For many people the idea of sharing your room, your space and your time can be hard. Going to college is scary enough without the added pressure of a possibly poor rooming or roommate situation.
Going abroad is also scary. For me, I came to Italy not knowing a single person coming with me. I had no friends, no family and no support system here on the ground. I was terrified that the three girls I’d be living with would be awful and make my experience miserable.
All I knew going in was that one of my roommates-- the one directly in my room, one bed over-- was from Arcadia. The other two girls were in the Arcadia program, but one was from Maryland and the other Minnesota. We had a group chat and talked a little before the trip. We learned the basics like if people were neat or messy, if we were rise and shine people or night owls and so on.
I want to share the reality of living with people you: 1) do not know at all 2) are from different places 3) have to get along with because you’ll be there for 4 months. This may sound like a forced friendship situation. You may be sitting there and feel yourself rebelling already at the idea of someone telling you who you have to live with and share your space with. I get it. When people tell me to do something, it’s in my nature to want to do the opposite. I so badly wanted to live alone, yet I ended up with three roommates.
Last year I had a terrible roommate experience leading me to move out before my lease was up. I paid for an apartment I didn’t live in, in order to better my mental health. Because of this, the concept of roommates was tarnished for me. All summer I sat up thinking that these new girls would leave me torn up and spit out the way my last experience had left me.
I am only three weeks in, but I have lots to report in terms of roommates from all around. First, it can be hard living with people from different schools, backgrounds, or political beliefs. COVID was a large concern coming to Italy and we were all advised to be vaccinated. All of my roommates are vaccinated! However, not everyone has the same beliefs regarding COVID. It was hard for one of our roommates to accept the difference in political ideology and it created problems.
Living in a hostile environment isn’t good for anyone. It isn't good for the two involved in the situation or the two acting as neutral Switzerland sharing the space. Having different political ideologies may come up. It’s how you handle it that’s important. If you are the type of person that can look beyond which side of the political spectrum someone falls on and accept them for being a kind and considerate person-- then you’ll do well with roommates and out in the world.
Accepting people for their differences is essential in the world. Not everyone will think like you. People should feel comfortable in their own homes, not alienated. If you’re going to room with people, be prepared that not everyone’s view will align with yours. Be respectful, have conversations and stay open!
Your roommates do not need to be your best friends, but you do need to cohabitate. Keep your space tidy, remain polite and remember to have shared respect. I would recommend making apartment guidelines and having a conservation about everyone’s preferences in the home. Apartment guidelines could be small rules like clean your own dishes and a laundry schedule, all the way to who is allowed into the apartment. Setting boundaries for yourself is important, but also make sure you and your roommates agree on these rules.
In terms of living abroad it may be important to also create standards for going out. Even if your roommates are not your best friends you should have open lines of communication to make sure everyone is going out and getting home safely. If you get stuck somewhere longer than expected or stay overnight with friends-- let your roommates know! They may be worried if you never show up home. Also walking in groups keeps people safer especially with petty crime in European countries. Your roommates can be built-in safety buddies if you want them to be (I highly recommend it!)
Having roommates that are your friends or you are simply living compatible with can make your time abroad safer and happier. For me personally, I have found that my roommates care about my safety far more than I would have expected. If I want to go out late at night or am coming back home, my roommates will offer to meet me or walk me to make sure I am getting around safely. Groups are always better than walking alone at night. I love their company and appreciate when they offer to walk with me. If you’re not the closest I would still try to build a relationship where you look out for one another and make sure you get to where you’re going safely. A good practice is to let your roommates know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. No one needs to track each other and you don’t need to give full details, but a general idea keeps everyone up to date. Knowing where each other are is essential since you’re all in a new place. Your roommates may become the closest thing to a family you’ll have when you’re abroad so be sure to keep them in the loop and build a positive relationship.
Remember, if you can’t handle your living situation, I’d strongly recommend you find a way to live alone, for everyone’s benefit. Make sure your apartment or where you’re staying is safe and comfortable for everyone there. Remember it’s your home away from home for the next four months— make it a pleasant experience.