International Affairs: living with a foreign exchange student


Moving into the campus dormitory is a stressful time for many students. You have to learn to share your space with a complete stranger, and you never know if he/she will be a complete neat-freak or even worse, a total pig. One thing you never really think about is the possibility of getting a foreign exchange student as a roommate, but it can happen. At first, it may seem a bit uncomfortable, but once you determine who gets which bed and closet, you may find living with an international student quite rewarding.

One of the perks of living with an international student is the exposure to another culture and language; it’s almost like taking a foreign language class for free. As you teach your new roomy the nuances of the English language, he/she will also be giving you a quick lesson in their native tongue. If you live with a student from France or Spain, for example, this can come in quite handy, especially if you are taking the course for credit at school! It also gives you the opportunity to learn more about another country and its customs, which can be helpful if you plan to study abroad or travel. One thing to keep in mind is that most international students will be unfamiliar with slang or sarcasm, so don’t be surprised if there are a few miscommunications from time-to-time.

As you get to know your new roommate, be sure to show him/her around campus and introduce him/her to your friends. Many international students report a feeling of isolation when they arrive because they are unfamiliar with our customs and their surroundings. Think of yourself as a U.S. ambassador and make yourself available to help show them the ropes, whether it’s navigating the bus line in your community, shopping for groceries, or discovering the best restaurants. This is not to say you should shadow your roommate every waking moment, as it’s very common for international students to often gravitate toward other international students for support and companionship. Just be aware of any signs of depression and talk to them to ensure they feel welcome.

There are some other issues that may arise with an international roommate.  For example, he/she may come from a country with a younger drinking age and may not understand why alcohol is not allowed in the dorm room. Be sure to explain the rules, as well as the penalties, to ensure there isn’t an issue down the line that may place either of you in jeopardy. Also, many international students have a Skype account or other communication device for staying in touch with family and friends overseas; this means you may have to deal with a 3:00 A.M. chat in your room occasionally. If it gets to be a daily habit, be sure to discuss a schedule that is tolerable for both of you.

Having a roommate from another country can be very rewarding. You have the opportunity to pick up a new language and learn about another culture. While you introduce your new roommate to your friends and the local community, you may also find yourself learning more about your own area and campus. Open yourself to a new world by embracing your international roommate. Who knows, you may end up with a lifelong friend and a place to crash, if you ever find yourself across the world.


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