Orienting to BU: Close Quarters

By Jon Erik Christianson • July 21, 2011 at 1:00 pm


Orienting to BU is a series aiming to help incoming freshmen in the sometimes bumpy transition from high school to Boston University. Articles will be released around each summer orientation session.

It can’t be any worse than this movie. Poster courtesy of Screen Gems.

Laverne and Shirley. Will and Grace. Bert and Ernie. All legendary roommate duos who handle life’s challenges (navigating Milwaukee in the 60s, learning the alphabet, etc) as an inseparable pairing. For those of you who won’t be living in a single, that person (or people) who walks through your door may just be the Bert to your Ernie. Or it may be Oscar the Grouch.

Whether it’s to preserve your budding epic friendship or to preserve your sanity from The Nightmare Who Sleeps Across the Room, communication is always key to the happiest outcome for everyone in the roommate relationship.

First and foremost, make contact with the roommate(s) as soon as possible before move-in. In addition to the standard job of figuring who is bringing what, make an effort to get to know him or her on a personal level. Find similar interests; creep Facebook for possible conversation topics. The more positive note you begin on, the better the roommate experience will be for everyone.

As soon as you find yourself within geographical proximity of your roommate (during the summer or move-in week), go out to lunch or hang out. It’s okay if it’s awkward. It will be. The sooner you get that out of the way, the sooner things will begin to click.

When possible, set a list of roommate guidelines. Shortly after move in, you’ll be given a roommate agreement form that attempts to discuss possible issues that may come up during the shared dorming experience. Cover these topics beforehand if possible. And have them written down as proof.

It may be tempting to ignore this step. Don’t ignore it under any circumstances.

You may feel awkward discussing impending privacy issues about when you want the room to yourself. You may assume that no reasonably normal person would bring over six loud friends at 4am on a school night. You may have no problem with sharing each other’s stuff. That is until he’s broken your umbrella twice and used up $150 worth of your ink cartridges.

People are different. What you may deem pathologically insane may be socially acceptable to the person sleeping across from you. Get your issue areas dealt with early on so they can’t hold it against you later on in the year. Don’t just call him an irresponsible neanderthal, have it in writing that he is, in fact, being an irresponsible neanderthal.

At least this is a responsible neanderthal | Courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Sherurcij

Not that it should ever get to that point if you were communicating as well as you could.

Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, politely, if there’s an issue. No one wants to upset the person that sleeps ten feet away from them. If, unfortunately, things progress in a negative direction, talk to your floor’s Resident Assistant. The RA can offer sage advice or moderate a discussion between you and your roommate. It can help.

Also, be aware that you might also be the irresponsible neanderthal. We all have little quirks or habits that our family may find endearing but others can find excruciating. Self-analyze. By maintaining a positive and open venue of communication, it’ll be easier to make a teasing quip to curtail such quirks.

“Hey bro, I can tell you had a great lacrosse practice. Speaking of that, always know that my Febreze is also your Febreze.”

If, for some unfathomable reason, your roommate makes you envy the homeless, then there is a way out. During designated time periods on the Resident Life website each semester, it is possible to engage in a direct roommate swap. In this scenario, the legwork is your responsibility. You can either find your own person to direct swap with through friends, or you can advertise on the dedicated bulletin boards near or in all major Resident Life offices. Once someone agrees to swap with you, fill out the necessary paperwork and pray to the Resident Life gods that it works out. There are times when a request is denied.

Ultimately, the entire roommate experience will work out fine. You could be the lucky person who finds your best man or maid of honor as a roommate. You could be like most people and have a very pleasant experience. And, in the very unlikely worst case scenario, you’ll have a ton of great stories that each and every one of your friends will look forward to.


Jon Christianson (COM/CAS '14) is the zany, misunderstood cousin of The Quad family. His superpowers include talking at the speed of light, tripping over walls, and defying ComiQuad deadlines with the greatest of ease. His lovely copyeditors don't appreciate that last one. If for some reason you hunger for more of his nonsense, follow him at @HonestlyJon on Twitter or contact him at jchristianson@buquad.com!