Adjusting to a whole new system of education is one thing, but perhaps one of the most distinctly American aspects about my whole abroad experience has been the living situation. Every aspect is new to me—from having a roommate and living with six other people to sharing bathrooms to having to walk to a separate building for meals. In my first year at my university in England, Royal Holloway, I had my own room with a double bed, a bathroom I shared with only one other person, and I did all of my own cooking. My second year I lived in my own off-campus house, paying rent and again having my own room with a double bed. Living on campus with roommates here at Boston College is certainly a different experience—but not necessarily a bad one. Learning how to live communally can be an adjustment for everyone, so I hope sharing what I have learnt over the past few months will be beneficial to exchange students and full-time BC students alike.
First of all: roommates. Here at BC, you are a lucky minority if you don’t have to share a room with somebody. What I thought would be an unpleasant thing, however, has turned out to not be at all. Yet, the thing that has been hard for me is that I do not have my own space. It took time to adjust from 20 years of having my own room to suddenly being in a new country, with new people, and nowhere to be on my own. The first thing I’ve tried to do to settle in has been making my dorm room my own space. I have slowly but surely spruced up my room with cute fairy lights and pictures of home.
Beyond settling into the room itself, I’ve been adjusting to living with another person at all times. If you are lucky like I am and have a good roommate, you will also have a built-in friend and someone that understands what sharing a room is like. Having a roommate is not all sunshine and flowers—sometimes you wake up in the morning and really do not have the emotional capacity to talk and pretend as if you are awake when really you just want coffee.
My recommendation to surviving roommates and the American college experience is to make rules with your roommate—about really anything you can think of—in order to prevent conflict down the line. These rules can include cleaning schedules, sleep schedules, tidiness standards, and how you want to communicate. Just a simple whiteboard with a list of the chores and the names next to them is enough to keep balance and share the responsibility in a clear way. It will also mean that later down the line if there are any disagreements at least there is some sort of established structure that you can refer back to. Inevitably there is going to be friction—especially if you’re an exchange student like me, this could be a person you have never met before—as well as a living situation that you have not experienced, but communication and making rules will help create the best living situation possible for everyone.
Second, there is the dining. At school in England, I am used to cooking my own food, and at home I am used to helping with set up and doing the dishes after meals. Here at BC, I have to pick a time to go eat at the dining hall, and I can only choose from whatever food they are offering that day.
At first, the dining hall was overwhelming and getting used to choosing what I want from a limited menu was difficult. Three months later, I know what sort of food I like. There is a trial and error that comes with the dining hall—not every meal is going to be a hit and sometimes nothing seems appealing. The upside of the American college system relying on dining halls, however, is that I don’t have to plan every meal and can explore the variety of meals offered at different locations on campus. I recently tried Eagle’s Nest for lunch, and if it wasn’t for the trek to the other side of campus, I would eat there every day. Their salad bar not only makes me feel healthy, but offers enough options to mix it up every day. My advice for dining on campus is just take it as it comes and try to have a different meal each day because that is the key to discovering your preferences.
Despite the adjustment period to living communally and dining at BC, if you are an exchange student like me, you are here to get a taste of the American college system. What better way to do this than embracing everything it has to offer? Communal living is difficult, and no one is expecting it to be a breeze for the whole year. Yet, at the same time, you have the potential to create deep friendships with new people—who really gets to know you better than the people who see you at 11 p.m. with an avocado face mask on or be the first faces you see when you walk through the door after a tough exam?
Although it isn’t always ideal, I’ve come to appreciate how BC’s dining system makes it easier to focus less on having to cook and clean and focus more on sharing meals with friends. Hopefully seeing the BC living and dining experience through my eyes helps you appreciate what is special about the American college experience and how to best take advantage of these differences while here in Boston.
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor