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FastWeb Column: Home Away From Home

This story was published in 2006 for FastWeb, an online education resource and scholarship search engine.

I’m sitting on a red leather couch. There are two yellow Labradors, Sophie and Lucy, snoring at my feet, a warm wood stove and the Redskins game sounding in the background. Home.

There are a lot of things wrong with this place, sure. The couch is garish in color and sticky in nature, especially in summer when the slightest drop of sweat will stick your leg to the seat and peel off parts of your skin like layers from an onion. From the dogs come bursts of noxious gases, disgusting at a few paces and deadly at close range. As for the Redskins… I don’t want to talk about it.

Part of the college experience is learning to live without your home, but it’s also about making smart choices when you recreate the old nest. Here are my thoughts:

Chooseth thy roommates with care. Haste makes waste, but it also makes for a miserable year if you don’t pick winners. I lived in a single room in an upperclass dorm my second year and loved it. It gave me the structure and safety of having people around, but my room was my own. My third year I lived in an apartment, and now I live in a house with three other girls. Each situation posed different challenges and rewards, but I’ve been the princess and the pea of choosing roommates and haven’t regretted it.

Sometimes you can’t help who shares your space. I lucked out, and my first-year roomie and I were very close. We had to choose housing contracts for our sophomore year in October – when we’d been living together for a month and a half. That was hardly enough time for me to commit. She took a risk and signed a contract to live with some other kids in our dorm. She was pleased in the end – after some minor kerfuffles — but I wouldn’t recommend her strategy. The ideal roommate is not someone you’re best friends with, but rather a person who shares your basic ideas of living space. If you’re messy, don’t pal up with a neat freak. If you study at home, don’t bunk with party animals. It’s an easy equation, but often disregarded.

The fact is, whether you get along as people has little to do with your success as roommates. Living with someone will bring different topics to the surface. It won’t matter that they’re playing your favorite band, but that they’re blaring music in the first place.

Another thought: location, location, location. It’s irrelevant. I’ve lived on opposite sides of the University of Virginia’s campus and found that everything was more pleasant when I lived near my friends. Proximity to the coffee shop will seem pretty petty compared to being neighbors with your buds. Convenience is relative.

Finally, don’t be in a hurry to move off campus. There are benefits to living next to a dining hall, gym or classroom. It’s probably less expensive, and if you can convince some of your friends to stay on campus it with you, that whole un-cool factor will dissipate like a gaseous spurt from Sophie.

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