Opinion Piece: Student Veterans’ FOMO

Whether you are transferring from a community college or straight out of the military, you might have experienced the life of an outsider if you are a student veteran. You constantly remind yourself that you don’t have any problem going to classes alone, but a group of students enjoying the sunny weather on the green often brings down your sense of belonging. FOMO doesn’t seem like the biggest issue to transitioning veterans until they spend a few weekends alone without the battle buddies knocking on the door. The military gives classes on how to find the local VA or activate the GI Bill before the separation, but they don’t have practical advices for FOMO which most student veterans experience in college.

During the transition assistance program (TAP), I confidently told my instructor that I don’t need training to become a civilian or college student. Since the most civilianization training in the Army was about stopping veterans from wearing military-issued glasses outside the base or preventing them from flipping a desk every time other students insult the US military, I thought I was in the absolute clear. Completing the TAP after countless lessons on how to become a decent human being, I strongly believed that I was ready for college. 

I started my first semester at a four-year university with a lot of exciting expectations,

“Maybe I could be that cool mysterious guy who ‘drops the mic’ with his Army story, but I should take my classmates out for beers after the heated discussion, so I can show them I know how to party.”

The reality, however, was a lot different from what I expected. No one cared whether I came to class or not and my classmates were not interested in my military experience. Amid young college students, my unconventional opinions were frequently challenged; each class felt like a battlefield. My failure of getting along with young college students planted subtle hatred in me. With an excuse that I’m too old and mature to be their friend, I started isolating myself.

If you are making the same mistake that I made in my first semester, I want to share this lesson that I learned in a difficult way. A healthy and stable social life is one of the most significant factors in determining students’ college experience; veterans are not the exception. Imagine heading back to a school library on Friday after submitting your 20 page paper because you have nothing else to do. It saddens me to see so many veterans hovering around campus and not being able get the support they need from their peers. 

In the military, we were trained to showcase our toughness before anything else. Ironically, my biggest obstacle in adjusting to college life was this military culture that constantly puts soldiers on guard. My pastor once preached that we can impress people with our strength, but we connect through our weakness. Of course, our FOMO mostly stems from the age gap between student veterans and traditional college students. And yet, it might have been our constant attempt to prove our toughness and impress others that hindered potential friendship with young college students. 

By no means am I suggesting that you must share the deepest secret or tragic death of your family member in order to make friends in college. My first conversation with one of the co-founders of the Dunder Mifflin College began with a simple question. When I asked him about the problem set that I couldn’t solve, he invited me to his study group. Only this time, I didn’t try to impress anyone, and before I shared my military experience, I asked them about their background. The moment I decided to ask for help, in other words, the moment I shared my weakness, was the significant turning point in my college career that ended my FOMO as a non-traditional student. 

Perhaps, you’ve never experienced student veterans’ FOMO and you are actually that cool mysterious veteran who often “drops the mic” in class. As a student veteran, not only do you have a responsibility to be an outstanding student or excel in your classes, but you have an obligation to help other veterans who are struggling at your school. If you are experiencing or afraid that you might suffer from student veterans’ FOMO, just remember to relax before you flex.

As much as I want the above suggestion and my story can help you in the upcoming semester, I hope that more student veterans can have a fulfilling college experience.