How I Made the Most of My College Dorm Experience

Jessie Nilsen / University of North Carolina at Asheville

July 23rd, 2020. It was exactly one week before I made my cross country move from sunny Santa Clarita, California to the lush and beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. I had everything ready for my freshman year of college. My schedule was designed perfectly to my interests, I had been building friendships with my roommate and suitemates, and I knew exactly what my semester was going to look like. 

At least I thought. 

But, on July 23rd, my ideal living situation with my newfound friends changed drastically. My roommate decided to defer for the semester amidst the ongoing pandemic. I completely understood and wished her well, and assumed that I was not going to have a roommate. Then, I checked my housing portal and I found that I was assigned a new roommate. Confused, because I had never heard of this person before, I sent them an email asking about their interests and other relevant information. After checking out their social media and the few brief conversations we had, I quickly realized that they were absolutely nothing like me or my suitemates. Suddenly, my excitement about moving across the country and beginning this new chapter in my life turned into a topic of anxiety and worry. I was nervous to be so far away from my support system while dealing with the adjustment of living in a new place with someone I possibly wouldn’t get along with. 

I was dealing with the reality that my picture-perfect dorm experience wasn’t something that would just get handed to me, I would have to work hard and compromise to create my ideal living situation. Communication and patience became cornerstones of my freshman year.

First Impressions

A week later, I moved into my dorm room on the beautiful campus of UNC Asheville. I was one of the first people to move into the suite. In the days following, my suitemates began moving in and, lastly, my roommate moved in. I’ll be honest, even though I was expecting it, it still felt weird watching a random person come into this shared space, knowing that soon my mom would leave, and I’d be in this room alone with a person I was meeting for the first time. Even from our decorations alone, anyone would be able to tell that we were complete opposites. However, I was determined to make the most of my dorm experience, so I halted any judgment and preconceived notions I had about this person, and let them introduce themselves. It was nerve-wracking for me as well, as I wanted to make a good impression, because I knew that they were probably just as nervous and fearful for the semester as I had been. I quickly recognized that, while we had almost nothing in common, we were both recent high school graduates beginning college in the middle of a pandemic. And, while it was never said, I have a feeling that they were also hoping we’d be friends and someone that each other could rely on. 

We got off to a bit of a rocky start. In the first couple of weeks, my roommate did a few things that irritated me. They would bring food home from the dining hall and leave it on their desk for days, letting it rot and smell up the whole room. Along with that, they would bring friends over, and I would come home to people sitting on my bed and at my desk. While looking at it now, I would call myself dramatic, but at the time I would get very frustrated with these little incidents. 

Communication Is Key

I quickly realized that I was going to have to say something or else risk being perpetually unhappy all semester. I sat down with my roommate and we decided to draft up a list of expectations for our living situation throughout the semester. I shared how certain actions made me feel, and together we created a set of rules for each other. I also gave them space to express any ailments they had, and we made expectations that accommodated the needs of both of us. My roommate did not even know that what they were doing was affecting me, and explained that their actions were not intended to make me uncomfortable and upset. I believed them, and together, with open communication, we were able to create a more harmonious living situation. 

More often than not, roommates go into living together with the hope that they’ll live happily and be best friends without having to set boundaries and establish an open flow of communication. After watching my suitemates’ relationship fall apart on these terms, I’ve learned that this vision rarely comes true. Even if you are friends with your roommate at the beginning of the semester, it is vital that at the start of your living together, you have a conversation to set expectations. This should cover things like: what time each of you plans to go to bed, noise levels, whether you’ll share food, keeping the room clean, the temperature of the room, and other basic physical and emotional needs. Even with setting expectations, it is still important to be tolerant and understanding. 

After all, everyone is just trying to get by and learn on their way through life. It is always better to approach a situation with kindness and understanding. A little compassion goes a long way in living in a shared space.