Strangers in a strange land
By Robert Fox, For the 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 30, 2006
SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Military families are accustomed to moving from base to base as their assignments change.
But, when that assignment takes them "across the pond," there's a lot more to get used to than just a new home. Pilots from participating countries in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program and their families, such as the Schnoebbes from Germany, experience more than just a move to another country.
For Sylvia Schnoebbe, it meant coming to America and North Texas for the first time.
"It's hard to prepare somebody who lived in Germany for 25 years (to) move to the states," German Lt. Timo Schnoebbe said.
Lieutenant Schnoebbe and Sylvia moved to Wichita Falls in December when the young German Air Force officer was assigned here as an international instructor in ENJJPT. It's Lieutenant Schnoebbe's second trip to Sheppard.
Things most Texans take for granted - no trees, few towns along major highways and brown grass - were the first elements of culture shock for Mrs. Schnoebbe, she said.
Another was the scorching temperatures that accompany a Texas summer. Lieutenant Schnoebbe said they were lucky to arrive in December, well before the Mercury hit the 100-degree mark outside.
Shopping, eating out and drive-through eateries are completely different from anything in Germany and Europe, in general, they said.
In the village of Wittmund, as with most of Germany, the bread, meat, produce and general groceries are sold independently at separate shops, Lieutenant Schnoebbe said. There isn't a one-stop shop like the United States has.
"It's also awesome that you can go to Wal-Mart and get pretty much everything," he said.
But Wal-Mart has its disadvantages too. He said in Germany, there is only one or two of any given grocery; at Wal-Mart, variety is the spice of life, so it can make it difficult to find exactly what they are looking for.
As different as shopping is between the two cultures, dining out is just as polar as compared to Europe.
"When we go out, we need two or three hours and (we) drink wine or cappuccino," Mrs. Schnoebbe said. "And here, you go out and you eat and you pay and go."
Lieutenant Schnoebbe said McDonald's is the only restaurant with drive-through service in Germany. Mrs. Schnoebbe likes the unusual convenience of the drive-throughs and tried to tell friends and relatives in Germany about the drive-through at Starbucks, she said. They simply didn't understand the concept.
To help balance this world of difference, the ENJJPT family does things slightly different. Lieutenant Schnoebbe said when he reported in, he took his wife with him to meet his new commander. They were told the commander's wife would call her in the near future.
"(It was) a good friendly welcome, almost like coming home," Mrs. Schnoebbe said.
Lieutenant Schnoebbe said they also told him and his wife about the language class at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls.
Mrs. Schnoebbe admitted learning English was quite a task. But, she said the other wives were incredibly patient when she practiced English at the wives' gatherings.
Lieutenant Schnoebbe and his wife weren't the only ones in their family having a challenge adjusting to the move across time zones. He said for the first few weeks, they would get calls from friends and relatives in Germany in the middle of the night or on Saturday at six in the morning. Their families had not realized just how much difference seven hours makes.
"They couldn't understand why we were sleepy and kind of mad the first couple weeks," he said.
At the same time, anytime they had to call home for business, it meant getting up in the middle of the night or staying up late, he said.
The most significant difference is one Lieutenant Schnoebbe is not likely to ever forget. In Germany, the husband and father doesn't have much of a role in pregnancy or birthing process. When his son Kimi was born in July, he was there and as involved as any American father would have been.
"It's really great how they involve the father in the whole process," he said.
After nearly a year, they said they are finally getting used to and finding they like most of the differences ENJJPT and Texas have to offer - even though they are a world away from home.