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Living, Learning and Roommates

Move-in day was a very surreal experience for me, during which I felt pretty much every emotion possible at some point throughout the day. Usually it’s hard enough taking one major life change in stride, but here I was in the middle of a new city with many new belongings, new sights, a new roommate, and a new room. It was all somewhat analogous to that first dive into the ice-cold pool on the first day of summer - something that you dread and almost want to turn away from but that you are undeniably compelled to run full sprint into. So here I was, at the end of August, jumping out of the pool, and running into an unknown world.

Roommate Compatibility

My main source of stress coming to college was the question of roommate compatibility. I was doubtful that filling out a one-page survey would actually convey enough about me for Steve Tolman, the Assistant Director of Residential Life, to pair me with a suitable roommate. Tolman works all summer to pair future roommates together by hand, rather than using a computerized system. “We get invested in students before they get here,” says Tolman, “We actually know about the 580 individuals before they ever set foot on campus.”

At least in my experience, the system works unbelievably well. I met my roommate Tahirih on move-in day, and it didn’t take long for us to find that practically everything about our living styles works together:  from the small piles of papers and clothes that we both make over the course of the day to be cleaned at night, to our recycling habits, to our erratic sleep/wake cycle. According to Tolman, we were paired based on the fact that we had similar beliefs about sharing, cleanliness, social vs. academic room environment, and sleep patterns; all of these things that have made the transition from never sharing a room to sharing a small space very manageable.

To Steve, it is important that two people are compatible yet not identical. “Although I’m trying to pair students who are similar, I don’t want to pair two identical people,” he added, “I want roommates to have some differences so that they can learn from one another.” The main difference between my roommate and myself is that I am from the east coast and she is from the west coast. It has all been a learning process - everything from the latest fashionable trends and music, to what “diversity” means in the San Francisco area compared to the DC area.

Sharing a room was only part of the adjustment process of moving from home to a residence hall on a college campus. There was a sense of “Oh, this definitely isn’t home,” as soon as I swung open the door to my room. Our beds were the only bunked beds on the floor and the room was much smaller than I had expected. It was so small that the AC seemed to work twice as efficiently in our room: it only took half a second for the cold air to reach the opposite end. We started lovingly referring to our room as “the icebox.” Oddly enough, I think learning to live in a limited space helped my roommate and me bond.

Living/Learning

Where I live is part of how I’m learning at Barnard. Before arriving on campus, my roommate and I selected to be part of an in-residence seminar, a living/learning arrangement where our entire first-year seminar class lives on the same floor. One of my classmates, Melanie Simonson, says she feels a common bond with our hallmates/classmates. She says, “it has helped dynamics both in the residence halls and in the classroom. You can learn a lot about someone through their opinions, and it has deepened my friendships.” The shared experience has created a comfortable atmosphere conducive to expanding classroom discussions into an informal environment. It also doesn’t hurt to be able to poke my head out of my door at 11 PM and ask for clarification about something we discussed in class.

I’m learning to reevaluate how I used to balance my life until now, because college life is very different from high school life. I think that’s the most unconventional part of these first few weeks, I’m learning in places that I previously didn’t think I would. Who knew I would be figuring out new things about myself and others in a small room with a bunk-bed?

 - Ray Rogers ’14