August 29, 2014

Be a Great Sponsor: Welcome Baskets

When we first moved to Germany, I was so overwhelmed I barely knew up from down. We were without a car, without phones, without a home, and in a foreign country where we didn't know the language. We were exhausted, dealing with a cranky dog and our own jet lag. I feel especially bad for people traveling with kids, I can't even imagine your stress levels!

Luckily, we were blessed with some great people upon our arrival in Germany. Our sponsors made a HUGE difference for us, and we were very lucky to have such wonderful people to show us around. They didn't just help with basic in-processing, they also lent us a vehicle, took us to the grocery store, showed us the local area, and gave us a beautiful welcome basket in our new home. 

I think it's especially important to pay these things forward. All of us find ourselves in unfamiliar situations like this at some point in time, yes? Having caring people to help you adjust is an absolute lifesaver. So if you find yourself in the position to help someone else, please do! Remember how you felt moving to a foreign place, and how uncertain you were of everything around you. Have compassion. Try to do what you can to make that transition easier. Hopefully, the person you help will help someone else down the line.

So with that in mind, here are some ideas to be a great sponsor and provide newcomers with a cool "Welcome To…. (fill in the blank!) Basket". Don't feel obligated to do/buy all of these things. You can do as much or as little as you are comfortable with. This is simply a list of ideas to help you along the way, should you be interested, ok? I've divided the list into two parts: Part 1 includes items that are perfect upon arriving at your hotel. Part 2 includes items that are great when finally moving into housing. 

Here goes! 

Hotel Welcome Basket:

1.  Bus and Shuttle Schedules - Being without a vehicle is an extremely limiting experience. Some people choose to rent a car, others purchase a new vehicle right away. We were lucky enough to borrow a car from our sponsors, but I don't think this happens very often. Help out the new arrivals by including the public transportation schedules when you can. For example, we have an on-post shuttle, as well as one that runs off-post. Using the public transportation for a bit gives people time to settle in and determine what their real needs are, without spending a ton of money. Moving has enough expenses without adding unnecessary ones, don't you agree? Hubs and I managed to survive until our car arrived, with help. This saved us a ton, which therefore allowed us more freedom to set up our household. Lower stress levels also equal better productivity! And, if your newbies can learn to use transportation, then you won't be schlepping them all over the place either. As a sponsor, you can only do so much. 

2. Adapters - Some people may be smart and bring their own adapters with them, but others will not. It's super nice to include one in a welcome basket, just in case. If they are pricey at your location, check your local thrift shop for bargains. You could also add this to the basket as an "on loan" item. Include a cute notecard in the basket that says: 

"These are yours to use for a time,
Until you are settled, 
and then again they'll be mine… 

Others arrive who need these things too,
So please return promptly
And pay forward what's due 

Thanks in advance for your consideration,
It's definitely appreciated
By the newbies at this station!" 

3. Bottled Water & Snacks - Often, us newbies arrive late at night, well after the commissary and restaurants have closed. If you're really unlucky, you arrive during a holiday when everything is shut down for the weekend. How then are you supposed to eat?? Arriving to your hotel room and finding that your sponsor left some snacks and drinks… this is amazing. The long overseas journey can really mess with your schedule, so you often find yourself hungry at bizarre hours. Basic items include things like granola bars, crackers, sandwich fixings (like PB&J, especially if there are kids involved).

4. Phone Numbers - Include a simple list that contains your number as the sponsor, the office phone number, chain of command, etc. This way, if your newbies have questions or get stranded or whatever, they have a handy list to reference for their needs. 

5. Map of Post - This is ever so useful to a newbie! No matter how small the post is, or how easy you think it is to get around, this can be difficult for some people. Like me, ahem. A small, printed map can make an enormous difference. Highlight and label the areas that will be especially helpful the first week: Bank, commissary, fast food, shoppette, ACS, work buildings, housing, offices for internet and phone services. Also helpful, locations of ATMs on post. I know that we travelled with some American money, but we didn't have any euros upon arrival. Point out on the map where cash can be taken out in euros versus American dollars.

6. On Post Facilities - It's possible ACS will have a list you can use, but you can also create one if necessary. Include a list of the most common businesses (like ACS, commissary, PX, etc.), along with their hours of operation. If you've marked these on the map (mentioned above), that's even better! Having come from a much larger post, it was surprising to find a commissary that closed by 6:00 PM. Your newbies might not expect this either.

7. Cell Phone Vendor List - Getting a new cell phone number and service are a high priority when you move overseas. You need to be able to contact people, and have them contact you in return. Include in the welcome basket a list of local cell phone providers, their locations, and a price list (if possible). Often, these companies have pamphlets you can use for this purpose. Mark locations on the map you provided (mentioned above)

8. Helpful Websites - I've gotten some of my best information from local Facebook pages, seriously. Not just ACS or Garrison pages, but also spouse pages, local yardsale pages, etc. Include a list of these in your welcome basket, they're amazingly useful! Also, if your post or FRG does a monthly newsletter, please include the email address so new spouses can get signed up right away. 

9. Local Events / ACS Classes - Taking the "Hallo Hohenfels" class after I arrived in Germany was one of the smartest things I did. Not only did I meet some great ladies, but I learned a lot about my local area. The instructor really took the time to help us acclimate to our new environment. If you can, stop by ACS and include their monthly calendar in your welcome baskets. If there are any other local events, add them too! 

Housing Welcome Basket:

1. Recycling Guide, Bags, & Schedule - I was so, so confused about recycling when I arrived in Germany. Seriously, you can ask our sponsor's wife... I was a total disaster! I don't know why, but getting this right was really important to me. It felt like the world would end if I messed up and put a plastic bottle in the wrong bag. Ridiculous, I know. But I felt that way just the same. So help a girl out and include a recycling guide (ACS offers one here), and some recycling bags (we use yellow and green ones here, and they are free at self help), and the trash pick-up schedule (also available at self help). This may seem small, but could make a huge difference to someone as neurotic as me!

2. Local Snacks - It's always fun to include some local flair. For example, being that we're stationed in Germany, I would likely include some of the famous German chocolates and gummy candies. This gives the new arrivals a little taste of what their life will include now. If you know them well, and know they wouldn't oppose it, including a local beer is fun too.

3. New Home Necessities - Once you're actually moving into housing, there are lots of things you probably need and don't even realize. As a sponsor, take the time and introduce your newbies to the lending closet. This is huge!! Furniture, dishes, pots and pans… all at your disposal. There are other items that no one tells you about when you're living in a foreign country. For example, did you know that our dishwashers here require a special kind of salt, in addition to the regular dishwasher tabs?? Yep, I didn't know either. Luckily, our sponsors were awesome and provided a container of the special salt at our new home, and then explained to us what it was for. 

So, if you know about all these odd, little things… tell your new arrivals! If you don't want to purchase those items, you certainly don't have to. Perhaps give them a list instead, and take the time to show them around at the local store.

4. GPS Addresses - Keep a list of handy GPS addresses for each housing area. For example, what is the closest grocery store, hardware store, churches, and restaurants? Possibly include your favorite shopping areas and clothing stores as well. And don't forget the address for the closest train station!

5. Take Out Menus - A small packet of menus is invaluable when you first move into housing. Especially when you've moved overseas and don't have any of your household goods available to you. Of course, you can always go to the lending closet and borrow items. But it's nice not to cook once in a while. In our town, we have both a Chinese place and a Greek restaurant that offer pick-up for takeout food.

6. Local Contacts - If there are people from the same unit in the same housing area, introduce everyone. Swap contact information. It's nice to have someone close by, like a neighbor, to ask for help when you need it. Let's be there for each other!

7. Self Help List - After you move into overseas housing, self help is your best friend. They have lawn tools, light bulbs, drills, and so much more. It took a long time for us to learn what was offered there. A handy list would have been beyond helpful. Since the items at self help can change often based on funding, make a note that not all items may be available (this helps curb disappointment). 

Do you have suggestions or additions for these welcome baskets? What have you included in the past, or what do you wish had been included in yours? Feel free to comment below with your ideas and suggestions. Until next time, my friends!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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