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An International Student’s Guide to Living with Roommates

International students moving into dormitory at college

How to have a great roommate experience

In your first year at a U.S. university, you may share a room with one or two other people. Your roommates may be international students, or they may be Americans. Either way, you’ll need to learn to share your space.

College may be the first time you live with someone who is not a member of your family. If you are new to having a roommate, you might not be sure what to expect. Although every roommate relationship is different, there are some things you can do to make the experience as pleasant as possible. You might even end up with a new best friend.

Connect before move-in day

In many cases, you’ll know who your roommate is long before you move in. Start talking to them as soon as you can. Email, social media, and even video calls can help you get to know your roommate, so you already feel comfortable with them before you have to share a room.

Agree on rules and chores

Setting rules from the beginning can make living together more comfortable. For example, you may want to set a rule that you always use headphones when listening to music or watching a movie. Or you might want to agree that lights out is at 10 p.m. on days when either of you has class in the morning. Be prepared to compromise.

Agree on chores as early as possible, too. Whose job is it to sweep the floor, wash the windows, or take out the trash? Have a conversation with your roommate early so you don’t end up fighting over chores later.

Be Friendly

Living with someone new can be stressful at first. When people are stressed, they’re not always at their best. Try to be friendly but don’t assume that you and your roommate are going to be best friends. For example, you might invite them to eat lunch with you once a week, but don’t assume that you’ll eat every meal together every day.

Communicate

Your roommate can’t read your mind. They might do something that annoys you without them realizing it. They might even do something that seems rude or offensive. When this happens, remember that your roommate has a different family, background, and culture than you do. Your roommate’s idea of what is polite may not be the same as yours.

Don’t assume that your roommate knows when they’ve offended you or made you uncomfortable. Tell them. For example, in some cultures, people take their shoes off when they enter someone’s home. In other cultures, people leave their shoes on. You might think it’s disrespectful to wear shoes in the room, while your roommate thinks it’s perfectly normal. They won’t know what’s bothering you unless you tell them.

Respect your roommate

Respecting your roommate is the most important thing you can do to have a positive roommate relationship. Be respectful of your roommate’s time, personal space, and possessions. You can show respect by:

  • Keeping shared living spaces clean – When you share a room, your mess affects your roommate. Throw away your trash, keep your clothes off the floor, and clean up any messes you make.
  • Giving them spaceDon’t open your roommate’s drawers, closets or bags without asking first. Don’t use their things without asking. Everyone needs privacy.
  • Asking before bringing friends home – Your roommate may have a big test to study for, not feel well, or may simply need time to relax. There are many places you can go on campus to spend time with your friends, but you only have one room of your own. If your roommate doesn’t want company, don’t force it on them.
  • Following the rules you set together.

If you’re respectful of your roommate’s needs, they will be more likely to respect yours as well. Communicate openly and often to build a positive relationship between you and your roommate.