Q&A with an RA: Life as a resident advisor

By Jessica Peterson, Staff writer

Niharika Roychoudhury, or Nika, is a junior in LAS.  This year, she is a resident advisor (RA) in Presby Hall, one of the Private Certified Housing buildings on campus this year. She sat down with one of the Daily Illini writers to discuss life as an RA, what made her decide to work in the residence halls and her strategies for being a great resource for her residents.

How long have you been an RA?

This is my first year.

What do you think so far?

No big issues so far. I have a lot of international students on my floor that I think I can relate to because I’m an international student too. In fact, I’m holding an event tomorrow to explain the internship process for international students. We can’t just apply and be accepted and start working; there’s a whole process and paperwork through CPT (Curriculum Practical Training) and stuff. They need to know about it.

What made you want to become an RA?

I actually lived on this floor my freshman year, and my RA and I got very close. When I first got to campus, I didn’t know anyone. No one from my high school came here.

Where are you from exactly?

Mumbai, India. I knew a few people who I met later after acceptances were given out, but we only met once or twice. My RA and I got close right from the start, and we’re still really good friends. She was an education major for special ed, and she’s
working and stuff now, but she’ll still snap me. She’s just the sweetest person

So I thought, you know, if I could one day emulate where she’s at, that’d be good. It gave me a goal to work toward; she is a role model in a lot of ways.

What kind of characteristics did she have that made her a good RA?

She was always there for you, never judgmental, and she could’ve been. I didn’t realize how homesick I’d get because I went to boarding school before, but she helped you assimilate into campus culture.

She also offered a lot of resources and had mentioned, “Hey, maybe sorority rush would be a good fit for you.” Not a lot of international students rush, if you think about it. There are a couple of cultural sororities, but I rushed Panhellenic and ended up joining a house, Delta Zeta, and that’s helped me grow so much personally and professionally. It has been a very strong support system on campus.

How do you take that experience and apply it to being an RA now?

I just try to listen. I assume that everyone’s having a hard day, and I’m just nice to them, so hopefully that gives them a little boost to their step. It’s such a small thing to compliment someone on their dress, but it can turn their whole day around if they’re having a bad day.

I have an open door policy. I’ll be in the building, and they can come to me with whatever. Sometimes, even though you know it’s going to be okay, you need someone to be there and tell it to you. Yeah, in general, I think that’s what the biggest role of an RA is, just to be there for people.

What would you say residents don’t realize about their RA?

They don’t realize that I’m more than an RA sometimes. So like they’ll see me on the street with my friends or out at a party and go, “What? You have a life?” Yes, actually. I have many aspects to my life and am not just an authority figure.

Is it hard finding the balance between being an RA and a student?

I’ve always been multitasking, so this is actually the easiest year I’ve had. You need to put in time and work for shifts and stuff, but overall I’ve always been a huge planner, so it is just a matter of scheduling and it works out fine.

Also, people here are super understanding. It contributes to the Presby feel of being really family-oriented. We’re there for each other as more than just coworkers.

What do you think is important as an RA when it comes to bringing domestic and international students together?

I think just being tolerant and understanding people have different life experiences. Students still need to have their own identity and be connected to their roots. I feel much closer to my culture (and) my traditions here than I did in India, because there I just sort of took it for granted.

Here you have to actively be like, “Oh what’s the Indian Student Association doing? Maybe I should attend Garba.” Managing to adapt and fit in this culture is small adjustments. Getting used to differences but also maintaining their sense of identity so they don’t get lost in American culture. Finding that balance is what an RA can provide.

What have been the most rewarding and challenging parts of being an RA?

I had an event where about 20 people on the floor came. It was really nice because I didn’t have to facilitate the conversation, it was just flowing, and people were getting to know each other. Well, I don’t think the most challenging part has really come from the students. I think it’s the time management thing, and maintaining all the different parts of my life.

For students who don’t think they can find community here, what is something you want to say to them?

I guarantee that there are others on the campus who feel the same way. Even if you are not an extrovert, just go out and talk to someone. You could talk to one person in your class, and they might introduce you to your entire new friend circle. This campus gives you what you put into it.

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