free time during the week to explore the area. Hence, home based-businesses are a great option for some spouses.

The AFRC also holds workshops for entrepreneurship topics like business planning.

Volunteering

Volunteering, at least for me, was usually curbed with the excuse that I didn’t have enough time. Well, upon moving to Korea I had just been handed 365 days of nothing but time! The base has many options available. I am sure I have not mentioned them all, but these are some of the options that I found when I inquired at the Osan AB AFRC.

  • Red Cross
  • Community Center
  • Thrift Store
  • Blue Star Families
  • Youth Center
  • Animal shelter on base
  • Orphanages (off-base)

Other

I was chatting to the lady who did my wedding decor and when I told her I was going to Korea, she started telling me about her years in Japan with her husband when she was a stay-at-home wife. She said she used her time there to take several crafting and decorating courses and so now, in her early retirement, runs her own wedding planning business.

This post was about my career change as a military spouse, but that’s not to say that there aren’t many other things one can do to spend their days here. We all have different situations and reasons to work or not to work, and sometimes our options are limited. However, I don’t think anyone can argue that having something fun and useful to do during the day, whatever that may be, makes life more pleasant.

I see posts about women who knit, sew, bake and do photography and it is inspiring! I am still getting used to the fact that I am no longer working in my dream job and even though I do hope to get back into it soon, I do feel encouraged to see that I can learn something new too. For me, a big lesson was to be open-minded. I think I now understand what the phrase “Put on your big girl panties” means once you marry a military member. Buckle up, work with what you got, and enjoy the ride!

One thought on “The Working Military Spouse

  1. Jennylyn says:

    Hi,

    My husband and I are going to PCS to Korea early next year, and I also have a problem about finding a job there. Did you apply for an English teacher position when you were already in Korea or you applied while you were still in the US? Also, we are still contemplating if we should do command sponsorship or not. Am I allowed to find a job off-post even if I am command sponsored? Thank you.

    Best,

    Jennylyn

    Like

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