By Madeleine Taylor (University of Maryland, USA).
I think one of the things most British exchanges are nervous about when studying in America is the prospect of having a roommate. I know I was worried when I arrived – what if we didn’t get along, what if they stayed up too late and were loud or messy? There are most definitely many things to worry over.
When I arrived at The University of Maryland, having received my room assignment maybe only a week before, my roommate wasn’t due to move back in for a few more days. I’d done the obligatory Facebook stalk and she seemed like she would be a nice girl. When I first walked into the room I was faced with a wall full of Doctor Who posters – ok, well at least she was into the British thing. I saw that she was a gymnast – so she would be out of the room for practice a lot. Things were looking great.
And then she arrived. I’m not going to use her real name, so we’re going to call her Amy. Lets just say that when Amy arrived most of my fears of having a roommate were realised. Every moment in the room together was awkward, every conversation seemed to stall, we had opposing sleeping habits (she got up at 4am to go on gymnastics demonstrations!), she disliked my late (midnight) nights on Saturdays – the list goes on. But, no big deal, I didn’t need to be her best friend and we could co-exist peacefully enough. Bigger but – I had no friends. So I set off into the rest of my dorm to make them. I left a note on my door saying that I was new and asking people to knock and say hello. No one ever did. I would try to strike up conversation when washing my face in the bathroom, but was mostly met with blank faces. I sat in the common areas and tried to mingle, but to no avail. Things just were not going well that first week. See, I had been put in the assigned Orthodox Jewish dorm, and had been told by many that they were not very welcoming to newcomers. No judgement, they like what they like, but it put me in a difficult situation.
Then I made the best decision I have all exchange. I asked for help! I went to the head of my dorm, explained my problems and he agreed to move me that week! Really, it was that simple. I’m not going to say it wasn’t a little awkward packing up my stuff with Amy in the room. I’m not going to say I didn’t lie about why I was ‘being forced to move’. But soon I was out and making the short move into my new dorm – Dorchester Hall.
I moved in with an Australian exchange I’d met that happened to have a room to herself and soon settled in. What a difference. My now roommate, Cinddy (I know she won’t mind me using her real name) is the kindest and most considerate roommate I could have hoped for. Sure, sometimes we go to sleep at different times, but we are always respectful and quiet if the other is sleeping, and that’s what sleep masks are made for (this is a must have item)! We are both equally a little messy and we both loathe mornings. She doesn’t get mad if I’m dying of hunger and I steal one of her tasty Australian cookies (TimTams) and I let her use the fridge my aunt Donna loaned me (Thanks Donna!). She is one of the greatest friends I have made here. And the dorm is much friendlier too. I’ve met some wonderful people (shout out to Annie, Kate, Natalie, Paulina and Jackie) in Dorchester and am so so happy I moved.
So the moral of the story? Yes, things weren’t great for me when I first arrived. But I wasn’t going to sit in my room all day with no friends and cry about it! I took action and ended up in an excellent situation. If on exchange you’re unhappy with anything, please go and speak to someone, ask how they can help make your situation better. We’re only here for a brief period of time, and thankfully I didn’t waste any more than two weeks of it being unhappy.
And now, with only a few weeks left of exchange, I’m actually quite sad to go back to my own room with no one there to moan about my day or to laugh with. I’m going to go now, before I start lamenting over my exchange coming to an end.