Living in residence; this either strikes fear or joy in the hearts of first-year students. For many, this is the first time they’ve ever lived away from home. For me, living in residence at the University of Lethbridge meant that I was also five hours away from my parents’ watchful eyes. Freedom never tasted so sweet.
Actually, that’s a lie. Freedom sucked for the first two months.
As an introvert, I struggled to put myself out there and meet new people.
Sure, there were events designed to introduce you to your fellow students, but there were so many new people I found it hard to remember anyone’s name, let alone build strong relationships.
I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make the most of living in residence, so I’ve compiled a few tips for those of you thinking about living in residence:
Leave your door open.
You can’t meet people if you’re always hiding in your room. Plus, it’s way easier to hold a conversation with someone on your own turf than fighting to be heard amidst a large group. This is how I met my best friend Jade. A few weeks into my residence experience the power went out, plunging our whole floor into darkness. My dad works for Parks so I have a huge collection of mini flashlights from all his promotional events; I turned them all on and hung them from my ceiling so they looked like stars. Seeing my custom light show, Jade invited herself in and six glorious years of friendship have flown by.
Take the time to build friendships.
School isn’t all about the books. Yes, grades are important, but when you get that first C- on a paper you busted your butt on (and it will happen) it’s your friends who will show up at 2 a.m. with Little Caesars, beer, and a shoulder to cry on. Your social life is what will make your post-secondary experience a great one. Speaking of Little Caesars, beware of the freshman fifteen; it does exist and it will happen!
Learn some kitchen basics and get a meal card for backup.
I can’t count the number of times I set off the fire alarm attempting to cook something. Nothing makes you feel guiltier than having the fire trucks show up as a result of your lack of cooking abilities. I should also mention that most residence kitchens are communal and not everyone is a stellar housekeeper. Finding maggots in the sink because your roommate hasn’t washed their dishes in weeks will make you thankful you have a food card for backup!
Pick your battles and don’t sweat the small stuff.
I remember the first time Jade came into my room crying because one of the girls in her quad decided it was a good idea to suck up her Saturday-night puke with Jade’s vacuum … without telling her. Jade probably should have said something immediately, instead of keeping her frustration to herself and then getting extra upset when, three weeks later, the same roommate accidentally broke one of her mugs. If you don’t deal with the big stuff when it happens, it can bleed over into the little stuff and completely destroy a roommate relationship. You don’t have to like the people you’re living with, but a little common courtesy and respect goes a long way. You’re stuck with your roommates for the whole year so it’s a good idea to set ground rules early.
Get a shower tote and flip flops.
I’ll be honest, residences aren’t the cleanest places … especially the shared bathrooms. You probably didn’t like cleaning the bathroom at home, so what makes you think that’s going to change when you’re living on your own with roommates who feel the same way? Trust me, after seeing somebody else’s nasty hairballs sitting in the bottom of the shower you’ll want to have something on your feet. I recommend getting a plastic tote with a handle so you can easily carry your stuff back and forth from your room. If you leave it unattended, someone will undoubtedly steal your shampoo, use your razor, or brush their teeth with your toothbrush.
Wash your sheets.
You’ll probably have company at some point (no, not that kind—get your head out of the gutter). My friend Jade and I spent quite a few nights curled up on my bed watching How I Met Your Mother re-runs when we were feeling lonely. When I broke down in my second semester and begged my mom to visit me because I missed her so much, she slept with me there, too. You might be wondering why this tip made it on my list, but you’d be surprised how many people ignore basic hygiene. My buddy Dan vowed not to wash his bedsheets for the whole year and the noxious fumes emanating from his room got so bad that while he was in class a bunch of us built a duct tape screen across his door to keep the smell in.
You will get homesick, so call home often.
Nothing makes you appreciate all the little things your parents do more than living on your own. Before going to university I had no idea my mom had been matching up all my socks for years so I didn’t lose them. Your parents are going to miss you, too; they love you more than you know and you moving out is harder on them than you think. Even if it’s just a simple text in the morning letting them know you’re alive, send it. It’s important.
Avoid oversharing on social media.
I’m all for posting pictures of you and your friends having a blast at the corn maze, but residence can bring out the best and worst in people. Don't post anything you wouldn’t want your grandma to see, and certainly don’t tag someone else in a compromising situation. You’re all learning and growing and deserve a certain amount of privacy in order to do that. You are going to screw up, you are going to make a few bad decisions, you are going to get embarrassed, and your family and future employers do not need to see that. Save the memories, don’t save the pictures.
If at all humanly possible, avoid 8 a.m. classes.
They suck, and as much as you tell yourself you have the motivation and dedication to make it to them on time, you probably don’t. Sleep isn’t something you get a lot of while you’re in residence. Whether it’s late-night adventures with your friends or writing a paper the night before it’s due, chances are you won’t always be getting a solid 8 hours of shut-eye so give yourself some extra time to get moving in the morning if you can.
Some people might think moving into residence is an opportunity to reinvent yourself, but I say don’t bother. It’s way too hard to pretend to be someone you’re not. So what if you were a nerd in high school? You’re going to be surrounded by equally awesome nerds in post-secondary! Residence is filled with diverse people from all sorts of backgrounds, and you all have two very big things in common: you all live in res and you’re all students. If that doesn’t bring you together I don’t know what will. You’re living in close quarters, so these people will become your family—regardless of your differences. Seriously, just do you!
Living in residence is a one of a kind experience that taught me a lot about myself and helped me build lasting friendships and great memories. I recommend it to all first-year students, even if you have the option to live with family or friends off campus.
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