August 27, 2014
Kristina Catuiza

Upon enrolling into college, being an active duty service member in the U.S. Navy was the only lifestyle I knew. I found comfort in that way of living. The men and women I served with weren’t just coworkers. They were family. We had built such strong camaraderie. We supported and confided in one another.

After my contract was up, transitioning from military to civilian life wasn’t an easy journey. I tried to fit in at a community college where most of the population was about twenty years old. I couldn’t relate to the people around me and I felt lost in a new city where I had no family or friends to turn to for advice or support.

My first semester at Santa Monica College in Los Angeles was a challenge for me. My grades didn’t suffer, but I had anxiety. My car became the place I spent breaks, had lunch and studied. I became anti-social and secluded myself from anything that was outside my comfort zone.

Kristina SVA

It wasn’t until I found the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) and joined the Student Veterans Association (SVA) on campus that I began to feel more comfortable on campus. Spending time with like-minded individuals allowed me to open up more and venture outside my norms. Being part of the Veterans Association made me feel welcomed and happy, especially because I finally had friends in the Los Angeles area I could relate to.

I enjoyed being around other veterans. I became more involved in the SVA and with the VRC. I began to volunteer for events and felt so proud when the focus was on veterans. I loved hearing other veterans stories and took pleasure in the fact that some would come to me for advice. As I realized my passion for veterans, I started looking into organizations outside of school.

Kristina Catuiza

I joined the American Legion, Team RWB and The Mission Continues. The Mission Continues Los Angeles Service Platoon gave me a chance to work hand in hand with other veterans and give back to the L.A. community. I was able to continue to serve and make a difference even though I was no longer in the military.

This was the drive I was looking for. When it came to selecting a new major, it wasn’t a hard decision. I realized working with other veterans and making them feel comfortable came natural to me. I had a special connection with them. I could relate to them. I decided to pursue a career empowering veterans. I have a better understanding of their struggles and their desires. I wanted to listen and give advice to them on a professional level. I want to help them the way the counselors and social workers at the VA helped me. I truly believe working with veterans is what I was born to do.

Kristina Graduation

I recently earned my associate’s degree from Santa Monica College. My focus now is to earn my bachelor’s degree in psychology from Loyola Marymount University. It feels so right. I love the fact that I can relate stories I’ve heard or people I’ve met to the lessons I learn in class.

Not every student veteran has trouble with the transition into college life; some want nothing to do with the fact they were in the military. I believe they are missing out on some great opportunities that could change their life and impact their career. They might even be missing out on that passion they never knew existed within them.

I never knew I wanted a career working with veterans or giving back to my community. In fact, I first came to college majoring in dental hygiene.  I changed course after volunteering with the veteran community. I found a passion and drive I had never felt before. I truly enjoy what I’m doing – to the point where it doesn’t feel like work at all.

If I hadn’t taken advantage of the resources available to me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I can say in all honestly, I am enjoying my life as a student veteran.

Kristina Catuiza (2)