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US studies: Former students speak on housing
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July 30, 2007

Those of you leaving for US studies are embarking on a life-defining journey. Most likely, you've never been away from home for long and have never lived on your own.

We spoke with several Mumbaikars who studied in America about their experiences. They had great advice for 'fresh' students on how to adjust to new surroundings.

Today, we discuss housing and roommate issues. Tomorrow, we'll examine how to survive in a different academic system.

How was your room selected your freshman year?

Gaurav Shah -- My room and roommate were both selected randomly. I think there was some sort of form that I filled out during the application process but I hardly remember the type of questions that it asked.

Vidhi Singh -- I filled out the prototypical preference form. I was given a rather decent dorm my freshman year although the room was atrociously small -- that's something you might want to be prepared for! My roommate was assigned to me as well.

Akhila Khanna -- I filled out a preference form. It asked questions like 'Are you a night owl or a morning person?' 'Are you neat or messy?' 'What kind of music do you like?' Then, they assigned me to a room that matched my description and to a roommate who gave similar answers.

Your first year, did you room with a fellow Indian (or International) or with an American?

Gaurav Shah -- My roommate was an American citizen but had been born and brought up in Mexico.

Vidhi Singh -- My first year I roomed with an American. Surprisingly, she was actually a little more sober and reserved than I was but we grew very attached to one another. In my opinion, if you've come all the way to America, it doesn't hurt to start making some American friends. Living with an American is a good way to familiarize yourself to their culture, mannerisms, likes and dislikes.

Akhila Khanna -- Non-Indian, Non-international. I roomed with a Hispanic girl from LA. My school has a small Indian community compared to most US universities, so I didn't feel pressure to surround myself with fellow Indians.

Which would you recommend -- General Housing or Special Interest Housing?

Sonali Thakore -- I roomed in general housing. I would totally recommend general housing. Special interest limits the kind of people you meet and has rules which you are bound to break, therefore setting you up to get into trouble. General housing is a more wholesome experience.

Vidhi Singh-- I really wouldn't recommend either. While the special interest housing dorms on campus are a little more plush and spacious, they tend to be more secluded and the rules are much stricter. general housing on the other hand provides access to people but can be distracting when you need to hit those books! Honestly, it all depends on personal preference.

Akhila Khanna -- I would recommend general housing, just so you're not limiting or labelling yourself in any way before you even get started in college. There is a common belief that students in the 'special interst' dorms are nerdy and anti-social.

Did you live with a friend? If so, was living with a friend a good decision?

Gaurav Shah -- Since I was an Resident Assistant and later a Head Resident, I didn't have roommates. From other people's experiences, it's a thin line that you walk when you live with a friend. Just make sure that you know what you're getting into. They might be the best of friends but might make the worst roommates and vice versa.

Sonali Thakore -- I deliberately chose to live with a stranger. Living with a stranger is hard initially but once the adjustment period is over, it's great. You learn so much more from a person who you don't already know and who is from a different culture. You also might have a more diverse set of friends as you get to know more people through her and you have your friends that you made independently.

Vidhi Singh -- Beware, living with a friend can be tricky. At the same time, it can be an incredible solace to have a close friend around whenever you need a shoulder to cry on. I suggest, if you ever want to live with someone close to you, perhaps you should try it out in your freshman year when both of you are more flexible.

Akhila Khanna -- My freshman roomie was not a friend, and we didn't become friends (nightmare story)! Although I did room with a reasonably good friend for a couple of years in college. I liked it, but it wasn't like she was my best friend. I think it's a bad idea to room with a very close friend. Things could get messy.

Any final advice regarding housing and settling in?

Gaurav Shah -- I guess my best advice would be to be open and not confine yourself to comfortable surroundings. Part of the experience is to go beyond your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to try new arrangments and to live with different people.

Sonali Thakore -- My advice would be to go ahead and take that risk of living with a stranger. Be sensitive to that fact that you're living with someone from a different culture and try to assimilate. For example, even though Indian food is great, it smells. Try and avoid stinking up the fridge with Indian food and things like that which make it difficult for someone from a different culture to get used. At the very least, wait for the first semester until you get to know your roommate well. Be sensitive to cultural differences. Of course, learn from what you see around you, be well turned out and friendly and you'll be fine.

Vidhi Singh -- My advice is mainly for post first-year experiences. The housing lottery can be highly political. You literally have to forge alliances and strategise with your friends. At times this can be nerve-racking but it's something you should be aware of when it comes to the end of the academic year. Secondly, you must remember that living with anybody can be difficult. Most of us have only had to live with an extremely accommodating family so far. So try and keep the fighting and back-biting down to a minimum and make an effort to resolve differences. 

Akhila Khanna -- I think living on campus is a good idea because then you don't have to worry about setting up a home, buying groceries, buying a bed, paying rent and so on. You also get a chance to bond with people in your dorm. A single room might be nice for Senior year; you'll finally get some privacy and space!

Tomorrow: A new academic system

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