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August 23, 2015

Ask a Metalhead: Living in a Dorm Room with Other People

Ask a Metalhead, Tr00 Metal Life

Griffyndorboysdormitory

Dear Steff

I know this isn’t really a metal question, but you’ve got experience I’d like to learn from. So here goes.

I’m heading to college in a few weeks, I’m going to be living on campus, and I have four roommates. We share one room that is basically divided down the middle – three of us in one half, and two in the other.

My issue is that although I’ve been friends on Facebook with three out of four of them, they started a group chat before I was there and are already friends. They started it back a few weeks ago (they couldn’t find me on FB), and they’re planning to get matching sheets together and such. Two of them are besties from high school, and the other two seem to have hit it off in the chat, but they’ve pretty much ignored me. When I look at their profiles on FB, I’m even more scared of what’s gonna happen. All of them are city chicks with money who are (probably) Christian. I am none of that. And none of them are metalheads (which I figured I could deal with just fine).

So, as someone who’s been through all this, what would you do, and what kind of suggestions do you have?

***

Griffyndorboysdormitory

You have to share a room?

I think I would die. Seriously, I have no idea how you get any work done like that. What do you do if someone needs to cram until 3AM while everyone else wants to sleep, or someone eats a really hot curry one night? It just does not computer.

With the exception of my husband, I’ve never had to share a room – not even with my sister – in a house, although I did share a campervan with my husband and two friends for eight weeks while travelling. Both CDH and I had an adjustment period when we moved in together and realised we both still expected to do everything our way. Aside from the obvious horror factor about physically sharing a small space with lots of people, I can offer some advice on the whole general college/making friends/dealing with people who don’t get you experience.

I’ve spoken a bit about my initial experience at university here, but I’ll talk about it again. I spent a lot of time being excited about going to uni, and then the week leading up to leaving, I started to get nervous. I realised I was going to be walking away from my established life and all the friends it had taken me SO BLOODY LONG to make to go and live six hours away in a hostel (dorm) with absolutely no one I knew. On the car ride up I just got quieter and quieter.

Mother Metal and I arrived at the hostel around 6pm, just as an orientation party was getting into swing. So I am lugging bags of clothes and boxes of archaeology books up the stairs, while people are doing shots in the common rooms and fighting over the insanely awful hip hop music. I felt as if everyone already knows everyone else, and I am too late.

Everyone seems to be already wasted, and my clothes are all wrong (Metallica shirt, black skate shorts, bright coloured socks) because I don’t look like I came from the beach or a rap video set. I’d assumed that everyone would be lonely and nervous like I was, but it didn’t look like the case.

So instead of going to the hostel party that night like I’d planned on, I burst into tears and went out to dinner with my mum and boyfriend. I just didn’t know what to do or how to approach people there. I couldn’t pick out anyone who looked friendly or approachable or like we might have something in common.

As I started to get to know the hostel better, I could see that I came from quite a different background to a lot of the residents A lot of them came from rich families and private schools. A lot of them were clearly quite popular in high school and viewed uni as one big party. They all seemed to like normal things and have normal hobbies – drinking, playing sports, etc. During orientation week the hostel ran all sorts of events, and many people made friends during those, but I don’t like big events where I don’t know anyone and everyone gets drunk, so I avoided a lot of this, thus ensuring that I had a rep as being a bit of a quiet loner. I felt exactly like you do right now, that I was just the odd one out.

I was a pretty serious student, so I spent most of my time at the hostel studying in my room. If I wanted to socialise, I went out to concerts and plays, to the local writers’ group, or hung with my boyfriend and his friends. I decided early on that because I didn’t feel comfortable there, I wouldn’t rely on the hostel to provide me with a social life. But even then, I met a few awesome people in the hall, some of whom I’m still friends with today. It just took me longer than one drunken hostel party to find my peeps.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Don’t worry about their existing relationships. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because the other roommates have a headstart on getting to know each other. It’s hard to form those connections over the internet, especially if on the surface they have a lot in common that you don’t share. Think about the impression you’ve already formed of them – they have probably formed a similarly flattering view of you that is probably not accurate. You may well discover that you actually get on really well in person.
  2. Realise that it’s OK if you don’t become BFFs with your roommates. Sure, it would be nice to have a built-in network of awesome girls who you happen to live with, but they may well just think you’re too weird/poor/satanic. That’s OK – you can’t control what they think or do, but what you can control is your own behaviour. Make sure that whether they take to you or not, you be the best roommate possible. Be kind and courteous and respectful and consciencious. Don’t give them a reason to gang up and get ugly.
  3. Set some ground rules. As soon as everyone arrives at the dorm, call a dorm meeting and spend some time laying out some ground rules. What these rules are will depend on a group consensus, but it’s good to establish them early on so that you all avoid problems. Don’t wait for an issue to come up. The rules should cover things like when roommates can have guests over, how many, and for how long, when lights go out, wake up times in the morning, a chore schedule, and how to deal with noise and smells and differing music or food tastes.
  4. Create a ritual. If the opportunity comes up in the first week or so you’re there, try to create a roommate ritual – something fun you all do together, whether it’s ordering pizza and watching cheesy chick flicks, or making a different type of cocktail every Friday night. A little activity like this is a great way to form a bond, even if you all have very different social lives.
  5. People change in college. It is a time when you start to explore who you are and your conceptions of the world. The state of affairs at the beginning of the year will be very different than the end. I can almost guarantee you that even if all four of those girls band together and hate your guts, but the end of the year at least one of them will be ostracised from their group, and another one will have a nose ring or a pregnancy. So even if all four of them gang up against you, don’t feel as if things will stay the same forever.
  6. Decorate your space. Being able to claim your space with your own style can be a huge deal when you’re sharing. Bring along a funky duvet cover and throw pillows, and hang up photographs of some of your favourite memories, as well as prints of artwork or album covers or quotes that resonate with you. If you’re flatting with Christians I’d avoid any occult imagery, unless it happens to be part of your faith, just because it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth. But otherwise, enjoy decorating your area in your own style.
  7. Create your life outside of your dorm. Living in close quarters with so many people – especially if they don’t share your interests or worldviews – is going to be hard, and there will be times when you get so annoyed you want to stomp and smash and shout. Start establishing a routine that has you away from the dorm as much as possible. Scope out the good study spots in the library or around the grounds, find your favourite coffee shops for meeting friends, and look around some of the different clubs and societies on campus. Joining an interest group is the quickest way to meet some new people that you might have more in common with. I was out most weekends with my boyfriend or friends, and during the week I would often study at the library between classes and attend public lectures or events in the evening, so I was often not in the hall. If your roommates turn out to be awful, at least you’ll hardly ever see them.
  8. Let small things slide. If someone puts up a big “Jesus Freak” poster on their wall, don’t use it as a jumping-off point to discuss your newfound conversion to secular humanism. If someone has their crappy music up loud, don’t bitch – just nicely ask them if they could use headphones, as you’re trying to study. Don’t let them walk all over you, and don’t change who you are to fit in with them, but at the same time, choose your battles wisely. Don’t pick a fight unless it’s something very important, because you could end up walking on eggshells for the rest of the year.
  9. Remember that it’s not forever. You probably only have to live with these girls for a year. In second year onward you have other options, including getting a flat of your own, or moving into a smaller dorm with a different roommate. If things get bad, just grit your teeth and make it through – you don’t have long to wait until you can escape.
  10. Same is Boring. Embrace the opportunity to make friends with people from all types of different backgrounds. I have friends who are atheists and friends who are devout believers of many different religions and spiritual paths. I have friends who grew up very rich, and friends who grew up rather poor, who are obsessed with trains, space, gay rights, brewing, dogs, cats, Ancient Greece, WWII, eastern philosophy, German opera, and gronking, All of them have something to teach me.
  11. Stay positive! You’re off to college, and it’s going to be amazing. Try not to spend your time beforehand worrying about what might happen, and you can’t change, and focus on the excitement of starting your degree and moving to a new place. Enter with a positive attitude and you’ll attract likeminded people and exciting opportunities.

By the end of my first year at university, I had met about six people I really dug hanging out with, and agreed to rent a room in a flat with two other girls, (one of whom I’m still close to today). I didn’t suddenly become Miss Popular overnight at the hostel, but I did make it work for me. And I have no doubt that you’ll make this work for you, too!

Have you lived with roommates at college/university? What advice could you give? Add yours in the comments.

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