I am a non-traditional student and I hate getting involved at school. It’s a huge inconvenience for me. I have to drive all the way to campus, away from my nice house and darling husband, to spend time with these kids who don’t appreciate what I’m giving up to be there. It’s such a pain, but I do it anyway.
My school has about 200 different clubs, teams, societies and study groups. They really want to make sure everyone can get involved in the campus community and, for a long time, this truly baffled me. College, for me, wasn’t a social experience. It was a place to learn what I needed to get a good job. I wasn’t there to hang out or make friends. It was a job.
This seems funny because that anti-social, work-focused attitude is not the approach I took in the Army. Of course, the Army is the kind of job that creeps into the rest of your life. You spend up to 12 hours a day with your people, doing all of the normal, mundane stuff such as training and paperwork. Then you go home to your barracks where your neighbors and friends are all from work. And that’s before you deploy and spend all day, every day with your co-workers. It’s difficult to separate on-duty and off-duty in those situations, so I mostly stopped trying, except in how I addressed people. And now I’m out, but my husband is still in and all I want to do is be more involved. I need connections to people, to other spouses, to some of my old friends. It’s important to have that community available.
In school, it’s not as easy to integrate into the community, especially if you live away from campus. It was rough when I got to my new school. I had two friends my first semester, both of whom were transfer students like me. I did want to do something on campus, but I was completely put off by the ‘club day’ they hosted at the beginning of the year. It was in the gym, there was horribly loud music, and a mass of jumbled tables, all with homemade signs and people jostling. I just couldn’t take the noise and the crowd, so I bolted. It all seemed so juvenile. So I spent two lonely semesters complaining about how boring college was.
Then I had a revelation of sorts. I had been waiting for the campus community to come to me, somehow, to tell me they needed me. They did, in a way, by inviting me to join honor societies. That was my chance. I decided it was time for me to step out of my whiny comfort zone and socialize. I went to the first meeting of the English Honor Society and was elected as the vice president. This was not a big accomplishment, but it did mean I then felt obligated to participate even if it meant driving down on a weeknight for a ‘banned book reading’ or staying a few extra hours after class for a few rounds of literary board games. I also started writing for the school paper, though I have no inclination toward news writing. It got me out of the house and engaging with other students. My friend count immediately shot up.
That’s not to say that all I got from these groups was more friends. I got a much more positive college experience, which sounds like hippie talk, but let me explain. I have met so many great people and built up a larger network of connections which may be a big help when I leave the college world. I have a list of useful activities to add to my resume, which is always good. More than that, I have contributed to the experience of others. I have shared my stories with those kids, been an advisor and sounding board, been a confidante and been an editor when needed. My favorite part about being an non-commissioned officer (NCO) was helping my soldiers be better, and getting involved in school programs has allowed me to do that again, just in a different context.
Our society is one of entitlement, wherein the customer is catered to by the business. Our food is brought to us, our cars are parked for us and we believe we have the ‘right’ to demand better service. College, too, is a business. I pay for a service and they provide it. The mistake I made was thinking that the experience of college is included in the tuition. The experience is the part I have to strive for because it provides me with more than just grades or a diploma. It provides community, direction and an opportunity to be needed.
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