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Roommates Learn Patience, Compromise

Roommates Learn Patience, Compromise

The Record-Eagle via Yellowbrix

August 24, 2009

Aug. 18—TRAVERSE CITY — Madeline Mesa is an outgoing Floridian who’s used to sharing her space with her sister.

Dakota Deeren is a shy-at-first Michiganian and an only child who’s rarely had to share her space with anyone.

Alike or not, the two strangers will become roommates when they arrive at Northwestern Michigan College next week for their freshman year. They’ll spend the next eight months learning to live together while adjusting to academic life on a college campus.

“I’ve been told by many people that it’s probably best when you don’t know who your roommate is going to be,” said Deeren, 18, of Lake Ann, who hopes to become a history teacher. “It’s more of a college experience that way and you usually make a really good lifetime friend.”

Jennifer Metcalf and her roommate, Marissa, are still good friends nearly 10 years after meeting at NMC. In fact, Metcalf — now studying for her master’s degree in counseling through the college’s University Center — plans to attend Marissa’s wedding Aug. 29.

“It was a perfect match,” said Metcalf, an Ontario native. “For me it was nothing but a great experience. It completed the college experience, big time.” Now Metcalf passes on her experience to some 200 residents of NMC’s East Hall as coordinator of housing and residence life.

“On the first day we talk about roommate and suitemate communications and setting ground rules, like how to handle guests, who can use the bathroom at what time, who’s going to take out the trash,” Metcalf said. “I think being open-minded is a big piece — accepting someone else’s similarities and differences, the willingness to be flexible.”

Maggie Perkins had little in common with her Arabic-speaking Muslim roommate when they were first paired at the University of Montana in 2007.

“In the beginning it seemed strange; she’d get up and pray in the morning and that wasn’t something I was used to,” said Perkins, 22, of Traverse City. “I didn’t know what was OK for me to do — could I have the TV on? Could I walk around? So I’d just be quiet. Then I started asking questions and she was willing to teach me about it.”

Eventually the roommates became fast friends who did nearly everything together, from eating meals and watching movies to doing the laundry. In the process Perkins became friends with other Muslim girls on the floor who were from the same foreign exchange program.

“I was not expecting anything from it, but now I have a best friend from Tunisia that I’ll probably have the rest of my life,” said Perkins, now a senior at the University of Hawaii. “Part of the reason I ended up switching to anthropology was because of my first roommate and her friends. I just enjoy so much learning about different cultures and languages.”

Not all matches are as successful. Learning to live, socialize and work in the same space can be a challenge, even for the closest of friends, say campus housing experts. And when mediation doesn’t work, sometimes a room change is the only answer.

“One of the common reasons is the going-to-bed issue,” said Catherine Creighton of Interlochen Arts Academy. “One goes to bed early and one to bed late. That’s hard to negotiate between two people. You can’t make someone stay up late.”

The fine arts boarding high school houses about 500 students in five residence halls, each complete with a daytime “house mother” and round-the-clock staff, Creighton said. Most are living away from home for the first time.

“Students are learning how to navigate and live on their own in pretty close proximity,” she said. “It’s the day-to-day living — who’s going to take out the trash, who’s going to clean the toilet, who’s going to vacuum the carpet, who’s going to make sure that we pass our lights-out inspection — that’s probably the biggest issue for students coming in at that age.”

Both Interlochen and NMC require that boarding students complete a community living preference form to give staff an idea of lifestyles and compatibility.

“We encourage them to fill it out honestly, even if their parents have a different opinion,” said Metcalf, who also tries to pair up roommates in similar programs — the opposite approach from that of Interlochen’s. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll bond.

“I think the expectation is … that you are going to get along with each other and you are going to develop those lifelong relationships,” she said. “We have had shouting matches. Have people wanted to come to blows? I’m sure. But the residence assistants are trained for that. They know the signs and they can defuse it before it even starts.”

For Maggie Perkins, signs that her second roommate was severely depressed came early on.

“I think she probably said five or six words to me from the end of August to October,” Perkins said. “I tried to start conversations, I’d see her doing things, so I’d try to talk to her about them, to get her to open up. She’d shake her head yes or no, or just shrug.”

When the normally reclusive roommate came back from a weekend trip with a boyfriend in tow, the situation became even worse, Perkins said.

“I thought, ‘Good, she won’t be in her room 24/7.’ Well, she was still in the room 24/7, only the guy was with her. She ended up spending the night with him at the dorm and that was the last straw. I thought, I have to get a different room.”

With any luck, Mesa and Deeren will be more compatible. Both said they are neatniks who like meeting new people.

“I’ll roll with the punches. I’ll make it work,” said Mesa, 18, who planned to phone Deeren before beginning her drive from Boca Raton to Traverse City.

“At least I’m not sharing a bathroom with an entire floor, like some of my friends.”

College & Beyond: Tips for Roommates

You’re moving into a room smaller than your closet at home — and you have to share it with someone you’ve never met.


Other than a spouse, there is probably no other person in the world you will get to know as well as your roommate. Even if you bond instantly, there may be moments when your roomie’s little quirks get on your nerves. Letting things fester (in that tiny little space) can turn an annoyance into a misery. Communication — both talking and listening will be the key to a great relationship.

Stuff: Less is more

By the time you’ve managed to fit in two beds, the mini fridge, mini microwave, computer, CD-changer and TV — will there be any room for clothes (not to mention a few books)? There is no way you are going to duplicate all the comforts of home. The less you bring, the less you have to keep track of and maintain.


Rule No. 1: Don’t.

Rule No. 2: If you absolutely must borrow something, always ask permission first. Return it in the promised timeframe and in the condition it was in when borrowed. If you damage or lose something you borrow, you are responsible for replacing it. Can’t afford to replace it? See rule No. 1. Nothing causes more strife between roommates and friends than borrowing — money, food, clothes, CDs, sports equipment.


If the law of averages works, one of you will be extremely neat and the other extremely messy. Here is where you learn the great art of communication and compromise. Mom doesn’t live here, but you do. The neatnik will have to learn to tolerate life’s imperfections. The slob, well, it’s time to start picking up after yourself. .

Lights out

It’s inevitable. One of you will have an 8 a.m. class and the other will want to study until 2 a.m. Work out routines for late night studying (is there a lounge?) late night returns (tiptoe and use a flashlight?), early morning classes (tiptoe out and dress in the bathroom?). Everyone needs their zzz’s. .

Quiet time

Most dorms have quiet hours. Loud music, parties or socializing in the hall will not be appreciated by your fellow dormmates and are a one-way ticket to unpopularity. .

Irreconcilable differences

When the course of rooming does not run smooth, seek counsel. Your hall or dorm will have an RA (resident adviser) who is usually an older student or grad student — young enough to remember what it was like to be a freshman, but old enough to give good advice. Chances are you and your roomie are together for better or worse until June. .

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