How I survived dorm life, and how you will too
Before I explain how I survived living in the dorms my freshman year, I should probably describe what I was like a month before my move-in date. The 18-year-old version of me, among other quirks, was a huge worrier. I worried about whether or not my car, a ’91 Ford Mustang with malfunctioning door locks, would be stolen from the college parking lot. I worried about what it would be like to share a bathroom with at least 10 other people, and if I would get a fungal infection just by stepping into the shower. I worried that my roommate would be a nicotine addict who insisted on chain-smoking at his desk and that I would spend my freshman year filling my lungs with carcinogens.
“Wait, you’re not more worried that your roommate will be a psycho who will kill you in your sleep?” my friends asked, poking fun at me. I laughed nervously and then imagined my roommate stabbing me to death in the middle of the night with something he fashioned in his studio art class. My future roommate pervaded my mind as an unknown monster that would make my living situation a nightmare.
Then, while watching a news story on CNN, I acquired something new to worry about: bacterial meningitis, which, as the perky CNN correspondent explained, was a risk for all freshmen living in campus dormitories. An NPR news story airing the next day warned me of the same thing: bacterial meningitis begins with flu-like symptoms, but in rare cases, can lead to brain damage and death. There was a vaccine, I learned, but it was only effective on four of the five strains. Great, I thought. If my roommate didn’t kill me, surely, this fifth strain of meningitis would.
Of course, these were all irrational fears and I soon discovered that dorm life, despite some shortcomings, was an absolutely fantastic experience. I, like every other freshman on move-in day, was navigating an entire new world, one without parents constantly around, where the possibilities seemed endless. When faced with this constant stream of new-ness, college students always seem to reach out and find ways to make sure that no one has to go through this experience alone.
This was particularly true my freshman year, since the date of my move-in was mere days after the attacks of September 11th. As the fifty or so students living in my dorm began to make their new homes away from home, the general sense of community was already palpable. At our very first hall meeting that weekend, we all shared stories about where we came from and our anxieties about college life. One thing we all learned to avoid was the “everyone is getting some but me” syndrome, because the reality was, most people weren’t getting any.
My roommate turned out to be one of the coolest people I met at school. He was an opera singer and beat boxer. He was messy but managed to keep his scattered belongings on his side of the room. We were both considerate whenever we had dates or friends around, and were lucky enough to share a similar, and unique for two college students, sleeping schedule: we both stayed up late and got up early. Of course, I knew I was one of the lucky ones. Friends from other halls told me tales of roommates who borrowed clothes without asking or even worse, listened to a Norah Jones album non-stop, on repeat, for an entire semester.
In my college’s housing community, roommate problems were easily dealt with through careful mediation with a resident advisor and worst case scenarios would be handled by the big wigs at the housing office. Here’s the thing: roommates have had disagreements with one another since the dawn of dorm life. What constitutes proper hygiene habits or appropriate music levels have been argued over for many years and will be for years to come. These battles are constant, but everyone survives in the end.
I also discovered that sharing a bathroom was no big deal. In my suite area, 10 guys shared two showers, two stalls, and three sinks. Lady luck seemed to be following me around because as it happened, due to different schedules, we never had any long waits in the morning. The maintenance staff cleaned the bathrooms daily and made sure they were always in working order. The only horrifying bathroom experience I had was when I caught one of my hallmates in the bathroom entirely nude, in the midst of shaving his entire body.
By the end of the first semester, we had all, at several points, loved and hated one another – but the important thing was that we learned how to live with together. I became a program coordinator for my hall and set aside one night a week to allow everyone to spend some quality time together. On these nights, we would avoid the dining hall and instead prepared home-cooked meals in our dorm’s kitchen. We made short films and played Mario Kart. There were weekends when we did absolutely nothing but sit around and make fun of each other. We saw a lot of films at the independent movie theatre across the street from campus.
According to CNN, a scientific study showed that attending movies, of all things, reduced the risk of contracting meningitis. Go figure. It turns out all that time we spent together was actually helping us survive.