Just keep an open mind. She’s probably really cool. I wonder what kind of sports she likes, or food, or anything in general? I don’t know anything about her except for her name! These were just some of the thoughts that constantly flooded my mind before moving into residence for the first time at NYU Abu Dhabi with a strange person from another part of the world.
Everyone in university has a roommate story, whether it be amazing or horrible. There's always that one roommate experience that impacts us for the rest of our lives. My story is no different.
Her name is Cynthia and she comes from Rwanda in Central Africa. Unlike other roommates here at NYUAD, we hadn’t met during Candidate Weekend in the spring or had any mutual friends. Due to a misunderstanding on the housing application, we actually became accidental roommates.
So, as people do these days, I set out to discover everything I could about this complete stranger by scanning all her social media channels and saying hello. We even chatted a few times on Facebook and it looked as if we would live well together. But I knew the true test was yet to come.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have my own room. Although I had to share a bathroom with my brother, I still had my own living space. I was used to sharing a common area but not waking up to another human being in the same room. Needless to say, I was both extremely excited and nervous to meet my new living partner.
Our first meeting lasted five minutes on the first day of Marhaba Week. I went to my room to pick up a few things before the shopping trip to IKEA. Cynthia greeted me with a nervous smile when I busted into the room singing John Legend's All of Me. We exchanged friendly hugs but you could definitely sense the awkwardness.
For the first month of freshman year, we were complete strangers. But things soon started to change.
Friendships Take Time
Unfortunately, nothing much changed in the first month. With our conflicting schedules, different SIG interests and circle of friends, we were never in the room at the same time. I think I saw the security guard at our building more often than I saw her! For the first month of freshman year, we were complete strangers.
We tried to be considerate living partners, cleaning the bathroom twice a week and taking out the trash every so often. We were roommates but not friends. Having bonded with my other suitemates and neighbors, it dawned on me that I really didn't know Cynthia very well. But things soon started to change.
We started having lunch together once a week and would clean our living space together on Saturday mornings. Our lunch dates soon happened twice a week and then we started having dinner and making supper. During our late night study sessions she would spontaneously give me private dance lessons, or we would gossip about the cute guys on campus. We quickly went from strangers to friends, and it turned out it was our differences that brought us closer together.
Of course, like any relationship, it's never perfect.
"I thought you were really weird," Cynthia tells me now, characterizing my fitness routine as obsessive. I always go running early in the morning or late at night and I'm at the gym a lot. For my part, I wasn't used to to finding clumps of hair from dreadlocks on the bathroom and bedroom floors.
But somehow, two strangers from different parts of the planet with remarkably different interests managed to make it work, and in fact, we've become very close friends and made many lasting memories. I think it's our mutual curiosity and appreciation for each other's cultures that even has us planning short homestays in both Rwanda and Singapore.
My advice to freshman students or those preparing to live with someone new - don't stress about it too much. You may actually come to love each other and make a lifetime friend you can visit in another part of the world.