Before leaving home for the first time to spend my next four years in a city on the other side of the continent, I asked 10 of my friends what the first thing was that came to their minds when they thought of the word "university."
One answered, “prison,” while another replied, “freedom.”
Fair enough. After all, Hamlet could have been bound in a nutshell and counted himself a king of infinite space.
The remaining eight all responded with this: “dorms.”
For many students, the biggest change that comes with transitioning from high school to university is not, in fact, the increased levels of academic rigor or the challenges of a new social venture, but the shock of suddenly finding themselves in an unfamiliar living environment.
For me, this shock was doubled in magnitude, owing to my unfortunately unrealistic expectations of a glamorous dorm – courtesy of hours and hours of binge-watching movies such as Pitch Perfect and Gilmore Girls. For instance, rather than the hardwood floors, bay windows and cozy fireplaces that I had been anticipating, my room actually had the audacity to instead feature nondescript linoleum, shattered windows and a wheezing radiator.
Imagination could not have been any further from reality.
Indignant and slightly shaken, I decided to console myself by speaking with various college students across North America on their dorm experiences, to see if there was anyone out there who shared my sentiments.
1. Samay Bansal, Freshman
To Samay Bansal, a first-year economics student at Tufts University, dorm life is old news. Having previously participated in Harvard's summer school and Semester at Sea during high school, Bansal is a seasoned veteran when it comes to living in cramped, enclosed quarters with a fellow student.
“There are only two rules when it comes to living with a roommate,” Bansal enthusiastically told Fresh U. “One, make sure the room is a comfortable space that both of you can come back to every night. You can’t live in a place where you’re like, oh no, it’s my roommate. It has to feel comfortable. And two, communicate. Let your roommate know when there’s something that is bothering you. Get it out there so that it can be resolved.”
Bansal also revealed that he and his roommate have divided their room into two respective sides, but that they freely share various things. There is a certain limit to the sharing, however.
“I have a fridge on my side of the room and I have a vacuum,” Bansal revealed. “My roommate is welcome to go and use my fridge and my vacuum any time he wants to. But my personal items, he won’t touch. And his personal items, I won’t touch either.”
However, Bansal’s physical description of his dorm room sounded almost as horrific as mine. While my room, being on the top floor with shattered windows, was at least quite breezy, Bansal's room was on the very first floor with no ventilation whatsoever. To remedy the situation, he and his roommate had set up an intricate system of three fans, whirring merrily at strategic points to create a much-needed wind in the otherwise stifling September heat.
In addition, the bathroom situation that Bansal related to me was downright terrifying. “Unless you like flesh-eating bacteria, tetanus and athlete’s foot,” Bansal stressed, “you wear slippers.”
There are certain perks to living in a Tufts University dorm however, especially on the first floor like Bansal. “I can hear everything from my room,” he laughed. “Whether the omelet that morning was good or who likes who – I hear it all. It’s quite interesting.”
Another upside to living in a dorm, was the flexibility that it afforded for one’s schedule.
“Say you were just finishing up lunch with your friends, but then you realize, oh no, I left my book in my room,” Bansal said. “Not a problem. You can just run back to your room, grab your book, run back to the dining hall and head up to the library with your friends. And it’s all done in under ten minutes.”
Bansal has also had his share of embarrassing events while in his dorm. In one instance, he had just walked into a room on the second floor, a room which he had presumed to be his friend’s. “And then all of a sudden, I see this girl in the corner,” Samay groans, “and she’s just sitting there doing her hair. And I just freeze. And she freezes. And then she says, ‘What are you doing here?’”
He had not, in fact, walked into his friend’s room, but the room adjacent to it.
Crying and doubling over with laughter and embarrassment, Bansal backtracked out of the girl’s room as fast as he could, only to find all of his friends in the hallway, pointing and laughing at him and his honest, hilarious mistake.
“So, so embarrassing,” Bansal shivered.
2. Dylan Hicks, Freshman
Dylan Hicks is a freshman at Hendrix College with a focus to major in film, whose dorm will turn an astounding 100 years old this year. Hicks shared with Fresh U that the age of his dorm was quite unnerving at first, especially considering the fact that the bathrooms were communal.
“But it’s not as bad as I thought,” he replied. “I wish I knew the bathroom situation in my dorm before I moved in though, just to be prepared.”
Much like myself, Hicks had never seen his dorm in person before moving in and once again, it was full of unexpected and unwanted little surprises, such as spotty wi-fi, an overly suspicious door that kept on automatically locking itself and a miserably minuscule amount of empty floor space.
“My first night in my dorm, the air conditioner was not working either,” Hicks added bleakly. “And in the south, that’s practically a death sentence.”
However, once he got the air conditioner fixed, it almost immediately became the best part about his sweltering room.
Hicks revealed another perk about his 100-year old dorm: his fellow residents.
“The people in my hall are super chill and fun. My dorm is full of mainly athletes, which is funny because I'm so not an athlete,” he said. “But I've been able to get along with everybody so far.”
Unfortunately, the same thing can’t be said about their food, which consists largely of bowls of popcorn and lukewarm leftovers.
And the most difficult part of dorm life?
“The hardest part about living in a dorm is learning to share a space with so many people,” Hicks responded. “Also, climbing up four flights of stairs several times a day gets daunting.”
As someone living on the fourth floor as well, in a building with no elevators, I can whole-heartedly attest to his statement. There are days, especially after consuming a too-large meal, where I just barely make it to my room, crawling on my hands and knees.
“The most awkward moment so far was getting locked out of my dorm room, with both sets of keys in the room,” Hicks said. “I had to text my RA while he was in a lab and had to wait outside my room for 30 minutes. It was awful.”
In my very first week of living in a dorm, I got locked out of my room a record-breaking grand total of five times and had to beg my porter each time to please, please climb the four sets of narrow, winding stairs and let me into my room. Dylan, you are not the only one.
3. Dominique Wright, Sophomore
Dominique Wright is a sophomore at Occidental College majoring in media arts and culture. Unlike Samay, who is from Singapore, and Dylan, whose college makes it mandatory for all freshmen to live on campus, Dominique, whose home is only 15 minutes away from Occidental, actually had the choice of commuting, yet chose to turn it down in favor of living in a dorm.
“I felt that if I had commuted, I wouldn’t be getting the full college experience,” she reasoned.
Wright said she doesn't regret her choice to dorm at all. “I love my dorm room. I would regret not living in a dorm. It’s like having your own apartment, which may happen senior year. I’m loving it!”
What was it about her dorm that Wright enjoyed so much? What was it that made her dorm experience so much more positive compared to mine, Samay’s or Dylan’s?
“Living in a dorm has built relationships with people I wouldn’t have time to talk with if I was at home,” she explained. “It is also in the middle of campus and my room is really accessible.”
Wright has not just one roommate, but two. And just like living in a dorm, she absolutely loves living with her roommates as well. “We all met two months before we graduated high school,” Domonique told me. “I had the option of choosing my roommates and I knew I wanted to room with them. I’ve shared a room most of my life so having a roommate is fine with me.”
Is it more challenging to share an enclosed living space between three people? Are there more rules to define personal space and boundaries?
Apparently not. “Most of our rules are just common sense and we share everything, so there are not many ground rules,” Wright said.
Despite all the positives, there were a couple of aspects of living in a dorm that Wright did find challenging.
“The worst thing is that it's one of the oldest buildings on campus, so there are a couple of spiders here and there and there’s no AC. Also, the food is really good here but I just wish it wasn’t so repetitive. After you eat it so much, you kind of get tired of it,” she said.
As a sophomore, she knows many of the hardships that come with living away from home during college.
“The hardest part would be having to be your own boss and making sure you are responsible and keep yourself on track," she said. "If I was at home, I would have my parents to keep [me] on track. When you live in a dorm, you have yourself and your roommates if they are not busy with their own lives.”
Finally, Wright shared her funniest dorm memory.
“I had this canvas hanging up on our wall and one night when we were sleeping it fell down,” Wright said. “One of my roommates and I had woken up to that sound while our third roommate slept through it. The next morning, she had thought someone ran into it and was very confused about why it was on the microwave. My roommate and I were astonished that she slept through it. It sounded like a person fell!”
Although living in a dorm may seem like an insurmountable hardship at the best of times, it is an obstacle that can be overcome – through honest mistakes, momentary blunders, questionable foods, gut-aching laughter, unending positivity, an open mind and most importantly, a willingness to accept and embrace the challenges of life.
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