Adjusting to a new living situation can be stressful. You are dealing with a move; leaving home, family, pets; sharing your living space, maybe for the first time; making new friends; and adapting to a new culture–all at once! It’s important, then, that you realize you are experiencing a life change so you can be prepared.
Don’t pull your head into a shell like the turtle. Although we all have to have defenses, now is not the time to hibernate. The college you attend will mean a lot of new things to learn about, which can be overwhelming. You don’t have to do it all at once. Take bit by bit. First make your room your new home, next venture into the rooms of others on your floor, then to other floors, next to other dorms in your living complex, and pretty soon you are taking bigger bites of the whole campus.
It is important to make the attempt to reach out to others. You should reach out to your roommate, you should attempt to make new friends, especially within the dorm, you should eat your meals in the cafeteria with the intent of sitting beside new people, and you should establish an environment in your room that is comfortable and familiar.
This is the time for you to be exposed, to open up, to let go of old defenses. With such an attitude you will have more success adjusting to a new life and begin to prepare for your future with all its change.
Feeling at Home
Let’s start with your dorm room. This is now your home-away-from-home. It is important that you make it yours. If you attempt to keep things to a minimum, too tidy, or too stark, you will not be comfortable in your own environs. At the same time, a messy room, one that has never been unpacked or organized, and one that is not arranged for your needs will also be unfriendly. Of course, you have to compromise with your roommate about what goes into your room, but make sure you have input and that you have your own space with your things: your posters, your colors, and your personal items.
Think carefully about what you need around you when you’re alone and when you’re studying. Do you really want a new blanket or your old fuzzy? Is food important? Think about a small refrigerator or a food container. If you need to listen to certain music, bring it with earphones so that you can listen to it at anytime. If you like only sports and you think your roommate is more into comedy, maybe you need your own television. Plan ahead to make a personal spot out of your dorm room. Soon it will be YOUR room.
One thing that will be part of your room, something you can not re-decorate, is your roommate. Because your roommate is so integral to your living, it is very important for you to fill out any surveys and personality inventories your college provides to help match you to a person to share a room with. This is another area of effort you must make for success down the road, and let’s face it, for a better first-year at college.
Early initial contact with your future roommate is best. When you receive your roommate assignment, get in touch by email or phone. If it’s possible, meet for lunch. Early contact will help you get a read right away on your roommate and prepare you for living with this person. And, remember you are dealing with a person who has the same concerns you do, the need to be liked, quirks, and fears. Start friendly and discuss common interests. Then move to practical planning, like who is bringing what, where there should be two and where there should be only one of something. Also try, before actually moving in when there can be power struggles, to come to understandings like how many stay-overs should there be, what sleeping times are good for you, how much studying time there needs to be. If you can feel out expectations, the adjustment can become easier.
Finally, develop a relationship with your roommate. You two do not need to be best friends, but you should have some things you share beyond the room space. The person who lives with you should be familiar, not a stranger. It may take your reaching out. One thing you should avoid is spending all of your time with your old friends from high school. Exclusivity of friendship may alienate your roommate. Plan to do some things with your roommate, like eating some meals with him or her. Also, if neither of you has been to the library yet or neither of you is sure about the food court, why not visit the unknown together? And, establish some helpful routines for each other. If one of you wakes early and easily, volunteer to make sure the other makes his or her early class. If one of you has a coffee maker, share coffee everyday before leaving the room. Find ways to be together comfortably.
Dealing with Problems
Of course, things may not work out. You may find that you and your roommate are incompatible. You may be in a triple that is too crowded for you. There may be too much noise or a dominate life-style in your dorm that you can not tolerate. If your living situation is affecting your health, sanity, or school work, don’t let it ride; it could impact you in a bad way. Take care if of it up front.
The rule of thumb is to try to work on things and give things a chance to iron out for a month. After all, diversity is good, educational, and why you came to college in the first place. Don’t give up on a roommate because he/she is not a replica of you. But, if after a month you remain uncomfortable, you may have to take action.
The first step is to go to the Resident Assistant on your floor. It is wise to have a list of the problems and their negative effect on you. This serves to demonstrate you have given thought to your situation, and it also serves as a starting point for matching you up with someone or some place more compatible. It may also help to have a list of things you have tried to negotiate and how they have worked or not worked. If you do not get some satisfaction from your Residence Assistant, do not stop. Go online to see what office on campus operates residential life or housing. You have to continue up the ladder, whether it is to visit a director of your dorm or dorm complex or see the Director of Residential Life. Keep at it. Show you have real concerns that are not drying up and that you are mature enough to follow through to a solution.
It may be that even when you are heard there will be a time lapse due to lack of space or a suitable roommate; that will mean you have to stay in the undesired living situation for a couple of weeks before being moved or getting another roommate. Then you will have to cope the best you can. Remember you are paying for your room. Don’t vacate it. To move out or stay out is not really fair to you. To move in with a friend may cause another problem with your friend’s roommate. Approach this situation with some balance. Don’t stay out all the time, but if quiet for study can not be had in your room, then maybe you need to go to the library or to another part of the dorm where there is communal study space for a couple of hours. Also try to negotiate with your roommate. Be willing to put up with his friends one weekend if you can have the next weekend to yourself or with your friends. If she wants to be up late every night, maybe you can negotiate two to three nights for her to be out so you can sleep earlier.
Don’t give up, and keep a positive attitude about being able to both deal with and fix your problems.