14 November 2010

Adjusting to college: you and your classmates

Every time I read a news article about veterans going to college, there's a sentence or two about how veterans have trouble adjusting because we're older than most of our classmates.  We've had much broader experiences, we see the world differently, and we have drastically different perspectives.  There are a lot of veterans who want to get college done with as quickly as possible, so they can start a new career and get on with their civilian lives.

It would be easy to say that because I'm older, or because I've seen and done so much, that no one would be interested in my experiences.  PTSD makes you want to withdraw, and saying you just can't relate because you're older makes it easier. I know student veterans who actually look down on their classmates, consider them snot nosed drunk rich kids who don't know jack about the world.  That's an assumption that couldn't be more wrong.

I know "kids" who have studied abroad, gone on alternative breaks all over the world, or are involved in research with students and faculty from other countries.  Many of my classmates are from other countries.  Many speak more than one language.  Many will go on to apply their knowledge in other countries after graduating.  Some will sign up with the Peace Corps.  Some will go on to work for the military as civilians, or work for defense contractors.

Many students question the country's involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that can make it seem as though they're taking sides-- those are the times when as a veteran, you want to stand up in class and explain how things really are.  You're singled out if you do, because you have first hand knowledge that no one else in the room has.  Classmates may even argue with you.  Especially if you're having trouble with PTSD and being in classes, this can seem like a battle you don't want to fight.

Everyone in a classroom has something to contribute, even if it is only an opinion.  It's ultimately up to you to decide if, and how much, of your experience as a veteran you want to share in a classroom.  By doing so, you share knowledge with your classmates (and faculty).  Isn't that what college is for?

I think it's time that as student veterans, we give our classmates more credit.  They may not understand the world in the same way as veterans do, but that does not mean they don't have a broad view of the world.   They are out there in the real world.  They are asking questions, looking for answers, trying to find a better way.   They know things that we may not know.  They have different ideas. 

In uniform we always based everything we did on teamwork.  We were from all fifty states and every possible background, and we got together and got the mission accomplished.  We did great things.

Imagine the possibilities if we take that same approach to working with the classmates we're surrounded by in college.

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