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Why I Dropped Out of School Three Times

My wedding day in Taiwan, June, 1973

My wedding day in Taiwan, June, 1973

Why I Dropped Out of College

I never thought about dropping out of school when I was in high school. My plans were clear and simple. After getting a Bachelor's degree, I would go on to medical school and become a doctor. Some of my classmates thought that I would have a long list of degrees earned because I was the valedictorian of my high school graduating class.

Things don't always work out the way you plan them. After failing to get into medical school, I did receive a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin and then went to the University of Michigan for graduate work in chemistry. Primarily due to a draft induction notice during my first semester of graduate school in 1966, I dropped out of Michigan and, shortly later, in 1967, enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

I dropped out of graduate studies in Chinese language and literature at the University of Wisconsin in 1973 to travel to Taiwan.

Finally, I dropped out of the University of Toledo School of Education in 1980 to accept a job with the federal government in Maryland.

In this article, I give reasons why I dropped out of school three times.

On a 12 hour liberty from basic training in 1967

On a 12 hour liberty from basic training in 1967

Dropping Out of University of Michigan Graduate School

My first instance of dropping out of school would have never happened if I had been more mature, responsible, and in tune with what was happening in my life in the mid-1960s.

By late winter of 1966, I had received rejections from all the medical schools I had applied to. I had also neglected to take a draft deferment test given during the first semester of my senior year in college.

Unwilling to give up college life after I received a Bachelor of Science degree in August 1966, I gave up any hope of being a doctor and instead decided to pursue graduate study in chemistry at the University of Michigan, where I had been accepted for admission.

Before going away to Michigan at the end of August, I had a pre-draft induction physical at the site of my local draft board in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Even though it was obvious that the next step was receiving a draft induction notice, I still couldn't realize that I would soon be drafted into the Army.

At Michigan, I struggled with my graduate chemistry courses and finally recognized that I wasn't cut out to be a chemist with a graduate degree. I didn't want to quit right away, however, because I thought I would be safe from the draft as long as I was in school.

Being so naive, I was very surprised when I received my draft induction notice in November 1966. It was like being hit in the gut because I feared the Army would send me to Vietnam after basic training.

The day after receiving my draft induction notice, I went to the University's Registrar's Office to check on getting a draft deferment. To my surprise, the University said that I was eligible for a 1-S student deferment only good until the end of the school year in May 1967. After that time, the draft could get me at any time.

I now finally realized that my life as a college student would be coming to an end soon and that I would have to enlist in either the Navy or Air Force. Enlisting in the Army was not an option because I knew that I would immediately be sent to the jungles of Vietnam to engage in a war.

During the break between terms and a few days after Christmas in 1966, I went to Racine to enlist in the Navy. I was ready to begin my active duty immediately, but the Navy couldn't accept me for enlistment. There was a long waiting list, and the best I could do was to arrange to enlist in the Navy Reserve in February 1967 and then go on active duty 120 days later.

After signing an agreement to enter the inactive Navy Reserve on February 15, I returned to Michigan to begin the winter and spring term right after New Year's Day. At Ann Arbor and living in a professional chemistry fraternity, I had no motivation or interest in my chemistry classes. I had only registered for them to stay in school and be safe from the draft. It seemed that I only attended classes until the third or fourth week of January before starting to cut all my classes and getting part-time jobs to pay for my fraternity room and living expenses. After delivering pizzas for a week, I went to Manpower, a temporary work agency, and got jobs collecting garbage, shoveling snow, and delivering furniture.

On February 14, I formally dropped out of the University of Michigan late in the morning. A few hours later, I took a Greyhound bus to Racine, Wisconsin, where I would be sworn into the Navy Reserve on the morning of February 15. It was one of the coldest nights of the year when I arrived in Racine late on the evening of February 14. I stayed in the YMCA overnight; by 9 or 10 a.m. the next day, I was sworn into the Navy Reserve. The orders I received instructed me to report for active duty at the Great Lakes Navy Training Center on June 15.

I felt ashamed of dropping out of school, and I guess that is why I didn't go home. Instead, I went to my old chemistry fraternity house in Madison and lived there until around June 1. I supported myself with jobs both on and off campus.

Dropping Out of University of Wisconsin Graduate School

I served on active duty with the Navy from June 15, 1967, until January 3, 1971. While in the Navy, I learned Chinese Mandarin at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and then was sent to Taiwan on overseas duty.

After getting a five and one-half month early out from the Navy, I went back to Taiwan to live. I wasn't completely truthful to my parents when I told them that I was going to Taiwan to study more Chinese. My real motive was to be together with a Taiwanese woman whom I met one week before my Navy tour in Taiwan ended on March 1, 1970. While stationed in the States during my last ten months in the Navy, I regularly corresponded with Susan.

Around January 21, 1971, I left home in Wisconsin and flew back to Taiwan. I had on me $1,000 which I had saved during my last year in the Navy. The first four to six weeks in Taiwan found me very busy. I was spending a lot of time with Susan and also attending Chinese classes at the Mandarin Training Center of National Taiwan Normal University. After my money started to run out, I also started to teach English classes to Taiwanese nationals.

Since these three activities were too much to handle, I stopped attending my Chinese classes. Over the next month or two, I realized that Susan didn't love me and would never marry me. At this point in mid-May, I decided to go back home to the United States. Before I left Taiwan again, however, I met another woman, Mona, who pitied me when I told her about Susan just using and not loving me. Although I had no feelings for her at that time, Mona gave me her address before I departed Taiwan.

It seemed that I was at the crossroads of my life after I returned home during the first week of June 1971. To get some support for myself since I wasn't working, I received unemployment compensation and also became active in the Navy Reserve. My original enlistment contract with the Navy called for four years of active duty and two years in the inactive Navy Reserve. While in the Reserve, I attended drill meetings one night a week and had two weeks of active duty training once a year.

As for my long-term goal in life, I initially decided to go back to the University of Wisconsin School of Education and train to become a chemistry teacher. I reasoned that I had majored in chemistry and didn't want to throw this training away.

A few days before the 1971 fall semester began, my two former roommates from the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity house at the University of Michigan came to visit me. After meeting at my parent's farm, they drove me to Madison because they wanted to see the fraternity house on the University of Wisconsin campus where I would be staying.

While in Madison and over a few beers, my two friends asked if I would be happy to become a high school chemistry teacher. They could see through me that I was now more interested in Taiwan and Chinese language studies. When I answered with my heart that I had no interest or love anymore for chemistry, Jeff and Marv urged me to take up Chinese language and literature study at Wisconsin.

My decision was now final. I took home the boxes of science books that I had moved into the fraternity house, canceled my registration for the fall semester, and inquired about Chinese language and literature studies as a graduate student.

A few weeks later while at the University of Wisconsin again, I met with instructors in the Department of East Asian Language and Literature and applied for admission as a graduate student for the winter/spring term beginning in January 1972.

During the seven months back home from Taiwan, I had been corresponding more regularly with Mona whom I met before departing Taiwan. I gradually fell in love with her and by the summer of 1972, I had decided to return to Taiwan and get married.

While studying in the Department of East Asian Language and Literature, I enrolled in Chinese language, literature, and linguistics courses. I also had two Chinese history classes. Over the past year and a half, I had been an outstanding student and doing well working towards a Master's Degree.

At the end of the May 1973 school term, however, I dropped out of my Chinese studies and went back to Taiwan with four of my classmates. The excuse that I gave my parents and everyone was that I was going to study Chinese at National Taiwan University. I had been accepted into National Taiwan University but never enrolled because I got married a month after arriving in Taiwan. My parents never knew about Mona until I got married.

Dropping Out of University of Toledo School of Education

After getting married to Mona in June 1973, we lived in Taiwan until July 1979. During this time, my son was born and I supported our family by teaching English. For the future of our son, however, we decided it would be best to live in the United States.

Without any definite plans, housing, or employment in America, we relocated in the middle of July. After spending a week in Wisconsin with my parents and buying a used car for $500, we drove to Madison, the site of my college alma mater, to explore any job opportunities for me.

Around the end of July with no work found in Madison, I drove to Adrian, Michigan, to visit my old University of Michigan roommate, Jeff. Jeff was working in a chemical company in Adrian and I thought he could help me find a job.

Jeff tried but there was no chemical work in his company or others in Adrian. He suggested that I explore employment opportunities in Toledo a few miles across the state line. While I met with Ohio state employment personnel in Toledo, my son stayed in Adrian with Jeff.

My interview with a state employment person was not encouraging at all. When I told her that I had a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin, the lady asked if I had ever been employed using my chemistry background. Since my answer was no, I shockingly found out that my previous chemistry work was now only worth one year of college chemistry.

To make matters worse, my son was involved in a bad traffic accident while riding a bicycle on the side of a major road. When I saw him lying on the road with a broken bone sticking out of his arm, I decided to immediately send him to a public hospital in Toledo for emergency treatment.

I was now forced to settle in Toledo with no housing and no job for my family. Fortunately, Jeff introduced me to a lady from the ACLU who helped me find emergency housing after my wife and I spent our first night in Toledo in both the hospital waiting room and my car. She introduced us to a single lady who allowed my wife and me to stay in her home until I could find housing. The lady also introduced me to Jose in the Toledo Public Schools who was the head of the Bilingual Program. Jose hired me as an English tutor for foreign-born children attending Toledo schools. At the same time, I also found the second floor of an old house to rent in the neighborhood where Jose's school office was located.

To supplement my low pay as an English tutor, I took a part-time job as a security guard. The security guard work continued until the middle of November 1979. By that time, I had given serious thought to better long-term employment in the United States. I concluded that I could try to secure employment using my Chinese language training with the U.S. federal government or go back to school and get teaching certification as a high school chemistry teacher.

At the beginning of December, I filed employment applications with the Defense Department, State Department, and the Voice of America. The applications with State and the Voice of America were easy to fill out, however, both called for an entrance exam. The Department of Defense application requested a lot of information about my foreign-born wife, Mona. That is because I was applying for a job that needed a security clearance.

By the middle of December 1979, I had taken both exams and not passed. State and the Voice of America were not interested in hiring me.

Fortunately, the Department of Defense got back to me in February. It told me that I was being considered for employment and needed to travel to Maryland for three days of interviews, language tests, and a polygraph exam.

I had decided that in the event I was not hired by the Department of Defense I would go back to school and work toward certification in secondary education.

After January 1, 1980, I enrolled in the College of Education at Toledo University. I was signed up for education and history courses because I also wanted to be certified to teach history. Because I was a service veteran, I was receiving GI education benefits worth about $450 per month.

In March, I went to Maryland for processing with the Department of Defense. It never gave me any assurances of getting hired so I figured I had better not count on a job with the government and continue studying to become a teacher.

While I was in my second to last semester at Toledo, I got a letter in November 1980, from the Department of Defense extending me a job offer as a Chinese translator. My pay would be much more than that of a beginning high school teacher.

My work reporting date was December 8. Although I was making good progress in my studies at Toledo, I dropped out of school to take a government job in Maryland.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Paul Richard Kuehn