Veterans tackle college while overseas
Stars and Stripes October 17, 2023
Jumping into higher education after separating from the military is a great stepping-stone into the civilian workforce. But how do you choose where to spend those G.I. Bill benefits? For some veterans, studying at an international school is the answer.
Aaron Shelton was stationed in Ansbach as an Army medic before PCSing back to Georgia and separating from the military. He knew he wanted to return to Germany for schooling and spent time researching his best options. “As an American moving by yourself, you need a university that is flexible.” He also needed an English-speaking program at a school that would accept his G.I. Bill.
Offering a unique system of single monthly courses, Schiller International University (SIU) in Heidelberg has been a top choice for veterans for decades. The monthly course flexibility meant that Shelton could exit the military in April and be sitting in a Heidelberg classroom by the beginning of June instead of waiting for traditional colleges to begin in the fall. Dedicating time to one course for an entire month worked well; he spent half his day in classwork at SIU and the other half taking an intensive German language course. Shelton earned his Master’s of International Management and is now head of his department for an employer in Germany.
As a new undergraduate student of International Relations and Diplomacy at SIU, Spencer Hatten spent some time deciding what to do after being medically retired from the Army. “I’m still on the journey to help others and make the world a better place,” he says before offering some advice to other military members who are separating: “If you have no plans, going to school is a great way to help you figure out what you want. The G.I. Bill is there for you.”
Hatten is interested in diplomatic work, and attending a school that offers a dual American and European degree was appealing. In 2014, SIU established an agreement with the University of Roehampton in London affording its students the chance to earn a European degree. This leg up can benefit students like Hatten who may be looking for permanent employment on this side of the Atlantic.
Haven Smith retired out of Ramstein Air Base last year and knew he wanted to stay in Europe where his daughter lives: “Having the opportunity to attend school and stay over here near my daughter met my needs.” He also needed a school that would both accept his G.I. Bill and take care of the legalities of living in Europe. No longer military affiliated, he needed to get a German driver’s license and a German residency permit. SIU has worked for a long time with veterans and helped streamline the process.
“Veterans have always been part of our DNA at Schiller,” says Dr. Sanja Stevic, current director of the Heidelberg campus. When SIU was founded in 1964 over half the student population was made up of American military veterans studying for an American diploma while still overseas. Since then, SIU has expanded and maintains campuses in Madrid, Paris, Heidelberg and Tampa. Students can easily move their studies between the four.
Many veteran students cite international and intercultural experiences as a huge benefit to studying overseas. Majoring in International Relations and Diplomacy, Smith appreciates how many different nationalities are represented in his courses: “It’s really interesting how many perspectives you can get from people of different backgrounds.” Hatten says that studying overseas gives you the chance to “mingle with people from all walks of life.”
For military veterans, using the G.I. Bill becomes key when choosing an overseas university. Shelton was concerned with attending a for-profit university and wanted to ensure that the money he spent from his G.I. Bill funding wasn’t just being treated like a cash cow. SIU met his needs: “It’s small, so you see where the money goes,” but he cautions other veterans to be aware of how universities spend their money.
Going to college can also enhance a veteran’s status for potential employers. “Military experience can help with leadership challenges you will face in the business world,” says Shelton. Add international experiences, flexible coursework and European degree programs, and using the G.I. Bill to study overseas at a school like SIU can be a game changer.