By Wendy Chen
Photo by David De Lossy

Before heading off to college, you’ll probably wonder what your roommate is like. Does he/she like the same type of music as you? Is he/she a partier or more of the studious type? What state is your roommate from?

But what if your roommate is from another country?

Living with an international student can add a completely different dimension to your college experience that you can’t possibly get anywhere else.

Below are some suggestions and advice for the both of you to make the most of your experience.

Sample cuisine from your roommate’s native country.
Go to a restaurant together and have your roommate explain the entrées for you. Be adventurous and order a dish that you would never otherwise choose based off your roommate’s suggestions. Ask your roommate to tell you what they know about the dish and about cuisine in their native country in general.

Be tourists for a day.
Plan a daylong excursion in the nearest city together. Buy a map and go on a guided walking tour. Be prepared to learn something new and unexpected about the city, no matter how well versed you are in historical facts. And your roommate will enjoy not feeling like the only tourist in town.

Be aware of cultural differences.
This may seem like the most obvious advice, but you may be surprised that what is so “obviously” true in the United States is not so in other countries. For example, in the United States, living with one’s parents after college graduation has typically been discouraged (although it has become more common and acceptable in the past few years due to the economic recession). However, in many other countries, children are expected to live with their parents for the majority of their lives. Keep an open mind when discussing cultural “norms” with your roommate.

Be patient when your roommate asks you seemingly obvious questions.
Take the time to explain your answer thoroughly, whether it be how to order food for delivery or how to return purchases at stores. Common, everyday occurrences may not be so common or even exist in his/her country.

Create a playlist.
Take turns picking your favorite songs to add to a playlist. Make sure to throw in some classic hits from both countries. You both might discover some new artists or songs to add to diversify your personal musical preferences. When you’re done with the playlist, invite everyone on your floor to your room for an impromptu party.

Enjoy a movie marathon night.
Take turns deciding what to watch next and be sure to throw in some classic films from both countries. Afterwards, discuss the latest popular celebrities in both countries.

Teach each other slang and catchphrases.
You’ll probably both find some odd expressions to laugh over, and your roommate will end up feeling more comfortable with her language skills. You might even pick up a few useful phrases to use if you visit your roommate’s country in the future.

Celebrate a national or religious festival together from your roommate’s country.
Wear traditional attire from that country only if your roommate suggests or is comfortable with the idea (be sure to avoid fetishizing his/her culture.) Then, celebrate and enjoy Thanksgiving together.

Watch a sports game.
Watch a sports game popular in his/her country on the television that is not so common in the United States (ex. cricket match). Ask him/her to explain the rules to you. Then, take your roommate to see a baseball game and answer any questions about sports teams and rules. Don’t forget to snack on some peanuts and Cracker Jacks together.

Express interest and ask questions.
It’s not a one-way street. Make the effort to learn about your roommate’s culture and the current (political, social, economic) situation of his/her country. Living with an international student provides a rare opportunity to learn about another country extensively outside the classroom—so take advantage of it (and you might even make a new friend)!

Wendy Chen is a rising junior double majoring in Studio Art and English with a concentration in Creative Writing at Wellesley College.

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