Living with strangers in a strange land

They are messy, too loud and they take things without asking who they belong to. Or they worship Satan and stay up all night chanting spells that will lead to doom. Don’t worry, not all roommates are like that.

But moving in with strangers for the first time can be a tough experience. Learning to deal with issues and problems is important knowledge to keep in mind.

Dr. Bill Pinney, a psychologist at GW’s Counseling Center, said it is hard for incoming freshmen to adjust to roommates at the beginning of the year.

People have different lifestyle arrangements, and roommates have to learn to adjust with each other’s way of life.

“You pair two people with different lifestyles, (and) there will be cohabitation difficulties,” Pinney said.

Although living roommates is a major adjustment that requires adaptation, Pinney said most of the time it works out. Incoming freshmen are usually eager to bond with roommates, and problems tend to be worked out quickly for a good experience their freshman year, he said.

The keys to a successful relationship with roommates are communication and flexibility, he said, and those who have problems with either will have a hard time adjusting.

“Consideration of others’ preferences and lifestyles is very important,” he said. “Most problems center upon poor communication and a lack of consideration for others.”

Pinney advises roommates to sit down and talk about their preferences the day they arrive at GW. He said it is crucial to set agreements early and periodically check in to see if the agreements are working or not.
“It is important to push openness on preferences and reactions (to others’ habits),” he said.

Rising junior Jessica Greco said she had a bad freshmen experience dealing with roommates. She moved from a six-person Thurston Hall room and to a quad.

In the first room, Greco said two of her roommates were smokers but had not indicated that on their housing forms. They would smoke in the room and spray air freshener to cover the smell, she said.

“You can’t fool someone who is asthmatic like me. It smelled like smoky air freshener,” Greco said.

Greco said she did not feel like she fit in with her five roommates. She said her roommates seemed offended that she chose not to become close with them and eventually she felt uncomfortable being in the room.

Greco requested a new room and moved by the end of October. The second room was better, she said, but one of her new roommates had a drinking problem that Greco had to deal with. She said her second set of roommates were more easygoing than her previous roommates.

“They understood I was taking a lot more hours of class because studio art classes are three hours long and never got annoyed I was out at different times or sleeping at different times,” Greco said. “It was much more relaxed.”

Privacy and sharing were not big issues for Greco. She is the oldest in a family of six, which she said helped her deal with sharing and compromising with her roommates.

In a room of six, sharing of bathroom time was sometimes a problem. In a quad, Greco said her roommates seldom had a problem because they agreed on a showering schedule in the mornings.

If something bothered her, Greco said she would start out the discussion with her roommates. She said it is important to be fair and compromise.

“But be careful,” she said. “Don’t let them walk all over you. If something really bothers you, you have to say something. Stick to your guns, but learn that sometimes you have to compromise.”

Greco advises incoming freshmen to be as accepting as possible of their roommates’ habits. She said that it is important to discuss problems with roommates and make sure that resentment does not build up over time.

“If something bothers you, make it known as soon as possible before it builds up. It is easier to deal with small things than 20 issues all at once,” she said.

Rising senior Daniel Diggs also lived in a quad in Thurston Hall his freshman year. Although he said he was not a big fan of the experience, his three roommates made the living arrangement work.

“We got along, there was no death incurred on any of us,” he said.

Diggs said he was hardly ever in the room to encounter problems. But if conflicts did arise, he said adaptability was the key to avoiding them.

“I usually tried to deal as best as possible with the situation at hand,” he said. “There are some situations where you just need to back off and compromise if (the problem) didn’t matter that much to you.”

Diggs said the biggest problem he had living with others involved conflicting sleeping patterns among roommates. Diggs tends to be a night owl and usually would stay up late while his roommates slept. But the tables would also turn.

“One time they kept me up till 4 a.m. when I was trying to sleep to get up early the next day,” he said. “Besides that, there was really nothing outstandingly horrible.”

Diggs said the roommate contract GW requires freshmen to complete did not help at all and that he and his roommates made it a joke.

“`No bodily fluids’ was the big rule,” Diggs said.

Diggs said it is important to feel roommates out when they first move in and see if they are worth trying to reason with. If they seem like they would refuse to compromise, Diggs recommends taking drastic measures and moving if necessary.

Rising sophomore Mira Browne lived in a quad freshmen year and said she did not get along well with her roommates. She said it was a hard transition for her to make because she comes from a small family. Growing up with only one sibling, Browne never had to experience problems sharing or getting privacy before.

Browne said she encountered many reoccurring problems about sleeping time, noise and cleanliness with her roommates. They would argue over who would clean the dishes, how late friends could visit and loud music, she said.
Most of the fights occurred at the beginning of the year, until the freshmen learned to get along, she said.

“At first I would keep my mouth shut and let them do whatever they wanted to, and it started to bother me,” she said. “But I started to speak up and we learned to coexist somewhat.”

Browne said living with others is a game of compromise, and one has to be ready to adapt to the habits of roommates.

“Like everything in life, it is a matter of experience,” she said. “At the beginning of the year none of us knew how to deal with living with people we didn’t know. But toward the end of the year, we all learned to cope with each others’ habits and even learned more about our own (habits).”

Browne said she found that nothing was ever worth fighting about, and it was more important to keep up a friendly relationship with roommates than to remain on the offensive.

“It is easy to say you have to learn to compromise, but you really have to,” Browne said. “You have to take responsibility and be flexible with others’ needs. But don’t compromise too far. You have to live there, too.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.