Going from boots to books

by Annie Beltran

It’s no secret that San Diego has a large military presence.  The second I landed at Lindbergh Field, I was told to look at the Marine Corps boot camp base in clear sight through the oval window of the airplane.  Just beyond that hellish land of angry voices, I saw my steel boat home for the next three years.  In 2007, the U.S. military instructed me to start my life in San Diego.

From my few years of experience, Marines are angrier than Navy sailors.  The rumors about sailors’ alcohol consumption are all true, making us a happier branch of the military.  The Marine is an indestructible pole-like creature, built tough.  They are required to have a commanding presence—it complements the haircut.

Once upon a time at the Gaslamp’s St. Patrick’s Day festival, I ventured out with a rambunctious group of sailors and one Marine. While procuring some much-needed chili cheese fries, we crafted a plan for meeting back up.  The rendezvous point was a table right behind the chili fries stand. We were to gain supplies, replenish our bodies and move out.  However, rambunctious sailors never follow orders, and the Marine waited for more than an hour at that rendezvous table. Angry Marines are a scary shade of red and gold.

A military life is very much about planning, orders and structure.  When something interferes with order, some military members may feel discontentment.  So what happens when former soldiers return to college?

I was 22 years old when I started as a freshman at San Diego City College, having never stepped foot onto a college campus of any kind.  Unlike other freshmen, I had been out of high school for several years.  Being a student again brought me out of my element.

The night before the first day of school, I laid out my school clothes, just as I had always done since I was 11 years old.  Have you ever been wrong about the dress code at an event?  I tried to pull off “less than business casual,” with khakis and a nice sweater. City College’s dress code is closer to “way less than business casual” showcasing an array of hoodies and sweatpants.

I was nervous.  I was used to spending so much time being told when to be hungry, where to eat, what to eat and what the crappy menu served for the entire week was. With my newly found freedom, I had to make sure to include a meal opportunity when picking classes.  Now, as a junior at San Diego State, I still recommend this practice. There is absolutely nothing worse than squeezing in lunch while rushing to the next class.

Many veteran friends of mine will agree that the military doesn’t do enough to prepare us for student life.  The first difference I noticed was the language barrier.  I literally cursed like a sailor.  We are foulmouthed individuals.  I didn’t even notice this until some classmates told me they thought I was simply angry, every single day.  Retraining myself to speak English was step one in my transition from boots to books.

My first group project was a serious awakening about the difference between veteran and civilian students.  The students in my group were so relaxed about the project’s due date and I couldn’t understand or handle the attitude.  I was ready to bark orders the only way I knew how—rude and loud.  We got an A, and to the members of my group: You’re welcome.

My need to lead others by use of loud vocal violence has toned down since then.  However, when asked about my skills and weaknesses at job interviews, I’ll say, “Effectively telling people what do is my strength.  As for weaknesses, I’ve never heard of such a word.” My bosses at the sandwich shop I now work at were quite impressed.

Transfer students will tell you transitioning from a small junior college to a large university, such as SDSU, also takes time to get used to. Locating classes on SDSU’s enormous campus was quite difficult. I tried to use the signs pointing to a general direction in the solar system about where a building is located.  I resorted to survival skills, just like James Franco in “127 Hours.”  Bring on the player hating and judgment, because a week before my first day at SDSU I walked around campus with a compass and a map. Without that compass I would have never found the Veterans Center, which is located in Student Services West.

It’s several weeks into the fall semester, and I am comfortably assimilating to student life.  I even catch myself gazing hopefully at calendars, counting down the days until the next holiday break and sometimes, just sometimes, procrastinating on an assignment or two.