One of the most daunting aspects of college is meeting the person with whom you will share a bedroom the size of a closet for the next nine months.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of bad roommate experiences that involve too much nudity or bad hygiene or even theft, so a little anxiety is natural.
When I looked up my assigned roommate online before freshman year, I realized that we couldn’t be more different. I lived in Chapel Hill, a small university town. She lived in Singapore, a bustling city in Asia. In my spare time, I enjoyed lying around my house and watching Netflix and snacking on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream – like any other second semester high school senior. In her spare time, she practiced archery, played violin in the Singapore National Orchestra and enjoyed oil painting. Needless to say, I was really intimidated.
When we met, it was a little hard for us to find something in common. Both of us were a little overwhelmed by freshmen orientation and didn’t really talk at night once we got in the room. But one night, I saw her browsing some blogs about TV shows that I watched and struck up a conversation. It was the first time we talked about something that wasn’t related to how much orientation sucked.
Over the school year, we actually became really close. We were in the same campus fellowship and shared a few close friends in the dorm, which meant lots of late night study parties. I learned lots of little quirks, and she became one of my most trusted friends at school. We even wound up doing a final project together for a class we shared.
Try a little kindness
The thing is, just because you have a lot in common with someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll automatically be great roommates. In fact, when you’re forced to live with someone who is significantly different from you, you learn a lot about yourself as well. For one thing, you become more conscious of how your actions directly affect someone else. (I’m not saying that if you somehow wind up being paired with a psychopath for a roommate, you should just grin and bear it – by all means, if that happens to you, please ask for a roommate switch.)
There is one basic rule you should abide by with your roommate: Don’t do something to your roommate that you wouldn’t want done to you. So, if you don’t want your food eaten, don’t eat their food. If you don’t want them to turn the lights on when you’re sleeping, don’t light up while they’re asleep. If you don’t want their music cranked up while you’re studying, don’t crank yours. That’s the bare minimum.
However, if you would like to take being a good roommate to the next level, go out of your way to show them that you care about them. Ask about their day. Buy them food when they’re sick. Help them out when they need favors. Share your snacks with them occasionally.
If you actively try to be a good roommate, chances are that your roommate will try to be one to you as well.
Even if you wind up being on good terms with your roommate, there will definitely still be ups and downs. Just try to be a decent human being for them, and they’ll probably try to be one for you, too. Who knows, maybe you’ll wind up being actual friends.
Bethany Ao is a rising sophomore at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism and minoring in Asian American studies.