My experience with an international roommate
February 18, 2018
Coming to college, I had no idea what to expect from my random roommate assignment. All summer, I wondered what this girl would be like. Maybe she’d be from Naperville, Illinois, with long blond hair, looking to join the perfect sorority and an a capella group. Or maybe she’d be from Southern Illinois, with a slight country accent and flare jeans. Or, maybe she’d be from New York with a pixie haircut, like mine at the time. The options were endless.
I remember the day I found out who my roommate would be. I was on my way to work at an outlet mall in the Chicago suburbs. My phone buzzed in my pocket, and I recognized the email notification vibration pattern. My stomach jumped when I saw something like “University Housing at Illinois” in the subject line, and I immediately scrolled through the email, barely reading its contents at first.
I came across her name at the bottom of the email. It didn’t roll off my tongue too easily at first. I noticed that her hometown was in China. My first feeling, after receiving my roommate assignment, was worry. I was worried I would do something to diminish her college experience if I said the wrong thing or behaved in the wrong way. I had never interacted with someone my age from China before, and I was worried about not only being a bad roommate, but a bad person. Now, I wonder if she felt the same way.
However, I let all that worry go as quickly as I could. I emailed her that same day, introducing myself and asking her about herself. We exchanged a few emails about when we would arrive to campus and coordinating who would buy a microwave and a refrigerator.
She got to school first. When I arrived, we went to the dining hall together. We got lost on the bus to Target together. We visited the Dump & Run by the YMCA to get a mini-fridge together. When we were signing our roommate agreement, we sat on my bed for hours, just talking about life. I learned about where she grew up, what her family was like and how it felt for her to be so far away from home.
Our friendliness diminished over time, like many other roommate situations I have heard of.
Eventually, we weren’t talking as much and we operated on our own schedules. Like normal roommates, we’d (nicely) kick each other out if we wanted to have friends or a boy over. We made snarky remarks about our cleanliness or whose turn it was to buy more paper bowls and plastic forks.
I realize now, two years later, that my worry came from my own lack of understanding of the situation. Even though she was from a different place, we were both just college students, handling things day by day, and I didn’t need to worry about possibly offending her as much as I thought. Interacting with someone new and from a different place than myself was rewarding for that reason.
Andrea is a junior in Media.