The international student's guide to being a good roommate
Living with new people can be challenging, but our guide will help you live in harmony. Source: Shutterstock

Studying abroad often means living with other people for the first time.

Whether you’re sharing a flat or a room, it can be fun and challenging sharing living spaces with new people. It will feel like a constant sleepover with your best friends at certain times, while at other times, the cultural differences and language barriers may drive you mad.

It can be nerve-wracking moving in with new people for the first time when you want to make a good impression.

Not knowing how to act or what to say are entirely normal concerns – so we’ve compiled a list of the dos and don’ts to be the best roommate you can be.


Be open-minded

Having an open mind when moving into your new room will help you to see the best in your new roomies. They may be different to your friends at home – and their cultural norms may confuse or even annoy you – but if you approach them judgment-free, you’re bound to find a few things you have in common.

If they have differences to you, try not to judge them or try and bring them round to your way of thinking.

Instead, accept the differences and try to understand their perspective. This can help to show you other ways of living, which can be humbling. It might be challenging to accept different religious beliefs or political ideologies, especially if you come from a homogenised society, but studying abroad is an excellent opportunity to explore other ways of thinking.

Ask questions

Showing an interest in the other person is a great way to build a friendship, as you will to get to know your new roomie and understand their personality better.

Getting to know someone different to you can make you a more well-rounded person and broaden your perspective. Besides, only talking about yourself or not engaging in conversation will make you look stand-offish and shut down any opportunity to connect with your new friends.

Asking questions can also help identify your similarities and differences. Discussing everything from religion, social patterns, politics and cleanliness expectations can help make sure you are all on the same page and respect each other.

There’s nothing worse than living in unspoken tension and unresolved negativity, so asking about important things can help make sure you’re on the same page.

Establish boundaries

It can be full-on living with someone because you spend a lot of time together. It is especially challenging if you are used to living one way, but your roomie has different values. One of you may be used to socialising and spending time with friends, while the other may be more introverted and value alone-time.

It is therefore important to establish boundaries and discuss how you spend your time. Creating time where your roommate will be out where you can relax on your own, or considering how often friends can stay over, are necessary to make sure tension doesn’t arise.

You may feel like best friends at the beginning, but ensuring you respect each other’s boundaries can help maintain this.


Change who you are to fit in

This might sound obvious, but it can be hard to stay true to yourself when you are surrounded by people from different cultures.

This can lead to a sense of losing yourself or feeling disconnected to your family and old friends.

Studying abroad will undoubtedly influence who you are, but it is important to maintain your core pillars of identity. Not only will this make you stand out as an individual among your new friends, but it will help to keep you grounded amidst all the new experiences you’ll have.

Gaining international experience will help you grow as a person and you may develop some new aspects of your personality, but never try to change for someone else.

This doesn’t mean you have to shut yourself off from different influences but changing yourself to fit in will likely make you seem fake. It’s usually obvious when someone isn’t being true to themselves, and it’s unlikely to be a healthy friendship if you feel like you cannot be yourself.

Shy away from new experiences

When there are so many new things happening around you, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and withdraw.

You might feel tempted to spend all your time alone in your room, trying to talk to your friends from home all the time or become distant from your new friends.

If you find yourself feeling this way, schedule a few hours a day to reconnect with yourself and recharge your batteries, but try not to spend all your time alone.

It’s important to try and integrate into your new environment by engaging with people around you and involving yourself in different activities. As the saying goes ‘be the person you want to hang out with.’

Staying in your room all the time or not engaging in conversation might make you seem unsociable or rude, so always try to make sure you’re making the most of your study abroad experience

Try to be everyone’s best friend

This might sound like it contradicts the point above, but it’s equally as important when moving in with new people. You do not have to be everyone’s best friend. You are not obliged to do everything with your new roommate. And they are not required to do everything with you either.

A common mistake people make when moving to university is putting all their friendship eggs in their roommate’s basket. As time goes on, you might realise you don’t get on with your roomie as much as you hoped, or you might have the opposite problem where you are super close to everyone you know.

It is important to have close friends when studying abroad to help settle any homesickness or university stress you have, but having too many close friends can make you feel overwhelmed and stressed in itself.

To avoid feeling suffocated by all the people you know, make sure to schedule some time for yourself and don’t be afraid to turn down plans if you need some much needed alone time.

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