You’re not all alone at university

  • Feb. 16, 2011 9:00 a.m.

Many students in their first year of university choose to live on campus in residence and many universities guarantee first-year students a place in residence. Living in residence, particularly in first year, has its perks – namely, you are on campus and close to all of your classes and university buildings such as the library. It is also simpler in that you don’t need to worry about utility and phone bills or building maintenance issues. Residence can also ease the transition into adulthood and moving out on one’s own into the ‘real world.’ There are various types of residences to be found. There are typical, dorm-style residences in which students have a bedroom, which may be shared, and all facilities, such as bathrooms, lounges and showers are shared. These residences don’t usually have cooking facilities except for maybe a microwave. There are apartment-style residences like the building to which I was assigned. In my building, there are four suites to a floor. Within each suite are single and double bedrooms, a shared kitchen, a shared lounge and shared bathroom and shower facilities. When it comes to roommates, students may be assigned to a single, a double or a triple room. If a student knows somebody going to the same university as them that they would like to share a room with, this can be indicated on both students’ applications to residence. Most buildings are co-ed, though gender specific buildings may be available. Students living in residence are provided with basic furniture, a bed, mattress, desk, lamp and somewhere to store clothing. Anything else must be brought from home, including linens and toiletries such as shampoo. Students must also supply their own soap for dishes and hand-washing, as well as paper towels; don’t worry, toilet paper is supplied. Move-in day in September is busy, chaotic and exciting. Hundreds of students move into residence buildings at the same time, hauling in belongings and unpacking. At the University of Guelph, there were upper-year student volunteers to help students bring their belongings up to their rooms. There is a residence assistant (RA) assigned to each area in residence, in my case this means each floor, to act as an advisor for students who need help with any sort of issue. There is always an RA available to answer questions or to deal with issues such as noise complaints. Living in residence can be fun, but also challenging. You are almost always around people and there are often fun events scheduled and events that students organize themselves. For example, in my building during exam period there was a kickboxing lesson offered in the downstairs foyer. Also during exams, my suite organized a potluck dinner for our residence floor. Living with other people all the time has downsides, too, as personalities will inevitably clash. Usually conflicts are minor and short-lived. But if a real issue does arise, an RA can help mediate the conflict. Residence walls can be thin, so noise can be disruptive, particularly when trying to sleep. This is resolved by enforced quiet hours – between 11 p.m. and 8 am. .on nights before classes and between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Other rules in residence that are strictly enforced include no open flames whatsoever (including birthday cake candles), no cooking appliances (such as hotplates and toasters) in bedrooms and no pets (except fish, but this can vary between universities). There is a large emphasis on fire safety because of the large size of buildings and their occupancy load. If a fire alarm goes off in a building, even by accident, hundreds of students must be evacuated. If students have any building problems in residence, they are able to go to the residence desk and have a work order put in to fix the problem. For example, in September the drain of the kitchen sink in my suite clogged; we went to the desk and someone was soon sent up to fix it. Some degree of homesickness is inevitable while living away from home If, like me, you are unable to go home on weekends it can be helpful to get involved in university activities or in the community to keep yourself busy so that you don’t miss home as much. Students may want to join a club or an extracurricular class, such as dance or a sports class, or volunteer somewhere. I started writing for the University newspaper and joined a kickboxing and Zumba class. Finding a good friend to pass the time with is also helpful. Living on your own brings with it new responsibilities. No one else is going to cook or clean for you. When students first arrive at university they go through Orientation Week, which takes on many names such as ‘Frosh Week’ and ‘O-Week’; its beginning is marked by move-in day. During orientation, students are introduced to the university, each other, student leaders and some of the faculty through tours, games, program meetings, mock lectures and other welcoming events. One tradition at the University of Guelph during O-Week is an attempt to break a world record. In September we set the record for the world’s largest lap-sit (most people sitting on each other’s laps at once). Other activities that I participated in during O-Week were a scavenger hunt around campus, making a hand print banner in my residence and attending a mock lecture about colony collapse disorder in honeybees. Students should try to make the most of their orientation experience to meet new people and become more familiar with their university. Orientation is the last bit of summer vacation and the last chance for students to relax before classes begin.

Kirsti Juurakko is a first-year student at the University of Guelph in Ontario.