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Fate and Floormates
I was so nervous to have a roommate, something I considered to be a quintessential part of the college experience. But it was an excited kind of nervous. I was excited for us to learn each other’s likes and dislikes, decorate our room, and discover our first inside joke.
So I was pretty disappointed when I found out I’d be living in a single. (Maybe I shouldn’t have been so honest about how late I went to bed?) I thought I’d end up missing out on a lot that the college experience had to offer, and I was worried.
As it turned out, part of my worries came true: I never ended up getting that close to the other people who lived in my residence hall. But that may have happened anyway; I simply found my place at college outside of the people I lived with my first year.
I still see them walking around campus in groups, and I admire them for sticking together for what’s now been three years. But I also admire myself for branching out from my living circumstances and finding my people on my own.
No matter how big your school is, though, college is a small world. One of my closest friends, who I met in class, ended up being friends with one of the people from my freshman floor, so now all three of us hang out. Without my friend from class I might never have reconnected with my floormate.
For another friend of mine, her floormates from freshman year form her core friend group – and I’ve become friends with each of them to varying degrees over the past few semesters. One of them actually ended up being my housemate, but we met through marching band rather than through our mutual friend.
Venn you know, you know
Again, it’s a small world. I like to think of college as a massive interlaced series of Venn diagrams. You have the marching band kids who are also engineering majors; you have the theater kids who are also on the programming board; you have the ROTC kids who are also environmental science majors… the combinations are endless, and more than just two-dimensional.
One of my favorite clichés of the college experience is telling someone that I’m in an organization or a class and having them excitedly inquire, “Oh my God, do you know Angela?” Then we have a lengthy conversation in which each of us attempts to describe a person who may or may not be Angela. Sometimes that conversation results in a new friend.
One of the best ways to make friends is to be from the same place, and for that place to not be where most of the people at your school are from. University attendance can be regionally biased, and my school fits this rule. It’s not often at an East Coast school that you find someone else from the rural Midwest.
I know only three people from Michigan, but you can bet I’ve kept track of every one of them. Because it’s special to be able to share an experience in common that would mystify most of the people around you. It makes you feel both special and less alone.
That’s essentially what organizations and clubs do, too. They make you feel special because of how competitive they are, and they make you feel less alone as a new student because they give you a community of people built around one of your particular skills or interests.
They also give you the opportunity to grow your skills in the presence of nurturing mentors. You’re not expected to choose a college major until the end of your fourth semester at many schools, but most people have joined all their clubs well before then.
Clubs and extracurriculars give you the opportunity to seek yourself out in the context of your college, to see where in the fabric of campus life you can sew yourself in. A college major does this to a lesser extent because it’s more future-focused. But an extracurricular activity only matters as it’s going on; its only value is what pleasure you derive from it (and maybe a few extra points on your resume).
So in terms of defining yourself at college, in some ways an extracurricular activity matters more than your major or your GPA. You’ll forget which classes you attended (besides a few standouts), I guarantee it. But you’ll remember the experiences you had with the people you chose to surround yourself with.
Roommating for life
And you don’t choose your freshman floormates. Sometimes they can become your closest friends and the best part of your college experience. Sometimes they’re just smiling faces that you greet on your way to class. Both of these things add value to the eclectic collection of moments that is college.
But you don’t have to make them into one or the other, or expect them to be anything other than what they are. Stressing out about your living situation will only cause you to delay the process of finding out who you are, not as a roommate or a classmate, but as yourself.
There are plenty of stories out there about people who became best friends with their college roommates and moved into houses down the street from each other while their kids became best friends at school and came home to do art projects in each other’s kitchens.
I will admit that I was seriously bummed that this didn’t seem to be an option for me. I mean, I could meet other people elsewhere, and I did, but a roommate was almost like a brother or a sister—an instant best friend.
This, I should have known, was much too idealistic. But the girls next door to me ended up getting into the same sorority. Meanwhile the girl on the other side of me rushed an honor fraternity with me, and I got in and she didn’t. As a sensitive freshman, all of these things seemed to point to the fact that I wasn’t meant to be close with my suitemates.
I wish that I hadn’t been so worried and just let things happen. I ended up meeting one of my floormates two years later in a film class, and we actually got to know each other fairly well and enjoy working with each other on film sets. Turns out we both want to be directors.
Another of my floormates joined the honor fraternity a semester after I did, and took a German class with me. It turns out we have really similar senses of humor, and I regretted not getting closer with her while I had the chance.
And yet I wouldn’t trade the friends I made outside my freshman floor for anything. If I had just been spending time socializing with my freshman floormates, I might never have met some of the people I consider friends for life.
The most important lesson I’ve learned both from my social successes and my regrets is that people are valuable. You should always go into an interaction with that assumption. Value every little tidbit they offer you, find meaning in the way they laugh.
Because sometimes people are drawn together by coincidence. Sometimes they’re drawn by common interests, and sometimes they seek each other out almost at random. You never know when you’re going to encounter someone who will form a meaningful part of your life.
This can be scary, but it also means you don’t have to stress too much. People meet each other and come into each other’s lives in a million different ways. Your living arrangements in your freshman year of college don’t have to be where you find your soulmate. On the other hand, there’s every chance they might be.
You should be excited about what that single or double or triple room in the crowded fifth-floor hallway has to offer, but you shouldn’t put too much pressure on it or on yourself. Whether you have roommates or not, whether you get along with those roommates or not, there are plenty of people and places on your campus for you to call home.
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