Last April, while everyone was eagerly browsing Pinterest to get the best ideas on how to decorate the walls of their new apartment rooms, I was homeless and roomie-less.
Figuring out your rooming situation after a year of residence-hall life is one of the most meaningful milestones in the life of an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. It gives you the opportunity to transition from the coddled atmosphere that residence-hall life provides to adult life, where leases and electricity bills are real. Successfully conquering apartment living is a self-empowering experience that demonstrates one’s abilities to organize and plan.
As an international student unacquainted with American culture, I was particularly anxious and insecure about residence-hall life at UC Berkeley. I had never lived away from my home for more than a weekend, nor had I ever shared a room with someone else, let alone a stranger. My experience freshman year was far from ideal. I was assigned a triple in Unit 2 with two girls whose backgrounds, nationalities and future aspirations were completely different from mine.
Our coexistence abided by an unspoken rule of emotional distance: We were nothing more than roommates, albeit relatively civil and considerate ones. Either our schedules were different, or we were too busy and tired to make an attempt to better our relationship. All in all, there was never active effort — from any of us — to improve the situation.
As such, freshman year was shaped by my unspectacular living situation. I admired my friends who grabbed every meal with their roommates, went to explore San Francisco or pulled all-nighters together — that was never the case in my triple. After a long and tiring day of classes, I would not go back to a nurturing and caring environment but to a cold, small and very quiet space. I promised myself that this would not be the case my second year of college.
Unlike my peers, however, who appeased their nerves by making apartment-hunting plans with 20 different people, my way to cope was evading the subject. I was a skeptical roommate hunter because my solitary living situation as a freshman made me fearful of going through a similar situation my sophomore year of college. The only thing worse than coming home to a cramped and unwelcoming triple was the thought of an empty single.
This is when I decided to embrace the middle ground: choosing roommates who were neither strangers nor my best friends.
I was not inclined to live with complete strangers again because that scenario had already proven unsuccessful. On the other hand, I didn’t adhere to the popular assumption that the best roommates are your best friends. Best friends set the bar too high — there are too many expectations and, consequently, disappointments. After a few weeks of living together, you realize that even though you love them, their snores throughout the night are unpleasant, their fashion sense is no longer admirable as their clothes pile up next to your bed, and their social spirit ceases to amuse you when their friends spend the night in your apartment and eat your cherished homemade chocolate chip cookies. When you live with your best friend, you might come to the sad conclusion that spending too much time together may not be the best way to nurture that friendship. Being best friends with someone is no guarantee that your living habits will be compatible.
My current roommates are the middle ground. I met them by chance — they lived on the floor below from mine in Unit 2, where I happened to study all the time. My relationship with them was the perfect balance: I knew certain things about them that reassured me of their sane and amicable personalities, but not so much that I could fire off their food allergies and pet peeves. This meant that the window of opportunity that remained closed freshman year had enough potential to open and for these acquaintances to evolve into true friendships.
Less than two weeks into the first semester of my sophomore year of college, we were already sharing tales of our confusing love lives, most embarrassing moments and political views. Working the middle-ground strategy was probably one of the best choices I have made at UC Berkeley. I was lucky enough to experience the transition from what began as a middle-ground relationship to a strong and everlasting friendship. Even if the relationship hadn’t transitioned into what it is today, using the middle-ground strategy still would have fostered, at the very least, a cordial and respectful atmosphere.