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Keys to Successful Roommates in College

Posted August 8th, 2011 by Mike

Most student residents living in the International Living-Learning Center will have a roommate from a country and culture different from their own. We’ve been getting some questions about what it means to have a domestic student as a roommate and what it means to have an international student as a roommate. This will be an ongoing learning process for all of our residents and will vary because people vary. That said here are some general things to think about if your roommate is from a different country than your own—and some general things to remember no matter where your roommate is from.

First, let’s look at some general things to keep in mind about living with another human being.

Key qualities of a successful experience

  1. Flexibility, commitment, and willingness to communicate in an honest and tactful manner are all key qualities of creating a successful living environment with your roommate. Creating this will take time and effort—and it might be difficult. It will also be one of the most important things you learn outside of the classroom during your time at OSU.
  2. Sharing a space with another human being can be challenging with different personalities, class schedules, interests, and habits. The key is to remain open to learning from your roommate and situation. Keep asking questions. Seek to understand where your roommate is coming from and do your best to be kind.
  3. At the beginning of the year, you will work with your roommate and suitemates to complete a roommate agreement form. Filling out this form is a great way to talk about what you need to be successful and establish the way you want to communicate those needs throughout the year. Be honest and flexible as you work through the agreement. If you put the effort and time in, you will reap the benefits of creating a strong foundation for communication with your roommate from the beginning. This makes it easier to work through issues that come up later.

Having a domestic student roommate

When I studied abroad in Germany, I remember one of the most difficult things for me was communicating verbally and in writing with my floormates. I knew very little German, and their English was also limited. This might be something you encounter as well with your roommate. I will pass along some wisdom that was passed along to me: keep trying! Keep trying to speak the language. Your roommate will probably understand more than you think.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • American culture is often stereotyped, when in reality it is varied and nuanced just like all cultures. Ask questions if you’re confused about something your roommate does or how they act in a certain situation. Ask questions if you aren’t sure what you should do in a certain situation.
  • Contacting your friends and family at home might mean late night phone calls or internet chats. This can interfere with both your sleep and your roommate’s. Talk about this with your roommate. There are lots of comfortable spaces throughout the ILLC where you can have a semi-private conversation with your friends and family. One of the benefits of living in the building!
  • Be patient with yourself. Learning a new culture takes time. The key is to continue asking questions and learning. Your roommate can be one of your best teachers. Be open to learning from them.

Having an international student roommate

As I mentioned above, I studied abroad in Germany while I was in college. I learned so much about what it’s like to be immersed in a culture different from your own and navigating that with limited language skills. Our international students come to OSU with varying levels of English proficiency.  Your roommate may speak English just as well as you do, or their English may be more limited. Remember to be patient and ask questions. If your roommate doesn’t understand, try a different, possibly simpler word—or try writing it down. Sometimes, people have a higher comprehension of written language. Please don’t just assume they don’t understand. Just like you, your roommate’s English will improve with practice. You have a great opportunity to help them if they are open to it.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  • Similar to what I said above, cultures are often stereotyped when they are actually quite varied and complex. Do all you can to not stereotype your roommate. Be open to learning about their experiences both individually and as a member of a culture different from your own. Be curious about who they are and where they come from.
  • You have an opportunity to be a great host to your roommate. Most likely, they are a very long plane ride home from their family and friends. You may be only a two-hour car ride. Our INTO-OSU students are coming to OSU to study and to learn about the United States. You can be one of their teachers. Spend time with each other.
  • Remember: you probably have more in common than you think.

Does anyone have any other suggestions or things to keep in mind for our international and domestic students as they approach their roommate relationship? Let us know in the comments.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns you can also contact me at

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