Tips for Living with an International Roommate

Many campuses pride themselves on their racial and ethnic diversity. For example, my university hosted 8,009 international students from over 100 different countries during last fall’s semester, according to the University of Illinois’ Fall 2011 Foreign Students by Country report.

8It is very possible that, if your university is anything like mine, you will have an international student as a first-year roommate. Having a roommate who is from another country can have its advantages and its drawbacks, but can be an excellent learning experience during your first year at school.

Here are some advantages to having an international roommate:

  • You will learn about a new culture and its traditions
  • You will make a friend from another country
  • You can help your roommate adapt to a new situation and make his or her study abroad experience a positive one
  • You will learn how to be adaptive and patient in the midst of various language and cultural barriers

Here are some challenges of living with an international roommate:

  • Since your roommate will be traveling quite a distance to get to campus, you may need to be in charge of larger dormitory room purchases (fridge, rug, futon, etc.)
  • It may be difficult or expensive to get in contact with your roommate prior to move-in
  • There may language or cultural barriers that may be difficult to overcome

Here are a few things you should keep in mind if you have an international student as your roommate:

1. He or she may not know English very well (or at all).

This language barrier may seem like a significant drawback, but with time and patience, your roommate will undoubtedly begin to pick up English words and phrases. After a couple of months, communication will be easier. Also, take the opportunity to learn a little bit of your roommate’s native language. Not only will this make it easier to communicate with your new roomie, but he or she will appreciate the effort you are putting in to make him or her feel at home.

2. You shouldn’t try to immediately try to “Americanize” your roommate  

Cultures are different. Don’t be surprised if your roommate has customs or traditions that he or she continues to practice once in the States. Instead, try to learn more about the practices and you may learn some cool new things about someone else’s culture.  Also, don’t assume your roommate will know everything about the American culture. He or she may have not been exposed to American food, American products or American behaviors. Don’t immediately try to force your culture on your roommate, but rather expose these cultural differences to him or her gradually.

3. You don’t have to “babysit” your roommate

Just because your roommate is far away from home, it doesn’t mean that he or she will need you to “babysit” or be a best friend to him or her. Your roommate is your age, and perfectly capable of taking care of himself or herself. Don’t treat your roommate like a baby just because they may have a little trouble understanding you, and don’t feel like you need to be by his or her side every second. Sometimes, all you really need to be is a friendly face at the end of the day. While you should definitely try to get to know your roommate well, be sure to encourage him or her to explore the campus, join a few student organizations and clubs, and begin to make friends. As a result, you will help your roommate feel even more comfortable and confident in the new environment.

Having an international roommate your freshman year will be an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. Since you will be under more challenging conditions than most first-year roommates, remember to keep communication open all the time (which can be more difficult if there is a language barrier). Let your roommate know if something about the living situation needs to change or is bothering you. Don’t just let it go by because you think your roommate “wouldn’t understand.”  Your roommate wants the situation to work out just as much as you do.

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Emma Weissmann

Emma Weissmann

Emma Weissmann is a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing a degree in News-Editorial Journalism with an interdisciplinary minor in Leadership Studies. Emma enjoys traveling, trying new foods, and snuggling up on the couch with her cat, “Louie.” She also spends her time volunteering and hanging out with family and friends.
Emma Weissmann

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