Talking Northwestern Post-War Life

Alexandra Finkel

A year after his high school graduation, Scott Burton found himself trekking through the South Korean jungle. With sweat dripping from his brow and insects blinding his vision, he was rethinking his decision. “It looked like Vietnam,” the Weinberg senior says. “But it was miserable, and I’m thinking, ‘This is what I enlisted for?'”

When Burton graduated from high school in 2000, he didn’t hesitate to join the U.S. Marine Corps. His four-year stint took him to South Korea, Japan and finally, Baghdad, where he helped rebuild houses and schools. “It was the only time I felt I made a difference in an individual person’s life,” he says. “It changed the way I thought about things.”

But after four years of service, he was relieved it was over. He enrolled at Loyola University in Chicago and eventually made his way to Northwestern, a path he admits he never would have gone down without being in the military.

At 26, Burton is probably one of the oldest NU undergraduates. Despite being older than nearly everyone on campus, his time in the armed forces has undoubtedly helped him, he says. Burton is the only undergraduate U.S. military veteran at NU although dozens of NU international students have served in their own country’s armed forces.

Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Israel all have mandatory military service for males. Since a young age, they know that eventually they will have to serve their country – regardless of their plans. As expected as this is, it doesn’t make service any easier.

Elan Zamri, an international student from Tel Aviv, Israel, enlisted in the Israeli tanks division where he served as an Instructional Sergeant after high school. “If you don’t go into the army, you won’t get a job because people will question your integrity,” he says.

Despite being one of few Israeli undergraduates on campus, he doesn’t feel alone. He’s fully integrated into the NU experience, joining Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity as well as various other organizations. The McCormick senior says his time in the military has made him not only a better student academically, but socially as well. “Here, I see that a lot of students, especially in engineering, are in their own shell,” he says. “You don’t see that in Israel. It’s this sink-or-swim culture and the army molds them to handle social situations.”

Two months after he graduated from high school, McCormick freshman and Singapore native Shawn Ang was shipped to an island off the coast of Singapore for basic military training. His commanders shaved his head and shoved a uniform in his face, but the 5:30 a.m. mornings and 10-12 mile walks that ensued were only the beginning of his two-year service.