September 17, 2011

O-Issue 2011: Roommates

Everyone knows that to a certain degree, college is one big social experiment. Hence the decision to pair two virtual strangers in one 8 x 11 foot room and ask them to cohabit peacefully for a year. But whether you end up best friends with your roommate or leave with horror stories to write Cosmo about, here are some survival tips you can use to at least try to make it work.

Communication, otherwise known as speaking

Even if you have nothing in common with your new roommate, nine months of awkward silence will not be fun. O-Week is probably a good time to start talking to your roommate if you want to avoid a year of monastic silence. Practice small talk like, “How was your day?” and, “Where are you from?” You’re going to be getting and asking questions like that a lot during the first few weeks of college, so you might as well start with your roommate. This might even lead to more productive discussions like what time you want lights out, what your class schedules are, and if you share a bathroom, who’s going to buy the toilet paper. Figuring this stuff out early will help avoid conflict later.

Compromise makes you the bigger person

Does your roommate wake you up with a blaring alarm at 6:30 a.m. everyday when you’d like nothing more than to sleep ‘til noon? Sound like a Snorlax with asthma at night? Study with a lamp until sunrise? You can ask them to get a less offensive alarm or use a flashlight, but you can’t ask them to miss 8 a.m. Chinese class or get nasal surgery. Say hello to your new friends: sleeping mask and earplugs. They are cheap and easily available from Walgreen’s, and they will save your life. Or at least save the approximately four hours of sleep you are going to get nightly during your college career.

Sometimes privacy issues arise: A lot of people complain that their roommates are always skyping loudly in the room with their boyfriend/girlfriend from back home. In this situation, it’s important to lay down the rules right away before it becomes an issue. Tell them, as politely as possible, (and as soon as possible, before they make a habit of it) that you’re not comfortable listening to them whisper sweet nothings to their significant other all night long. Not getting the point? Lend them your headphones, or maybe a helpful pillow for them to rest their back on while they Skype outside in the hallway. They’ll catch on pretty quickly.

The Default Rule is “Hands Off”

Some of you will be sharing a room for the first time in your life, but you know basic common courtesy, and that means no touching your roommate’s stuff unless they give you explicit permission. Maybe their parents send them economy-size packs of Kit Kats every month. They haven’t eaten a single one and you’re starving. They’ll never notice if you take one, right? Still, don’t do it without asking. You never know what they will notice, and something like that could easily destroy the trust in a relationship. If you ask, chances are they’ll say yes. Now, apply that rule to everything in their half of the room. If you respect their possessions, they will likely respect yours.

The Dreaded Sexile

It happens. The best you can do is try to let your roommate know ahead of time that you’re going to want the room to yourself and ask that they do the same. Sometimes things get a little spontaneous, though, and for that it’s best to have an escape plan. Arrange to sleep in a friend’s room down the hall in those situations. Don’t make a big deal about leaving the room if your roommate springs a surprise need for some alone time on you, and try not to get too mad or resentful. When your day comes you’ll want them to extend you the same courtesy.

If you really, really can’t make it work

Try talking to an RA or RH. They might be able to give some helpful tips or mediate a really tough situation with your roommate. If you absolutely cannot live with your roommate for the next nine months, you can apply to switch rooms. Contact the Office of Undergraduate Housing (located at 6030 S. Ellis Avenue, 773-702-7366). Switching rooms isn’t too difficult, but there is a three week housing freeze at the beginning of autumn quarter when no one can move. After that, switching depends on your location, preferences, and vacancies in the housing system. While many students do make it work, no one should feel stuck in a bad situation.