Strangers Becoming Friends

My older sister met her best friend at Grebel in 2013. They were paired together to be roommates for their first year, and lived together in their second and fourth years as well. I remember my sister coming home from school on the weekends and telling amazing stories about the fun that she and her roommate were having at Grebel. These stories made Grebel seem like it might be a good place for me.

Flash forward to September 5, 2016 as I arrived at Grebel for my move-in day. The parking lot was full of anxious and excited incoming students, and I knew that one of them would be my roommate for the next eight months. Despite being nervous about the idea of sharing a room, my sister’s stories reassured me that having a roommate could be great.

Those reassurances turned out to be true. While my first-year roommate didn’t end up being my best friend, we lived together peacefully. I knew that I could always chat with her about classes and assignments, head down to the cafeteria for dinner with her, and attend every exciting Grebel event with her. It was comforting to know that after a late night of studying in the dining room, I could return to a warm, friendly residence room.

Grebel is full of stories about positive roommate experiences, as well as stories of growth and learning through roommates. Some stories involve people who cohabitate well, while others include new best friends and life long connections. These favourable accounts could be attributed to the rigorous process that the residences dons take on when creating roommate pairings each year. “The dons are meticulous when making roommate pairings,” noted Max Chute, former don and fourth-year Chemical Engineering student. “The don team spends hours matching students based on roommate surveys. Then the roommate pairings are presented to the Director of Student Services for input before final decisions are made. I took this process seriously because the decisions have a large effect on how new students remember their first year at university.”

This thoughtful pairing process resulted in a rewarding experience for Hannah Bernstein, a second-year student in Nanotechnology Engineering. “I was nervous about if we would get along, if she would be too loud or too quiet, and more worries, but it ended up being an incredible experience. We had a lot in common, similar sleep schedules, and wanted a similar balance of a work environment and social environment with friends. Our room door was always open, and we shared the same amazing group of friends who hung out there and always welcomed hall-wanderers.”

Piper Treadwell, a third-year Knowledge Integration student and one of the leaders of Grebel’s student-created Mental Health Initiative, commented on some of the benefits that a roommate provides. “When you have a roommate, you have someone to talk to, even if it’s a brief check-in to see how you’re doing. Roommates understand what you are going through and can encourage you along the way. They are great people to hang out and do stuff with. Having a roommate gives you a good social and alone time balance. There will be times when your roommate is not around, which gives you some alone time if you need it.”

Max echoed Piper’s sentiment. “Roommates are there to talk to if you are having a bad day or just had a hard midterm. They are often going through similar situations and can lend insight and provide advice or just listen and be supportive. Having a roommate places someone in your life who gets to know you more personally and can spot warning signs of mental health issues and assist you in getting help.”

Sharing a room also presents many opportunities to grow and learn. “Living with someone is an important life skill and teaches you more about yourself and your needs and wants, as well as how to accommodate the needs and wants of others,” Hannah explained.

“Having a roommate can require compromise with sleep schedules, having guests over, and how much cleaning is done in the room. You learn to be accommodating,” noted Max. “Being a roommate teaches you to be more attentive to the feelings of others around you and gives you opportunities to practice conflict resolution skills.”

When I look back on my own experience, I’m so glad that I had a roommate during my time in the Grebel residence. I’m the kind of person who loves having my own space because I like to have things the way I want them and not have to take other people into account. But my roommate kept me from isolating myself when I first started university, and I have fond memories of study breaks and late night chats that were filled with laughter. I learned how to share a space, how to consider another person’s needs, and how to communicate my needs. I also learned how quickly a stranger can become a friend.