“The taxi company overbooked and was an hour late picking us up for prom. And then it dropped us off halfway up the hill and we had to walk the rest of the way to the castle!”

Prom at a castle? That’s right. Prom at a castle. Many high school students go to prom, but most schools host this American tradition in a local ballroom or even the school gym, not a 13th century castle. For military high school (HS) students living in Heidelberg, Germany, prom at the local castle is standard operating procedure. Even Winter Formal is held at a local ballroom that in the 19th century hosted Mark Twain. This is just normal life for military students living overseas.

“Why did we bring backpacks to prom? So we can change into different clothes when we go to the clubs and bars afterward.”

Clubs and bars? High school students? That’s right. Clubs, bars, and high school students. When working as a YFC Military staff in Germany, I regularly volunteered at high school dances, including prom. My wife, myself and the other YFC staff would work the coat check and thus had loads of opportunities to interact with students. It was common for students to turn in a backpack at coat check full of extra clothes for when they visited the bars and nightclubs after prom. In Germany, it is entirely legal for most high school students to drink and attend clubs. For these students, the issue is no longer a matter of legality, but wise decision-making. This is one of the many unique aspects of the life of a military student.

Children of military parents stationed in Europe, and also civilian contractors, attend schools known as Department of Defense Dependents Schools, or DoDDS. For the most part, these schools both inside and out seem to be ordinary public schools. Yet those that attend a DoDDS school are unique students living unique lives. Being part of the life of a military community and a DoDDS school brings with it particular privileges, but also certain difficulties.

I have spent 5 of the past 10 years living in military communities in Europe and can say that there are few places where people experience such intimidate, tight-knit community. Many families living overseas have been living overseas for years. I have known graduating seniors that have never lived in the United States, yet you would not know this from interacting with them. Their military communities allow for deep friendships to develop very quickly. Students attend school together, play sports on the same teams, participate in the same musical activities, go to summer camp together, live close by each other in the base housing neighborhood, attend church together, exercise at the same gym, get coffee at the same (and only) coffee shop, and attend the same Chapel youth programs. The amount of time these students spend in close proximity is unparalleled.

Military students living overseas, particularly in Europe, travel internationally for sports games. It is common for the football team to leave Friday night on a 15+ hour bus ride to play the DoDDS football team at a base in England or Italy. On the way home from a Service Project in Czech Republic we stopped at a gas station for snacks and a restroom break. I woke a sleeping student who incoherently said to me, “What country are we in?” She had to ask this question because when you’re a student in Europe attending a camp or a sporting event, you may very well wake up in a country that uses it's own unique currency. Borders are crossed so quickly in Europe that during a nap you can end up in an entirely different nation. This girl needed to know which currency to take into the gas station to buy a soda or use the restroom (yes, in Europe you pay for public restrooms). I remember thinking to myself that few other American students anywhere in the world have this type of experience. Yet, these experiences are very special to many of them, memories they hold onto tightly as they move on from school.

As students leave for college in the United States, their parents often remain in Europe. This leaves the now former military student to transition into the college life and young adulthood without the aid of nearby family or friends. Often, the time difference is 7, 8 or 9 hours, making communication with family and loved ones “back home” in Europe extremely difficult. It is not uncommon to speak to family only once or twice a month, and sometimes far less frequently when separated by an ocean. But thanks to the military lifestyle of moving every 2-3 years, many military students are very quick to transition and make new friends.

Poor decision-making has an even greater impact while living in Europe. Not only can a student be prosecuted for breaking local law, but they will also incur punishment from the American law. Depending on the infraction(s), a student can be sent back to the United States before their parents are assigned elsewhere. This can put a parent’s military career in serious jeopardy. I have known military students who experience great fear over how the consequences of their behavioral problems could potentially impact the career of their parent(s). They worry about what will happen to them if they are sent back to the United States before their parents are able to be reassigned. And problem students are well know to others in the community. In the military, and especially in Europe, students live life in a fishbowl, and secrets don’t stay secret for long.

The military is very aware of the need to provide activities for students, especially in Europe where the local economy offers few of the entertainment norms found in America. Bases typically have youth centers for middle school and high school students that provide daily workshops, homework centers with trained staff, regular special events, multi-day trips to cities such as Paris, entertainment rooms filled with TVs, video games, movies, and more. These centers are usually well attended and provide a much needed place for students to spend time after school and during the summer. Since the early 1980’s, dozens of base chapels around the world have contracted with Military Community Youth Ministries/Club Beyond to provide military students with the highest quality Christian youth ministry. Club Beyond tends to be exceedingly popular with military teens in Europe, often being one of the primary positive outlets for students on base. Staff work diligently to be in relationship with every military teen, and the fruit of their labor is evident.

American teens are extremely busy. In particular, high school students are overwhelmed and overloaded with school work and extracurricular activities. It is not uncommon for military HS students to have every minute of every day scheduled, except for 5-10 hours on Sunday, much of which is spent catching up on homework before the new school week begins. Students involved in football play games on Saturday, not Friday, as in Europe Friday evening is spent traveling, while Saturday is spent playing the game and traveling back home. Assuming students practice from 330-630pm Monday-Friday, go home for dinner, a shower, and some homework, this leaves only Sunday not entirely booked. This is the life of many, many military students in Europe. From the age of 14, students work tirelessly to build their college resume, in hopes of achieving vocational success and financial wealth. Youth for Christ Military, through the Club Beyond ministry, comes alongside these young men and women with the good news that there is One who accepts them without regard to their merit or accomplishments. And there, these precious military students find true, lasting peace.

by Scott Luebke

Scott Luebke has been a YFC Military/Club Beyond missionary since 2008. He and his wife Chelsie served on Army bases in Germany from 2009-2012. Scott currently works as the Club Beyond Community Director at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

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