Studying in the USA vs Studying in the UK Episode 2: Roommates

Today’s post is all about Roommates. This is one of the biggest and most important differences in collegiate life between the USA and the U.K. In the USA you are assigned a roommate and it’s such a profound difference because the experience of sharing a room with someone will inevitably shape your time at college and perhaps your life thereafter. At Winchester I had a spacious room where I played games, wrote my stories, read books, and it was a completely private existence in which I sheltered from the campus around me. It was a place of solitude where I allowed myself to be as messy as I liked.

In the US I had a roommate, Brad, and so we had to coordinate on what we wanted the room to be like. It was a little complicated for me, given that I was arriving from a different country and leaving after one semester. So Brad brought a lot of stuff like a TV, a futon, even a fridge. He made the decision to have our beds lofted, which I’m glad he did because it gave us more space. And once the semester started, we both had to get used to the idea of sharing a living space with someone else- he being a freshman and me coming from the land without roommates. It’s a more colorful and vibrant existence in the US, and it seems like something is always going on somewhere, some activity or adventure already underway. It’s not a place of solitude, but I can’t say I missed the solitude. I liked being forced into this social sphere. Of course I was still extremely shy, and Brad would bring over friends old and new who would get quite comfortable in the room. I’m sure some of them knew the room code. This is another thing one has to make peace with quickly, or you’ll endure a year fraught with bitterness and tension.

Brad’s friends were always nice to me, and given that they were freshmen, they had this buzz of enthusiasm about them and the pre-alcohol innocence of high-schoolers. One time I got a knock on the door and opened it to reveal a slim girl with large glasses, clutching a stack of books and folders to her bosom. She let herself in and said she was here to meet Brad for some studying. The girl smiled at me- not the evangelical ear-to-ear, open-mouthed smile you so often find in the Midwest- but a pleasant, closed-lipped grin, rounding softly at the cheeks and which seemed to warn of feisty temperament and an intimidating, witty intellect. She sat on the futon and waited for Brad whilst I resumed my place at my desk, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t pierce the silence with a nervous fart. I remember trying to think of how to look cool and relaxed whilst sitting at my desk, shifting in my chair to try out different positions. Brad came, and she revealed herself to be a very lively character, sitting cross-legged on Brad’s chair and dominating the atmosphere with her fiery humor and loud, unapologetic belches.

As I’ve covered in previous episodes, the Michael that arrived to the USA back then was unbearably shy, and I had about as much confidence in my ability to join a conversation as I did my likelihood of one day marrying Emilia Clarke. So whenever Brad’s friends came over I would sit rigidly at my desk, trying to busy myself with some reading or writing, but constantly on edge. I listened to their every word and sweated in my seat, worried that I might suddenly be prompted to speak and make a fool of myself. The problem I had back then was that my anxiety made me terrified to approach someone and work on a relationship. I reacted to the slightest facet of body language, tone, or eye contact that didn’t overtly court friendship and assumed I was not wanted. I never tried to work on a relationship, and that’s one of the regrets I carry not just towards Brad, but other people I have met in life that I never truly got to know. I was so consumed with my fear of other people that I waited for them to do all the social heavy lifting, not realizing that everyone communicates differently and has their own worries and insecurities. One thing I learned on my exchange was that you can never really know how another person is feeling or what they are thinking; we take a frightened look and fill in the blanks with our preconceptions.

I had a peaceful and amicable semester living in the same room as Brad, and as I’ve mentioned in Making Friends in the USA Part 3, I spent most of my time with Aaron and Akbar in their room. Theirs was a very successful roommate narrative, but during my time at Eau Claire I heard some real horror stories. There was one guy who lived a few doors down from us who entered his room one night to find that his roommate was having drunken sex with this girl he had hooked up with. The girl then screamed at him to “fuck off” and leave them alone, and the poor guy was left wandering the dorms for hours at night, banished from his own room. From what I learned, the roommate never apologized, and it’s just an example of the lottery nature of the roommate system. Whomever you get will have an inevitable impact on your college experience, whether you become buddies or not. And it’s an important aspect of collegiate life for Americans, because it teaches them about the dynamics of coexistence and shared responsibility.

I hope you liked this little post on roommates! If so, please consider giving me a Like or Subscribe, and I will endeavor to produce more content if I think people are enjoying it. What are your experiences with roommates? How did it shape your college experience? Let me know in the comments!

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