When I first started at Penn State, I recall times when I was frightened to sit in the front half of the classroom — simply because I was unable to see what was going on behind me.
This fear might seem irrational, but such problems are common in many of the veterans, like myself, attending Penn State who have experienced combat or other traumatic events.
Though student veterans share many of the same experiences as other students, it's still worth recognizing how our experiences differ.
To help illustrate these differences, I spoke with my friend and fellow student veteran Stephen Herring, a junior majoring in political science and philosophy.
"[The transition to Penn State] was intimidating for me because I was in the military for four years not doing anything academically," Herring told me. "And I did just enough to get by in high school, and I knew Penn State was a really good academic school."
Having served in the military with Herring, I went through similar worries. Once I finally started my career at the university, I found that the trials and disciplines instilled in me through my service in the armed forces quickly helped me to put my worries to bed.
Herring shared a similar realization: "Through the Marines I realized that the discipline I received allowed me to apply myself to the academics required of me."
In my first English class as a freshman, I was 23 years old and the other students ranged from 18 to 19 years old. Herring and I agreed that there was often a difference in maturity between us and classmates.
College can be stressful for any age, and that stress is often escalated when you are also dealing with the financial burden of tuition and living expenses. I was lucky enough to be able to avoid these financial strains thanks to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which covers tuition, rent, books and living expenses.
But as nice as it is to be financially covered for college as a veteran, sometimes being a veteran means carrying with you issues received due to your time served in the armed forces.
“Sometimes I have difficulty relating to students because we are just on different playing fields,” Herring said. “The stuff that stresses me out doesn't stress them, like being in a crowded room, which would stress me out. But like taking a test for them may stress them out, but for me the stress is nothing."
At the end of our conversation, I asked Herring to name his favorite thing about being a veteran at Penn State.
“The respect you get from students, professors and others around town and campus,” he was quick to reply. “Even if the person doesn't agree with the war, they still show me some respect.”
And that is something that Herring and I couldn't agree upon and appreciate more.
Though there are evident differences between veterans and other students, I do feel welcome here as not just a veteran but also a student at Penn State.
Aside from my various tattoos — like one on my arm that illustrates boots, a bayonet, a helmet and a rifle with dog tags, set up as you would overseas as a military funeral cross — some people may not even notice that I'm a veteran.
Being a veteran is of course nothing I would ever wish to hide, but more of a point I wanted to make that we walk among you not just as students but as veterans as well, and I figured it would be nice to have a little bit of perspective from both ends of the spectrum.
Kevin Geisel is a senior majoring in crime, law and justice and is The Daily Collegian's Tuesday columnist. Email him at email@example.com.