When a Foreign Land Becomes Home


January 2000 is one of the most significant dates in my life because that’s around the time I landed in Vilseck, Germany for my first duty station. I was a young 18-year-old, and had just enlisted in the United States Army. This was my first time out of the country so I had mixed feelings. Everything was so new, and it was all moving so fast.

It had seemed like yesterday that I was in Wisconsin graduating from high school and hanging out with my friends and family. Now, there I was, being trained as a soldier in a foreign land. I had no friends and no family. It was just me. I must admit, I didn’t like it and I wanted to go home. But I had signed a contract to serve in the military for four years, so I had no choice.

When I arrived, a Sargent introduced himself and asked if I played basketball. Sure enough, I not only played but it was my passion. He asked me if I could be his fifth player because one of his players were sick and his basketball team was about to play in an hour. I told him I would put my bags up and meet him at the gym. I went to my assigned room in the barracks and changed clothes before proceeding to the gym. After the game, I made some new friends and since I was the new guy the fellas wanted to take me out and show me Germany. I agreed, and we set a date for that upcoming weekend.

When the weekend arrived, the guys decided to take me downtown Nurnberg, Germany which is one of the largest cities in Bavaria. I still felt out of place and wanted to go home, but I was excited nonetheless to see something different. While touring Germany, I met a couple of German friends and as we began to engage in conversation they told me things that made Germany unique and why it was one of the best European countries to live in.

As they raved about their country, I was thinking to myself, "I'm never going to be staying in this country any longer than I have to!" My German friends were trying their hardest to convince me otherwise with all the positive things about Deutschland. They were proud of their country and wanted to share it with me.

In my mind, I was an American; I like American things and I wanted to live where I felt most comfortable. I know it's cliche, but never say never. God has a unique way of showing you His plan and sometimes you just don't see it coming, all that He is going to do in your life. After meeting my German friends, I started hanging out with them every weekend. They introduced me to their country, their food, their language, and their culture. I found myself at their festivals and having an all around great experience.

Fast forward four years as I completed my tour in the Army, and guess what.... I ended up staying in Germany for 10 years! I went from being home sick and closed-minded to embracing the culture and loving it. My house, my car, my family and my life were in Germany!

The thing is I didn’t like the country at first because it was outside of my comfort zone. It wasn’t until I immersed myself in the culture and really opened my heart to embrace the differences that I saw all of the amazing things that made us similar. It’s easy to discount someone else’s way of life and tradition without getting to know them, isn't it? But, I'm proof that once you step out and connect to another culture you'll discover how much you love it.

After several years abroad, serving in the military and playing professional basketball in the European league, Robert Swain returned to the United States and received his MBA. While there have been many accomplishments, one of Rob's greatest highlights has been the opportunities he's had to mentor at risk youth and help revitalize broken communities. Despite a very challenging and unstable upbringing, Rob thrives as a husband, father and entrepreneur. He is passionate about living life to the fullest, and helping others do the same. Rob lives according to a promise he made to himself many years ago: "Never forget where you come from and remain committed to helping guide others through life's challenging situations."

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