Roommate Tales: International/Domestic

College is a new beginning, and the first point of contact and comfort we often find in this arena of newness is our roommate. Roommates often end up being each other’s evening tea mates, 3 A.M. confidants, and the only alarm that functions effectively enough to wake one up for 8:30 A.M. classes.

But when roommates are from different backgrounds altogether, is there a strain in the relationship? How do international and domestic students rooming together deal with their differences and establish a roommate dynamic? Talking to roommates Fiona Achieng (from Kenya) and Roshnee Chatterjee (from West Bengal, India) shows us a little more about the workings of such a relationship.

Q. What was your first reaction when you realized your roommate was not from the same country as you?

Roshnee: I wasn’t sure if we’d mesh initially, but it’s not like I was expecting not to.


Q. How did you feel knowing that your roommate was likely to be from another country?

Fiona: I didn’t think about it much. There wasn’t a feeling [about it]. When you asked that question, there’s just a vacuum. Like, what am I supposed to say, you know? But it was okay, I guess.


Q. Did you anticipate any difficulties of living together?

Fiona: No, not really. I was ready to adjust and try to live in harmony by putting any differences aside. I can be very particular about the kind of things I want. So before I left, my mom was like, “You’re going to live with somebody, so you’ve got to be a little more flexible”. So I just came with that mindset, to just be flexible.

Roshnee: It was the same stress I would’ve had with any new roommate, from my country or not. Would we get along? Would we be in the same friend circles? Have the same interests? The same taste in music, clothes, introvert/extrovert ratios?


Q. What difficulties did you actually face?

Fiona: I hate the cold so much, but she loves it. Sometimes we’d have to alternate days of putting the A/C on and off, especially at night. If it was on, I’d have to sleep with a hoodie on and a comforter--it was so cold!

Roshnee: I don’t think we’ve had any huge problems. Fiona possibly had issues with me staying up super late initially, but I’ve turned her over to the dark side now *cue evil face*. Whatever problems there might be is probably her being annoyed at my messy side of the room, or the fact that I took so long to start to decorate.

Q. Are you learning each other's native languages? Can you say a few words in them?

Fiona: Yeah, we are, just words, a few words, once in a while. No, they’re insults, we’re learning insults, I can’t say them! *laughs*

Roshnee: We started with slang of course. We haven’t learned too much just yet but I’m sure we’ll get there.


Q. What difference do you think it's made that your roommate is from another country?

Fiona: This is not my first time having to live with someone from another country. That’s what high school life was like so it wasn’t really anything different.

Roshnee: I just think it’s refreshing. I haven’t learned much about her culture yet but it’s interesting to see how Fiona reacts to our festivals and how interested she is in them.


Q. What have you learned from her?

Fiona: I’ve learned to take life easy. Every time she’s in the room, it’s like life comes back to the room. Because I’m more “Oh my gosh, I have to do this assignment”, “Oh, I have these things to do, it’s academics blahblahblah”. But when she’s here, she’ll lie on her bed and watch a movie and stuff. And you think, “Oh wow, life actually exists, you know?”

Roshnee: I’m hoping to learn to be proactive like her and get stuff done.


Q. What's one thing you wouldn't know if your roommate wasn't your roommate?

Fiona: I wouldn’t know that life and work can coexist together. Without her, this place would just be all about workworkworkwork and no movies; I even procrastinate watching movies!

Roshnee: Pretty sure I wouldn’t be aware of a lot of music that I really love listening to now.


Q. How did you guys decide to decorate your room?

Fiona: We had different ideas, but it all just found a way to merge. I guess it was bound to happen. We didn’t really sit down and [figure it out]. I wasn’t like, “I’m gonna do butterflies on my side and I’m gonna do quotes etc etc.” I just did it and she just did her thing and it merged.

Roshnee: Fiona was really proactive on her side. She’s super creative and bubbly and cute. She’s one of those inspirational quote people, which I think is adorable. We’re planning to make the wall between our beds our wall, so [it’ll be filled with] a collection of pictures of us throughout the year that we room together.

Q. Do you guys ever wear each other's clothes? Are they very different?

Fiona: Yeah, I basically wear everything [of hers] that fits me but the thing is, most of my clothes don’t fit her, so disadvantage for her. Oh, there was this day I wanted to go out but my sweaters were in the laundry. I just stood up, saw her jumper and I was like, “I’ll just take this, I’ll just wear that and go.” And her shoes, I needed to go to Delhi so I was like “Yo, I’m taking your shoes.”

Roshnee: We haven’t exchanged clothes, really so I can’t really provide a cool answer for this.


Q. Did you bring comfort food from home for college? Have you eaten each other's food? What's the one food item you liked the best?

Fiona: No, I wish I did. Yeah, [I eat her food] every time. She doesn’t bring Bengali food, just snacks and stuff. [What I like best from her food are] Oreos and Fruit Loops.

Roshnee: I have, and she loves exploring food. We actually sat down and researched some local food from her country and I asked her to bring some back next time so I can try some too!


Q. Have you learned anything from each other about the other's country or culture? If yes, what?

Fiona: No, not really. Roshnee’s very liberal, she just lives in the moment like me so we don’t discuss that that much. But I’ve learnt a little about her culture. She tells me about the attire she’s wearing, whatever she’s celebrating.

Roshnee: I don’t know much about hers but she asks about the Indian culture constantly. Either it’s something in her class she doesn’t understand about the history of India, or when we end up celebrating festivals she asks about the significance.


Q. Have cultural differences ever caused any problems between you two?

Fiona: Nope, never.

Roshnee: No problems thus far. We’re open about our views and practices and that makes stuff easier.


Q. What's your favorite thing about being roommates?

Fiona: Uhm….eating together. *breaks into laughter* Eating together, or just sharing things about life. Or living like sometimes there’s so much life in the room- the fairy lights are on, it just feels good.

Roshnee: I love that we don’t have to hang out all the time to be close. If there’s a day when we’re having an ‘in’ day, it’ll be time well spent together like best friends anyway.


Roshnee and Fiona are proof of the fact that differences do not necessarily equate to divides; they are hilarious and get along with each other very well. Their room is a super aesthetic place flooded with warmth and is constantly occupied by the trebling notes of some song or the other, besides its two residents.


Edited by Priyanka Shankar