August 26, 2014
Kristina Enriquez

As student veterans across the country head to campus for the fall semester, US Army veteran and Mission Continues Fellow, Kristina Enriquez recounts her transition from military to student life. 

At the end of my junior year of high school, most of my fellow students were preparing for college by taking exams, deciding which colleges to apply to, and making sure they had enough extra-curricular activities. For me, however, none of that felt right. After 13 years of schooling I was not ready for more. I wanted to go to college, but not right out of high school. So instead I chose the Army and spent my senior year in the delayed entry program preparing for my military career. My plan was to serve my country, earn money for college, and grow up a little in the process before going back to school.

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I definitely accomplished my mission, but the getting back to school post military service proved more difficult than expected. Transition was hard. I spent 3 years in Germany. Getting back to the United States and trying to fit in as a civilian was not working out very well, especially in a school setting.

I always imagined college to be much different from high school. I thought those who were attending would want to be there and were working towards a goal of higher education. That was a complete misconception. The Army molded me in a way the other students had not been and I was older. The differences between us felt glaring to me. So I sputtered for a while. I worked and took a few classes here and there, but I just could not see myself going back to school full-time.

Things changed about 6 months ago when I realized what I wanted to do with my life. I had gained weight after the military due to lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet, and poor mental health. Over the course of a year I pulled myself out of the lowest point in my life by exercising and eating right. As I talked with those I served with, and those I knew from different veteran service organizations, I found many of us experienced the same troubles post military service. That’s when I decided to get serious about my education so I could help others. My desire is to get a bachelor’s degree in both kinesiology (exercise science) and dietetics (nutrition).

Focusing on my passion is what pushes me through school these days. It’s not always easy. I feel old and rusty when it comes to learning. I have 10-12 years on most of the student body in my community college. For the most part, I seem much more disciplined and serious about my education than most. This leads to feelings of disconnect and I’m sure many veterans transitioning from service to school feel the same way. I am already an introvert, so just thinking about going to class and participating can cause anxiety.

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I have found a way around these deterrents, though. First, I use my age and experience as an asset. I may have forgotten how to study properly, but my determination and discipline allow me to get things done. Second, if I find myself struggling I ask for help. I reach out to my professors. I take advantage of tutoring through the veterans and learning centers at school. Third, I try to connect to other students. Through swallowing my anxiety about meeting others, I have made friends and study partners. I have even met other veterans this way. It’s amazing how many of us are hiding in the crowds of the classroom. That leads me back to the veteran center on campus. Most schools will have them and they are a valuable asset. Not only can a veteran get help with college benefits and tutoring, they can also connect to fellow veterans at the school, and learn of other programs and benefits that apply to them. Lastly, I have become involved. There are so many organizations, both on campus and off, that will make a veterans school experience more enjoyable.

The Mission Continues has been a great outlet for me. Through my fellowship I am able to serve my community, gain practical experience in my field of education, and connect with other veterans in the process. On campus, I am a part of the collegiate Model United Nations. The other members appreciate my maturity, and aside from bettering skills like diplomacy, research, and leadership, I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. and New York.

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To sum it up, in order to be successful in college I have had to find my passion and step out of my comfort zone. It has been scary, but so worth it. I may be a little behind those that went into college straight out of high school, but I have gained value experience that they may never have. I am busier than ever and college can be hard work, but my successes in the past months have proved I am on the right path.