We’ve featured a few stories about student Veterans on our blog, and I couldn’t help but notice a theme running through all of them; some of them I’ve experienced myself through three years of school. It’s not so much the curriculum or the workload that challenges Veterans, but the social dynamics of older, military-trained students in the same classroom as kids who may not understand their experiences. As more Veterans take advantage of the GI Bill, schools have been caught in various states of preparedness when it comes to services and support.
A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted many of these issues, and as an undergrad at a private university, I was struck by passage on the first page:
Some student veterans say they have little in common with their younger, more sheltered classmates whose concerns typically revolve around their social lives and separating from their parents. They describe feeling both conspicuous and isolated, put on the spot when they are singled out in class by well-meaning faculty members who solicit their views on foreign policy; turned off by the unstructured, sometimes frivolous, college atmosphere; and loath to admit they are having difficulty. Many mourn the absence of the close friendships and intense sense of mission that are often the glue of military life, particularly in a war zone.
For many, it’s the first instance of societal reintegration. For reasons in the passage above, it’s a sharply unique and challenging environment in which to relearn civilian norms.
If you’re not part of a Vets group on campus, or interact with other Veterans, it may seem like you’re the only one who has felt this way. But from what I can gather, it might be the most common experience of student Veterans, not just from this generation, but earlier generations as well. I’ve heard some Vietnam Vets remark about the strange feeling of being in a classroom after a tour overseas.
History does seem to repeat itself, so if you’re heading to school for the first time soon, or struggling with being back in class, get prepared. Check out our guide to maximize your GI Bill benefits to make the process as smooth as possible, and talk to your campus Veterans coordinator to find out if they offer Veteran-specific resources like counseling and study areas. You won’t be the only student Vet in a challenging environment, and you surely won’t be the last.