Well, it’s about that time again. Thousands of students will be returning to campus in the next few weeks, having spent their summers abroad, back home, working at internships or simply lazing away the warm summer days (and of course partying away the warm summer nights). Among the throng are the wide-eyed first years, attending university for the first time – some making the move from their hometowns to a completely new city.
Ready than ever to be on my own…
Five years ago, I was one of those eager first years, fresh out of high school with bright eyes full of wonder and awe at my new university and city. I had new sheets, towels, toiletries and tons of Ikea storage solutions to make my tiny room in residence ‘my own’. I was moving 3000 km away from my family, friends, boyfriend, and 18 years of familiarity and comfort. I was ecstatic and, like good ol’ Ernest from Halloween; scared stupid.
Despite the apprehension, I remember feeling completely ready to be on my own and independent from my parents. I was excited to move away to a new city and take advantage of my new-found freedom. Just the thought of getting my own groceries was enough to keep a permanent smile on my face! Admittedly, I was nervous about meeting new people and worried sick about how much I was going to miss my boyfriend. But with my naiveté still in check, I was feeling ready to attack my first year on my own with a vengeance.
And it all comes crashing down…
First, let me say that I think that each first year university student who moves away has his or her own set of unique problems to struggle with. For some, it may be the inevitable bout of homesickness that proves to be a bit of challenge. Or maybe the initial fear of meeting people and making new friends is particularly stressful. For others, the combination of serious responsibility in and outside of school (Hello monthly bills and anxiety-attack inducing group work!) may be super overwhelming. And while every student who moves away feels a little of all these things (myself included), there’s usually one or two issues that stick out a little further as that extra pain in your side.
The thorn, or should I say thornS, in my first year experience were the 3 people I was assigned to live with in residence. After the initial week of nicey nice ‘best behaviour’, I quickly found out that I was going to be living a Rocky Horror Roommate Show.
My roommates were a perfectly horrific storm of Mr. Bully, Ms. Drug User and Mr. Dead Beat. And those three were just my official roommates. We also had squatters; friends of my roommates who crashed on our couches and contributed to the indescribable garbage dump that was our kitchen. And while I could easily spend the next 10 minutes detailing all their flaws and disrespectful actions over that first year, I am going to instead point out my fatal flaw in that situation: Not taking better action.
For the first couple months, I didn’t want to create any major conflict with my roommates, and so I only half-heartedly expressed my concerns- or sometimes not at all. That was mistake #1. By letting things slide in the beginning, I was setting myself up for even bigger problems down the road. Later on, I did try to stand up to my roommates, but by then they had no desire to change their ways. It always came down to 3 against 1 – odds I just couldn’t win.
As an inexperienced first year, I began to reason that ‘everybody has roommate issues’ and that this was just part of university and living in residence. That was mistake #2. While my friends were dealing with roommates who left dirty dishes in the sink for a couple of days, I was dealing with roommates who began to pile dirty dishes INSIDE the oven because there was not a single surface left in the kitchen that wasn’t already piled high with disgusting dishes. I was waking up to remnants of cocaine lines on our kitchen table, becoming more and more nervous around Mr. Bully, and hated every moment spent in residence.
Hindsight is 20/20…
Reflecting on that first year, I am so frustrated at myself for not getting out of that situation. I didn’t even tell my parents how bad it was; I simply fought a never ending fight, put up with it, and suffered. But there was no need for that! I sometimes wonder if things would have been different had I stood up to my roommates right from the start. But even if that hadn’t worked, I could have moved out. I could have brought my issues to my university’s housing services and they could have facilitated a move to a different room. I vaguely knew this option existed but I just never took advantage of it.
Housing services have specific guidelines in place to help students out of extreme situations. Typically a residence advisor will first attempt to mediate the problem, and then recommend a room change. A room change must be approved by a housing services manager and is subject to room availability, but once a serious issue is brought forward, the university will do its best to find an appropriate solution.
Because of my inaction, I missed out on many positive residence experiences and only remember the negative. Roommate matchups are pretty random if you’re moving all by yourself to a new university and the personality questionnaire you fill out when applying for residence doesn’t guarantee a blissful roommate experience. That being said, I know many people who had fantastic roommates and likely forged lifelong friendships. The key is to remember that, even as a first year student, you have a right to a comfortable, safe, and enjoyable living situation.
No matter what, there is always a way out of a bad situation. Sometimes it is about standing your ground (or compromising) with a slightly frustrating but mentally stable roommate, and other times it is about cutting your losses and getting the hell out of there!
As for the 3 stooges, I’m not entirely certain what happened to them after we parted ways. Ms. Drug User dropped out of university before the year end and I heard that Mr. Dead Beat failed his first year. I never saw Mr. Bully again.
I’m happy to say that my living experience in second year improved exponentially with my moving to an apartment off campus. Stay tuned for Part 2 of ‘Making the Move’.