You may remember Rahela from the story she shared almost exactly a year ago, when she was finishing two years of high school in the U.S. She hadn't made any close friends in those two years and was struggling to explain why. A year later, she's just finished her freshman year in college. She went in hoping for a clean start, and excited about meeting some new people, especially her roommate. But when her relationship with the roommate had a somewhat rocky start, Rahela wondered whether she was destined to spend college lonely once again.
Here's Rahela's story of how she got off on the wrong foot with her roommate, and why first impressions aren't always correct:
“I know that you would have liked to have had an American roommate,” my host mother said as we drove straight from the airport to my first day of college, “but she is from Tanzania.”
I was very nervous to start college. I had already studied in the U.S. for high school, but this would be a new and a different environment. At the same time, I was feeling eager to start my first day - I was already a week late due to visa issues coming from Afghanistan - and I was looking forward to getting introduced to new people, especially my roommate.
“That is fine,” I told my host mother, optimistically. “I wanted an American roommate to improve my English, but it is okay. A girl from Tanzania may help too.”
I have heard many stories from students who had a hard time living with their roommates and even had to move out because they couldn't get along. I knew that my roommate and I would have two different personalities, with two different cultural backgrounds, countries and beliefs, but trusted that I could adapt to different or even difficult conditions and be happy.
My roommate was the second person I met on campus. She was sitting on her bed doing her homework when I walked into the room, and she stood up to introduce herself to my host mother and me. Her name was “Shraddha,” but she said I could call her “Shah.”
My first impression was that she seemed like a kind girl, but also a rich and proud person. She seemed introverted, but she was more talkative with me than with the other students, which made me feel special.
I wanted to share my experiences, to talk about my country and my family with her. It seemed like she had the same feeling. Sometimes she felt homesick, missed her family and cried at the beginning. I understood what she was feeling, and I wanted to hug her and tell her not to worry, that everything will be alright after a while. But I thought it might not be appropriate in her culture for me to interfere.
During the past two years of high school and living in the U.S. I hadn’t made any close friends. This was a chance to be friends with my roommate.
I remember we both had to sign an agreement about living with a roommate and one of the sentences said, “Do not disturb your roommate while she is studying and do not use her personal items without her permission.” I didn’t really like this commitment, although of course I respected the rules and signed it, because I always wish to have a friend be like my sister. When she needs something she is allowed to use mine and return it back and we would never argue with each other.
About a week after our first meeting, I was feeling very happy and excited for no reason. I had an urge to run like a kid and express my feeling to my roommate. On the way back from the dining hall, I asked her to run with me but she refused and said, “No one can be my friend, except my classmates in Tanzania.”
I felt the blood stop in my veins.
I had really hoped that we would be friends, but now I lost my hope and felt that no one could be my friend. I went to the bathroom and the tears came unintentionally. I did not want her to know.
As time passed, however, I felt we became closer. Maybe she just needed more time to get to know me. I thought that I might not be close like her friends back home, but I could show her that I could still be a normal friend to her.
We talked more and found similarities in our beliefs and cultures. I told her about my religion, Islam, and found out she could already answer all my Islamic questions because she has many Muslim friends in her city, and she said, joking, “I am a half Muslim.” I learned that she is a neat and organized person who is always the first person to arrive to class.
Christmas break was the first time I really missed her. We had both gotten used to each other. We sometimes studied together or went for an afternoon walk. We talked about our memories and experiences back home every night. We cooked our food sometimes, sang and danced, laughed and teased each other.
My roommate’s perseverance, strength and confidence motivated me to be like her and do well in my academics. She is not a rich and proud person, as I had first thought. Though she is three years younger than me, I accepted her as a role model and know her as a mature girl. My roommate is not just a roommate or a normal friend for me now. She has a special place in my life as one of my best friends.
Eventually I told her about my first impressions and the day that I got made at her and cried. She apologized for all that and I realized how deep our relationship had gotten that we could both show each other’s mistakes like a mirror and accept the reality and apologize.
I’ll never forget the last days of college when we were packing our stuff. We had a nice conversation and I asked her, “What was your favorite memory of freshman year?” She replied, “Living with you.” That day I felt I reached my goal and I found my place in her heart. We are both excited to start our sophomore year and be roommates with each other again.
Have you had a good or a bad roommate experience? What do you think it takes to build a positive relationship with your roommate? Share your story in the comments or using the form below.