When I decided to become a full-time student at UNR after transitioning out of the service, I did not give much thought to how difficult it would be to adjust to being a student on campus. I hadn’t been a full-time college student for at least 10 years, and so much had changed since I was a young vibrant 18-year-old. My expectations of what school would be like, and the reality were quite different from each other. I quickly discovered that I did not fit in with other students, which made me feel alone and isolated.
The majority of the students in my classes were first- or second-year students, with which I had little to nothing in common other than similar degree programs. I didn’t think I would have an issue fitting in with the students, but I was more different from them than I realized. Not only was I older than the average student and married with kids, but being a veteran made me feel like an alien amongst my peers and I definitely didn’t feel like I belonged in these classrooms. Because I was dealing with these feelings, I was very withdrawn in my classes, not talking to anyone and trying to remain unseen until the end of class, and would go sit in my car until my next class.
One day I gained the courage to find the Veteran’s center on-campus, this was a space I learned about in my veteran services orientation but wasn’t sure if I was ready to be around a bunch of veterans, because I wasn’t sure that I would fit in with them either. During my first experience in the veteran center, I was quiet and found the furthest corner to sit and do my homework, although the staff was very cordial they were not pushy and allowed me the space and time to do homework or engage in conversation if I chose to. The most important part about the center was that I felt normal, I felt like I belonged, and I felt like I was around like-minded individuals; these were the opposite feelings that I was experiencing in my classes. After being able to utilize the veteran center for the remainder of the semester, I gained confidence as a student veteran that I originally did not have. The environment established at the veteran center provided me the support and space that I needed to assist me in redefining who I was as a civilian and a student veteran.
Many colleges and universities promote themselves to be veteran-friendly, and able to accept VA school benefits. The problem with some of these schools is that they may have an administrative person who knows how to process the veteran’s school benefits and cover their tuition, but no supportive programs to assist that veteran in their transition. Establishing programs for student veterans at colleges and universities is pivotal for the success of the veteran, many of these students are dealing with drastic changes in their life that can become very overwhelming especially if they have families and other responsibilities outside of school. Student veterans are unique in that they are experienced adults, that are on missions to redefine themselves, and they should be given respect as such. Ensuring we put programs and support systems in place for our student veterans to become successful is important, these men and women served our country and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.