Living with strangers: university accommodation survival guide
By Ali Pantony,
No matter which university you have chosen and no matter what sort of person you are, the thought of moving into halls of residence with a collection of other students, whom you have never met, is overwhelmingly daunting. Actually, it’s terrifying. It’s a huge transition and a dramatic change to your life.
I was absolutely petrified at the thought of moving into my halls at King’s College; I was suffering from the most fatal case of traumatic 19-year-old heartbreak, I was a whimpering mess, face sodden rather unattractively with snot and make-up, and my nerves were utterly shot. The thought of befriending an entire corridor of student strangers in two weeks’ time was beyond incomprehensible. Firstly, it’s important to say that if you are feeling like this, you are not alone. Even your butch male friends, ceaselessly bragging about how ‘proper heavy Fresher’s week is gonna be, man’, are finding the thought of this initial transition slightly unnerving (not that they will ever admit it). From my experience, I have put together this guide to surviving your wonderful first year of university with regards to your new co-inhabitants.
- Be prepared.
This is a general tip, and one that you have probably already heard countless times. The one thing that will ease nerves and generally make life a lot easier is if you make sure you have everything you may want, prior to moving in (I cannot recommend a mattress topper highly enough). I’m sure you’ve already got a list as long as your copy of ‘War and Peace’, so I shan’t bore you. It is important to note, however, that your room will be your home for the next 9 or 10 months. If you do ever have a typically student-esque spat with your flatmates, your room will be your sanctuary, as it also will be for that all-nighter before the deadline.
If your room is anything like mine was, you can almost touch either side with arms outstretched. It was pokey, to say the least, and at first, it was inconceivable to picture it as my own. With these points in mind, make sure that you make your room your home. Bring an abundance of objects from home that are quintessentially you. From your tastefully indicative Bob Marley poster to your newly-polished collection of horse-riding trophies, fill your room with everything you love. The room inspectors may not like the plethora of blu-tac, but it will make a huge difference to how you feel in your room, and your accommodation in general, for the rest of the year.
- In the first few days, make sure that you get knocking. If you are shy, this will be the hardest part, but utilise that Dutch courage and go and knock on your flatmate’s door and spark conversation. Don’t just do it in your flat; go opposite, downstairs, upstairs, wherever. Get involved and get to know the other students you are going to be living with. Don’t just stay locked away, hiding in your room. No one wants to live with an anti-social noise-complaining hermit. That first step of conversation initiation will make the rest of the blossoming friendship process a lot easier.
- Despite what your mum might say, have a few drinks with your flatmates. As we all know, alcohol is a tried and tested social lubricant. The ticket to golden conversation for the perpetually diffident. The best thing about this is that you need not have that fear of embarrassment harboured by every drunkard, as everyone else in your student flat will be as intoxicated as you are! The perfect scenario to breed flowing conversation, and hopefully lifelong friendships. Even Sylvia Path said ‘there is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends’. We have to be sensible, so of course be merry and have fun, but drink in moderation. And if you don’t drink, this really isn’t an obstacle to having just as much fun and letting your hair down.
- With your new found comrades in debauchery, make sure that you reserve one or more nights a week for a flat night. As you’re students, you’re bound to be broke, so this will probably involve staying in, piling into someone’s room (most likely the one kid foolish enough to bring his TV) and watching films, playing games and chatting. You’re going to be busy in first year (mostly going out or ‘doing essays’), and it’s easy to neglect your flatmates. But, like everything in life, friendship needs nourishment and attention. Don’t take your new friends for granted just because you live with them.
- This leads nicely onto our next point, which is to introduce your flatmates to your other new friends, such as your course mates, or any other pals you have made from different university halls or even in the same student accommodation as your own. Everyone wants to make new friends, and this is a sure fire way to encourage larger social circles, as well as great flat parties. It also means you can all socialise together, rather than devoting one night to your flatmates and having to turn down an invite from your course pals.
- You have probably heard this cliché rule before and immediately shrugged it off with the all-too-famous last words ‘hey, that’s what first year is for’. Please, take heed when I say, DO NOT, under any circumstances, partake in in-hall intimacy with ANY of your flatmates. This is a downhill slope of endless embarrassment and remorse, especially if you embark on first year in the emotional state I did. Mine was a long-haired, bright-eyed, guitar-playing, pseudo-musician-type 18-year-old who knew all the right things to say. He had me hooked from the night he tried to teach me how to play guitar and it was all downhill from there in a very Bridget Jones sort of way. Hindsight is a fabulous thing.
When you live with someone in student halls, you’re sleeping with them and, god forbid there are feelings involved, the entire situation is incredibly messy. Let’s face it; you don’t have the time for that. There’s no escaping them, and it’s a hub opportunity for things to go incredibly wrong (think: keeping it a secret from your other flatmates, shouting matches in the kitchen at 1am, how you’re going to feel if they have a new love interest, and so on). Also, whether there are feelings involved or not, it will be incredibly uncomfortable for the rest of the year and you’ll never really be able to be friends again afterwards. Unless he’s your Mr Darcy (or the female equivalent), avoid relations with him/ her like the plague. Needless to say, I never learnt how to play guitar.
- This next tip is vitally important, not only for the maintenance of your newly-blossomed friendships, but mainly for the sheer sanity of those you live with. Keep the communal cooking and/ or living space clean and hygienic. You would think this is common sense, as well as common decency. Living in an all-male hall proved me completely wrong. If your new chum walks into the kitchen area to start cooking dinner, and your washing up from last week’s chow-fest is still potently festering in the sick, dubious-looking greyish-green hillocks sprouting up from every corner, you can wave ‘goodbye’ to that good first impression. If you cook a meal, wash up afterwards! If you spill your sixth ‘Tesco Value’ vodka and cranberry all over the table, clean it up! Seriously, no student will want to flat share with you in second year if you’re one of these people.
So, that concludes the guide on how to survive your first year as a university student living in halls with a bunch of people you don’t know. Hopefully you feel a bit more ready to tackle that challenge of making a hoard of new friends and partners in pub-crawling crime. Be friendly, be helpful, be fun, and be yourself. Above all, don’t forget to thoroughly enjoy your first year of university, as it will be one of the most exciting experiences of your life. Good luck!